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 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, and 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


  • Support Materials

    2 pages of manuscripts (not downloadable) from Matthew are available to view and a downloadable handout from Seán.

  • 1 year access to materials and Q&A

    1 year to view and review content, ask questions and discuss with fellow students and teachers.

  • 2.5 hours of teaching

    2.5 hours of in-depth teaching with Matthew Wood and Seán Pádraig O'Donoghue.

Course curriculum

    1. Welcome Message

    1. About Non-Downloadable Documents

    2. Definitions of “Tonic” by Matthew Wood (2 pages, not downloadable)

    3. Tonics - Handout by Sean

    4. Herbal Tonics - Webinar Chat Text

    5. Herbal Tonics - Video

    6. Herbal Tonics - Audio

    1. Tests and Certificates

    2. Herbal Tonics Test

    1. Please share your thoughts

About this course

  • $48.00
  • 10 lessons
  • 4.5 hours of video content



Documents are not downloadable. Please note that Matthew often adds manuscripts of upcoming books and is allowing students early access to these works-in-progress; therefore, they are available as 'view-only' documents and are not downloadable.

Single class purchase

1-year access to this class

The Library Bundle

Access to this class and many more.
(Full list can be found on The Library page.)

Start at any time! Complete the lessons at your own pace.

Certificates designed and signed by Matthew Wood are available for purchase to those who successfully complete all tests with a passing grade of 70% or better. More details regarding herbal course certificates are here.

Tests are multiple-choice, and multiple attempts are permitted.

If you are tracking hours, see the list of all classes/courses with corresponding accreditation hours.

5 star rating

Herbal Tonics

Frank Denno

A wonderful course that manages to highlight a much needed aspect of herbal pharmacology. Well laid out, and quite informative!

A wonderful course that manages to highlight a much needed aspect of herbal pharmacology. Well laid out, and quite informative!

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5 star rating

Great Short Class

Lisa Ayer

Lots of information packed in a short class

Lots of information packed in a short class

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5 star rating


edward coughlin

great class

great class

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