Herbal Tonics for Optimal Health

You can What is a tonic?  Is it the same as a remedy? Read on to learn the difference between a herbal tonic and a remedy, and find Savayda’s favourite tonics for each body system for optimal health. 

Remedies and tonics are two different uses of herbal medicines. Some plants are both remedies and tonics, depending on how they’re being used and what they’re combined with. A qualified herbalist can determine how best to use a herb to either boost a bodily system or to treat a specific condition. For example, Hawthorn is a gentle tonic for the cardiovascular system, but can also be used to treat hypertension. Elecampane boosts lung health, but is also an expectorant and can be used to treat bronchitis.


Each herb has many phytochemical constituents, which means it has many potential uses, and many could be either a tonic, remedy or both. This whole-herb approach is very different than the allopathic approach, which separates and reduces the plants to single molecules, and aims to match each ailment with a specific constituent.


Herbalists are more comfortable with the complexity of both plants and people, and knowing which herbs to use and when, is the art and science of herb combining.


Tonics Optimize Health


A tonic is a mild approach that is used to restore and strengthen a system of the body or to promote optimal health and well-being. One way that tonics differ from remedies is that a tonic will give improvement even in a healthy state, whereas a remedy is aimed at treating a problem, but doesn’t alter an already-healthy system.

I like to compare herbal tonics to plant foods, we eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to supply us with the nutrients we need for basic healthy function.


A herbal tonic is generally thought of as a herb or combination of herbs that are gentle and nourishing, either to the whole body or to specific organs or systems. The mild herbs are used to promote a tonic action, often spread over many weeks or months to restore or support general health. They are used to bring balance to chronic conditions or to support general wellness and prevention of dis-ease.  


Herbal tonics can be taken periodically, rotating through different tonics for different systems. You could focus on a different system every month or every season.


A tonic may come in the form of a tincture, tea or herbal vinegar.


Tinctures are sometimes referred to as a tonic, which they may be in action, but tincture specifically refers to the preparation method of extracting the medicinal properties from herbs using alcohol. The terms tonic and tincture are not interchangeable.


Remedies Treat Ailments


Herbal tonics complement remedies. They help keep a healthy person healthy and offer support for the body’s systems, while remedies work to correct an imbalance or treat a specific ailment.


Like tonics , remedies come in different forms – teas, tinctures, syrups, etc, but the difference is that remedies offer a more direct input to the body’s healing processes.


Examples: St. John’s wort is a remedy for depression, calendula is a remedy for wounds, elderberry is a remedy for viral infections, turmeric is a remedy for inflammation.


Tonics as Remedies

In some cases, tonics can be an integral part of a remedy, and tonics can also supply a remedial action over the long them. Sometimes the use of general tonics can correct underlying problems, and long term use of tonics is one healing strategy.


This gentle strategy of long-term tonic use is ideal for people in weakened states, such as recovering from a major illness or surgery, children or the elderly. In these cases, the herbalist wouldn’t want to over-activate their system with strong herbs, so gentle remedies are better tolerated.


As an example, a herbalist might use tonics to support the immune and nervous systems of a patient undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, when their system couldn’t handle the addition of stronger treatments.


Savayda’s Favourite Tonics for Optimal Health for Each System

Hawthorn [Crataegus spp.] for the Cardiovascular System

Hawthorn is Savayda’s favourite tree. Named for its intimidating thorns, hawthorn is a very useful plant for heart health. It helps correct both high and low blood pressure, and strengthens veins and arteries. It’s a core herb to use for any cardiovascular conditions.

In addition to the physical heart, hawthorn also offers support for the emotional heart. It is good for protection and resilience when going through emotional difficulty.

Oatseed [Avena sativa] for the Nervous System


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Oatseed comes from the same plant as the oats commonly used for food in oatcakes and granola, but oatseed refers to the immature green, milky seed, before it matures into cereal oats. Oatseed balances the nervous system from the extremes of anxiety or depression and restores strength and energy to the nervous system when exhausted.

Raspberry Leaf [Rubus ideaus] for the Uterus

Good as a tea or herbal vinegar, raspberry leaf is used as a tonic post-partum or in late pregnancy. It’s also beneficial for women who are having some menstrual difficulties. It gives strength to the uterus so it functions better, and results in fewer menstrual cramps, and faster recovery, restoring tone to the uterus.

Partridge Berry [Mitchella repens] as a Fertility Tonic for Both Men and Women

Traditionally used to improve fertility due to its influence on normalizing endocrine hormones in both males and females.

Damiana [Turnera diffusa] for Prostate Function

Damiana is a mild hormone normalizer and general restorative for men.

Horsetail [Equisetum arvense] for Skin, Hair & Nails

High in silica and other minerals, horsetail is the best tonic for strengthening brittle nails and fine hair. It delivers required nutrients, acting like a food that encourages growth and strength.

Elecampane [Inula helenium] for the Respiratory System

A warming herb that soothes bronchial tube linings and acts as an expectorant for lung cleansing, and has a relaxing effect on smooth tracheal muscle.

Gotu Kola [Centella asiatica] for the Brain

Gingko biloba is often championed as an exceptional herb for the brain, but it is actually more of a remedy than a tonic. While Gingko biloba has direct action by improving blood flow for focus & memory, it is usually taken when there’s a deficit. In contrast, Gotu Kola can be taken in a healthy state, and also improves mental functioning. Gotu Kola is not too stimulating, and is more stabilizing and good for overactive or underactive brains.

Dandelion [Taraxacum officinalis]  for Digestion

Its bitter taste signifies its effect on the digestive system. Bitters tune up and gently stimulate the whole digestive system.

Astragulus [Astragalus propinquus] for Immunity

Astragulus helps to ensure that the body’s white blood cell count is where it should be. Produced in bone marrow, white blood cells are a critical part of the body’s defense system and should be ready to be called into action when needed.

Milk Thistle [Silybum marianum] for the Liver

Milk thistle is like nutritive food for the liver, helping to restore liver cells and protect them from damage.

Blueberry [Vaccinium] for the Eyes

You’re probably aware that blueberries are a powerhouse of antioxidants but did you know they’re also good for your eyes? They contain anthocyanadins that strengthen the blood vessels in the eyes, and can reduce the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.

Nutritive Herbs for the Musculoskeletal System

The best tonic for the musculoskeletal system is proper nutrition, and there are many herbs that can help you make sure you get your vitamins and minerals. Nettle, dandelion leaf, horsetail, and plantain are great spring greens that can be eaten whole, or made into mineral-rich vinegars. You can forage lots of nutritive herbs. Check out our Foraging Guide.

Adaptogens for Your Whole Being

Adaptogens behave like tonics, helping the whole body to resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions to promote optimize health, and are having a renaissance today. Common adaptogens include eleuthero, withania and schizandra.



Tonics are a wonderful first foray into the world of herbal medicine, and a great way to optimize your health. 

Remedies and tonics are not the same thing, but they can complement each other or be used for different purposes. Tonics are more nutritive and balancing, remedies treat specific conditions. Tonic herbs are generally safe for use for self care, but make sure you check for contraindications before taking any new herb. Although they are generally gentle for healthy bodies, the plants can still have strong effects that may interact with other medications or conditions.


Medicinal Soups

The Soup Pot – The Secret to Health and Longevity

I believe that we would be healthier and that the rates of degenerative disease would decline if we all made more soup!

Our wise mothers and grandmothers knew the medicinal value of soup.  Chicken soup has long been a popular remedy for colds and flu.  When I was sick as a child, I felt comforted and nurtured when served a warm bowl of soup prepared lovingly by my mother.  Love heals, so do good quality foods and herbs.  Medicinal soups are one of the best ways to capture this potential to heal and nurture ourselves and our families.

Could something as simple as a pot of soup really hold the secret to health and longevity? 

Let’s examine the recipe . . .

Essential to soup. The action of water, breaking down the other ingredients, makes soups especially medicinal in that they become easily digested and utilized by the body. It breaks the ingredients down by softening the cell walls and circulating through them, extracting all of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  The water content of soup is also important for hydrating our bodies. 

Vegetables, grains, noodles, beans, tofu, meat, fish – the substance of soup.  Anything and everything goes into the pot – that’s the great thing about soup.    Some of my best soups are made at the end of the week from leftovers, and veggies buried in the back of the crisper. 

Chicken soup isn’t what it used to be.  Unfortunately most chicken, and other food animals (and fish), are raised in factories, under unhealthy and inhumane conditions which warrant the need for antibiotics and other drugs to manage the problems.  This is what we ingest when we eat commercial flesh foods.  Plant foods, sprayed with chemicals and grown in poor and deficient soil, are no better. These are not ingredients that I want in my soup.  Fortunately, access to quality foods is growing; farmer’s markets, healthfood stores, and even supermarkets now offer us more choice.  You can purchase free range, organic meats at the Halifax Farmer’s Markets, Local Source, Organic Earth Market, GetAway Farms and others

Air or Spirit
I consider the flavour to be the soul of the soup.  Seasonings add flavour and help to draw out the flavour of the other base ingredients.  The art of soup making is in the combinations, simple or complex, its all good.  Some of my favourite seasonings include miso, seaweeds, nut butters, herbs, and spices. 

Herbs offer additional nutrition and medicinal properties to soups.  I use dry herbs, seaweeds and medicinal mushrooms to make potent stock for my soups.  I especially like the mineral rich root herbs such as dandelion, burdock, astragulus, wild yam, ginger, and ginseng.  The Chinese have mastered the art of medicinal soups; these and other herbs are common ingredients in their soup pots.

Garnishes are fun.  Decorate your bowl and add texture with things such as homemade croutons, scallions, cheese, toasted nuts or seeds, toasted seaweeds, sprouts, and fresh herbs.

Heat draws out flavour and nutrients.  A hot bowl of soup, especially in winter, is comfort food at its best.  Hot soup can help to banish sickness and increase vitality. I translate fire as passion.  Passion fuels creation.  Taking the time to be in the kitchen, to slow down and focus on preparing a hearty meal such as soup, is an expression of passion.  Any good cook will agree.  I speak from experience, and I am sure you would agree, that food tastes better when it is prepared with love, passion and intention. 

Energy and $$$
When you consider the fact that soup is a nutrient dense, easily digested, source of energy, and that it costs less than $10 to make a 10 serving pot of soup, how can you afford not to make it a staple in your diet.  Make it a weekly ritual.

Immune Power Soup
5 dried chopped or/ 10 fresh, chopped shiitakes
6 tblsp. astragulus root
2 tsp. seaweed powder, flakes or pieces
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 cup broccoli chopped
4 tblsp. miso paste

Boil the astragulus and shiitakes for 15 minutes in 5 cups water.  Strain the liquid, adding the mushrooms back to the pot.  Add the vegetables and seaweed and simmer until tender.  Remove  ¼ cup of the broth and stir until the miso dissolves.  Turn off the heat and add the miso to the pot.  Do not boil the miso.  You can substitute or add any vegetables you like.

Eat 2 bowls weekly to boost immune function and prevent infection.

Barley and burdock stew
(Healing with Whole Foods – Paul Pitchford)
1 cup barley, soaked
½ onion, diced
½ cup carrot, diced
¼ cup burdock root, sliced
5 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt

  1. Sautee vegetables
  2. Dry-toast barley
  3. Place barley and vegetables in a pot with water and salt. Cover and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes.  Serves four.