Total Body Wellness Through Tonic Herbs:
The New Revolution in Herbal Medicine
by Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D.
In the following article I would like to share with my readers a vision of
how you can best affect total body wellness through the use of herbs. This
vision is the end result of years of study, research and personal use of herbs.
Many of the resources of American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory (APRL) have
been devoted to this undertaking and the results have been very satisfying.
First, however, I would like to review the current status of herbal medicine in
this country and briefly explore the strengths and weaknesses of our system, as
well as the reasons for some of our problems.
Since the rebirth of serious interest in herbs in the 1970's in America,
literally hundreds of companies have brought myriads of different herbal
products to the market. Several dozen books on herbal medicine have been written
and the level of education in this area has risen dramatically. Yet despite all
of the effort ( and to some extent because of it) pockets of ignorance still
persist, and a certain confusion about herbs and their beneficial properties is
evident. The new consumer is often overwhelmed by the lack of consistency in the
written material, by the lack of disciplined research on most of the plants, and
the rising tide of do's and don'ts surging from the pens of would-be experts.
Contributing to our problems is the medical model of disease that dominates
our thinking. Much of what has been written about herbs ( my books included) has
been heavily tainted by our educational experiences about health and disease,
and that education has more often than not reflected the medical model. This
model holds that most disease is germ-induced, and the cure of the disease is
effected by killing the germ or inoculating the patient against the disease.
Diseases that are not germ-induced may nevertheless be categorized according to
the drug that "cures" them: anti-cholesterol, hypotensives, pain
killers, anti-inflammatories, anti-cancer, etc. This model is so ingrained that
even our herbal books reflect the same mentality: we have herbs that fight
cholesterol, herbs to fight cancer, herbs to kill germs, herbs to induce bowel
movements, herbs to fight arthritis, diabetes, senility, muscle aches, insomnia,
and so forth. According to this view, the distinction between herbal medicine
and orthodox medicine is simply between the relative toxicity and synthetic
nature of drugs versus the relative safety and naturalness of herbs. Drugs are
powerful, synthetic agents that usually have a lot of side effects; herbs are
mild, natural substances that usually have fewer side effects. Recent writings
in herbal medicine have even tended to blur these rather obvious distinctions.
Thus, we are learning that some, if not most herbs, can be toxic if used for
prolonged periods of time, or in high dosages; that some combinations of herbs
yield interactions that should be avoided, and that certain semi-synthetic
derivatives of herbs are supposedly as good as or better than the original
"natural" plant material (e.g., hydroxycitric acid from Garcinia
Although users and purveyors of alternative medicine talk a lot about whole
body wellness, 90% of all herbal products currently available are strictly
direct reflections of the orthodox medical model of disease. They do not address
or support whole body wellness. We need herbal products that are truly wellness
oriented, whose primary function is to restore and maintain wellness. Can this
need be fulfilled, and if so, how?
It has been my experience that there exists a whole category of herbs whose
benefits have been lost to our understanding through decades of misinformation
and fuzzy thinking. These are herbs which exhibit a balancing effect on whole
body systems and individual physiological processes; that is, they maintain
these processes on an even keel, neither overactive, nor underactive. I call
them tonic herbs, and I believe they hold the answer to the question posed
above. Tonic herbs. Powdered. Encapsulated. Whole. The tonic concept is of
ancient origin, yet it encompasses properties that are more modern than anything
dreamed of under the orthodox medical model. Relying on orthodox pharmaceutical
language and patterning herbal remedies and combinations after the medical model
has resulted in the loss of knowledge concerning tonic herbs, their unique
properties and their relationship to total body wellness. In this paper I will
attempt to correct that situation.
Our first task is to define the term "tonic." This necessitates
removing any preconceptions about the word that may exist. For example, the true
meaning of tonic has nothing to do with snake oil, patent medicine, hair
lotions, liquid extracts, or tinctures. You should even put aside any
understanding you may possess of so-called 'adaptogens,' an otherwise useful
term that occupies just a small space in the grander tonic landscape.
©1995, Victory Publications
Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D. earned his
advanced degree in experimental psychology from Brigham Young
University. His specialized areas was psychopharmacology, with
related studies in biochemistry, neurology, anatomy and physiology.
His interest in medicinal botany began while in graduate school and
his dissertation reflected that interest. Over the next several
years his research in this area lead to the publications of several
books, among which are: Herbal Tonic Therapies, The Scientific
Validation of Herbal Medicine, Guaranteed Potency Herbs: Next
Generation Herbal Medicine, and Fat Management: The Therogenic