What is an herbal "tonic?"

Turns out it is not that easy to define. Generally it is thought of as a preparation that is more like a food in composition and acts generally and slowly to build up some tissue or organ, rather than having a sharp medicinal activity that changes functions within the organism. The whole herb is used, not the “active constituents.” English-speaking herbalists originally used the word "tonic" to describe astringents, because they give "tone" to tissues. Today, however, the word is more commonly used to describe a remedy that can be safely given to most people at relatively large doses to maintain or improve health. This can include bitter, iron, blood, qi, yin, and yang tonics, as well as tonics for specific systems—brain, immune, spleen, liver, kidneys, heart. Many of these come to us from traditional Chinese medicine; Taoist medicine is largely a tonic-based approach based on building up the “precious substances” of the body. We will discuss the difference between tonics and adaptogens and touch on questions of pharmacology, which are not prominent in this category. We will explore several such remedies, including Rehmannia and Astragalus (sweet tonics), Gotu kola (brain tonic) and for contrast, Gentian (bitter tonic) and how they help the body navigate stress.

Seán Pádraig O'Donoghue is an herbalist specializing in mental, emotional, and spiritual health and an initiated priest in two traditions. He has taught both phytochemistry and herbal energetics to herbalists, nutritionists, and acupuncturists. He is joined by renowned herbalist and author Matthew Wood, who has played a central role in the revival and development of Traditional Western Herbalism. Learn more about Seán and our amazing MWIH faculty here.


During 1-year rental

•  Access to all recordings  •

•  Downloadable handout from Sean and view-only document by Matthew  •

•  Optional test  (20 question multiple choice)  •

•  Certificate of Completion designed and signed by Matthew Wood upon successful completion of all tests with a passing grade of 70% or better  •

•  Life-time access to the online Community  •

•  Online help from teachers!  •

Start at anytime! Complete the lessons at your own pace. 

Certificates designed and signed by Matthew Wood are available to those who successfully complete all tests with a passing grade of 70% or better. There are 20 multiple choice questions. Multiple attempts are allowed.

What is classes like?

A free preview of this course is not currently available. For an example of what this class will be like, please see the Free Preview for one of Matt and Sean's earlier courses, "Holistic Pharmacology for Herbalists"

Course curriculum

  • 1


    • Important Welcome Message

  • 2

    Class Materials

    • Herbal Tonics - Webinar Chat Text

    • Definitions of “Tonic” by Matthew Wood (2 pages, View-only)

    • Tonics - Handout by Sean

    • Herbal Tonics - Video

    • Herbal Tonics - Audio

  • 3


    • Herbal Tonics - Test

  • 4

    Congratulations! You've completed Pharmacology for Herbalists!

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