3 Tonic Herbs Every Yogi Should Know About. ~ Emily Perry, L.Ac.

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Disclaimer: All advice in this column is not meant as medical advice, nor meant to diagnose or treat any disease.  If you have any questions about what is right for you and your health history, please seek out a qualified medical practitioner.

It’s true: herbs can change your life.

Tonic herbs, with their transformative and supportive nature, might just be the gateway to improving your yoga practice— or any athletic pursuit, for that matter. Tonic herbalism has deep roots in China (thousands of years of knowledge, handed down generation to generation), leaving a legacy of rich experience that we can harness to transform our health and spiritual pursuits.

Why tonic herbs specifically? Because, as Ron Teeguarden puts it, they “profoundly influence the manufacture and transformation of the life energy.” Yes, tonics transform your prana (life energy). These herbs support what we call the Three Treasures: Qi (prana, energy or vitality), Jing (essence, similar to ojas in Ayurveda), and Shen (spirit; yes, that’s right— spirit!).

So, clearly tonic herbs go hand in hand with yoga practice; they can help us repair our bodies after injury, reduce wear and tear from our regular practice and may help prevent injury. Tonics build radiance, vitality, and vibrancy. Those that are bidirectional in nature bring balance: they calm the fight or flight response when we are overworked, or increase our liveliness when we are in an energetic slump. Tonic herbs bring stability to our emotional lives by giving us roots, sustaining our boundaries and cultivating harmony and resilience.

While there are whole categories of herbs of interest to yogis and yoginis, I thought I would offer up three herbs that can help every yoga practice thrive:

Photo: Made in China
  • 1.  Astralagus Root (aka Huang Qi): This herb supports the Qi treasure, and is often used post-op to help patients recover from surgery. It repairs muscle and strengthens the primary energy of the body, increasing strength and vitality. Astralagus also fortifies the defensive energy of the body, what we call the Wei Qi. Think of Wei Qi like a protective energetic layer. It parallels our immune system: when our Wei Qi is healthy we have an appropriate immune response and we become sick less often.


  • Wei Qi as an energetic boundary helps us define our sense of self— it becomes clear where I end, for example, and where my partner begins. Weak Wei Qi could therefore be indicated in people with a weak or troubled sense of self, and in those with poor boundaries in relationships. It might also be indicated for those struggling with immune and auto-immune issues.


  • Astralagus in a way is also a solar herb— it raises up any sinking Qi, creating an energetic lift. Astralagus can be found in a number of formulas, alone and in tincture form.


  • 2. Gynostemma (aka Jiao Gu Lan) is often overlooked. It supports all three treasures (Qi, Jing and Shen), and tastes great as a tea because of its sweet aftertaste. What really gets me excited about Gynostemma is its bidirectional nature: it calms when one is over-excited, and stimulates when one is in a kaphic state. For this reason Gynostemma is a satvic herb. It cultivates that balanced, stirum sukham (steadiness and ease) that we are after in our yoga practice. Add to that anti-aging, sex-enhancing, pain-relieving, weight-reducing tendencies, and you’ve got a great herb on your hands! And like Astralagus, Gynostemma is also immunosupportive.


  • Photo: Goji Berry Smoothie, by Wild Tofu

    3. This last herb you may already be familiar with: Lycium Fruit, or Goji Berries (aka Wolfberries or Gou Qi Zi). Goji Berries support the Qi treasure, and are associated with the Liver Channel. They are what we call a xue (blood) tonic. Blood tonics are known to be nourishing, grounding and energizing, with (again) an anti-aging function. Xue is not only the physical blood, but also its energetic component. We say that blood anchors the emotions, so that supporting healthy xue means supporting a rich, grounded, and bright emotional life.


  • The connection between Goji Berries and the Liver Channel means that they are a great choice to support you through a detox program. These berries are said to promote longevity, enhance fertility, and speed recovery from illness (especially where there is weight loss).


  • Goji Berries are easy to incorporate into your daily diet— add then to oatmeal, grains, salads, hot tea, everything! It is worth getting the best you can afford with these guys, since there is a wide range of quality out there.

If you are looking for supplements to help support and sustain your yoga sadhana (practice)— look no further. There is a rich depth to tonic herbs, one that is nourishing and holistic in its scope. As a yoga teacher and practitioner, tonics can make your teaching and personal practice more vibrant, sustainable and full of radiance.


Emily Perry, L.Ac., is an Acupuncturist and certified Yoga Teacher at the 200 hour level. She teaches and writes in Santa Cruz, CA, and can be reached through her website Emily Perry Yoga, on her blog Elemental, or via email.

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anonymous Oct 5, 2013 2:27pm

First, it is astragalus, and it is not an herb to give during fever. And goji, while great for many, would not serve well an individual who is nightshade sensitive, as goji is in the night shade family.

anonymous Nov 16, 2011 10:13am

[…] and herbal medicine are effective for so many health issues, from headaches and digestive concerns to anxiety […]

anonymous Jul 23, 2011 7:59pm

I loved this post also, Emily, and went right to my local health food store today to grab these lovelies; been feeling run down for various reasons lately and looking for some balance. I found the Astragalus and Gynostemma both in "Nature's Sunshine- Chinese Mineral-Chi Tonic". Just thought this might be an easier way for peeps to get their dailies. Thanks for taking the time to share such important information. Peace, Molly

    anonymous Jul 24, 2011 8:32pm

    You are welcome Molly! Yeah, these herbs are often in some great formulas out there! I am glad you found them— and I can't wait to hear how they ebenfit your practice!

anonymous Jul 22, 2011 6:18pm

Emily, great article. It is so nice to read something to articulately written and so well researched!

    anonymous Jul 22, 2011 10:17pm

    Thank you Nicole! Look for the follow up!

Bob Weisenberg Jul 21, 2011 10:41pm

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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anonymous Jul 21, 2011 7:47pm

Excellent Post, Emily.

Posting to Elephant Wellness

anonymous Jul 21, 2011 5:21pm

How should you use these? Eat? Take a supplement? Do you use them in recipes?

    anonymous Jul 21, 2011 7:44pm

    Great Question Candice. I'm interested to see what Emily recommends. I would answer your question with – Use them in ceremony 🙂 Health food stores may carry them in dry bulk. If you want to grow them it depends on where you live. I listed the best growth zones below. The choice is yours if it's in your garden. I prefer eating fresh leaves, making tea and preparing tincture for long term storage. Perhaps Emily knows a good manufacturer.

    Astralagus Root Zone 6 & 7
    Gynostemma Zone 8
    Goji Berries Zone 4-9

    Dr. B

      anonymous Jul 21, 2011 10:53pm

      My favorite line of tonic herbs is Dragon Herbs, although there are many great companies out there. They are what I use in clinical practice (I studied with Ron and trust his products).

    anonymous Jul 21, 2011 10:51pm

    Goji berries you can eat whole- they pften sell them in bulk sections or the raw food section of the health food store. Astralagus I take as a tincture by iteself: i add what ever dose the packaging mentions to a little warm water and drink it like a tonic (maybe with a little raw agave…). You can also get it in capsule form i think. Gynostemma You can find in capsules as well.

anonymous Jul 25, 2011 4:28pm

Thanks Pieter! I hear people get good results with it!