Traditionally, people define a tonic as a substance that stimulates well-being — invigorating, restoring, or refreshing you.
An herbal tonic is a formula made from various herbs that people believe have such effects.
People often use herbal tonics to treat specific health concerns or simply to strengthen the body and support overall wellness.
This article is an overview of some of the most common types of herbal tonics, how people prepare them, their uses, and how to use them properly.
Herbal tonics are at the core of herbalism, the study of using medicinal plants for health.
People have used them for thousands of years in practices like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine in India.
Herbal tonics use a variety of different types of herbs, such as (
- Adaptogens: herbs that increase the body’s resistance to stress
- Alteratives: herbs that support normal bodily functions and processes to alter the course of an illness
- Aromatics: herbs high in aromatic compounds with a strong aroma
- Astringents: herbs that cleanse, tighten, and dry out body tissues, including skin
- Bitters: herbs that support digestive processes in the body
- Nutritives: herbs that are rich in nutrients, like vitamins and minerals
Herbal tonics come in many different forms.
The most common forms of herbal tonic include:
- Capsules. Herbs are dried and ground into a fine powder, and then packed into digestible capsules that you can swallow as a pill.
- Herbal powder. Herbs are dried and ground into a fine powder that you can use by adding it to foods or beverages.
- Oil infusions. To make these, place fresh or dried herbs in a jar, cover them with oil, and let them steep in a warm, sunny location for 2 weeks or more. Then remove the herbs and use the oil.
- Syrups. To make these, you simmer herbs in liquid to make a strong tea. You then strain them out and cook the tea further with a sweetener, such as honey or glycerin, until the mixture is thick.
- Teas. These are also known as herbal infusions. You can infuse fresh or dried herbs in boiling water.
- Tinctures. Put fresh or dried herbs in a jar, covering them with a water-soluble liquid, such as drinking alcohol or vinegar, and let them steep in a warm, sunny location for 4 weeks. The herbs are then strained out, and the liquid is the tincture.
- Topicals. People make herbal salves, lotions, and ointments by combining herbal oil infusions with a variety of ingredients, like beeswax, aloe vera, and other types of oils.
People make herbal tonics from a variety of herbs believed to have health-promoting effects. They come in various forms, including capsules, teas, and tinctures.
The best way to use a tonic depends on the type you’re using.
Here are general instructions on how to take the most common types of tonics.
Make sure to verify the recommended and safe dosage for a particular type of herbal tonic before taking it.
|Capsules||For general use, take 1–2 capsules twice a day. To treat a specific condition, take 1 capsule every 4 hours.|
|Herbal powder||Add 1/2–1 teaspoons (around 1.5–3 grams) of powder to your food or beverages throughout the day.|
|Oil infusion||You can use this oil to make other products, like salves, soaps, and lip balm. Alternatively, you can massage it directly onto the skin a few drops at a time.|
|Syrup||For general use, take 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) twice a day. To treat a specific condition, take 1/4 teaspoon (1.2 mL) every 4 hours.|
|Tea||For general use, drink 1 cup (237 mL) twice a day. To treat a specific condition, drink up to 3 cups (710 mL) periodically throughout the day.|
|Tincture||For general use, take 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) twice a day. To treat a specific condition, take 1/4 teaspoon (1.2 mL) every 4 hours.|
|Topical||Start by applying a pea-sized amount of salve or ointment directly to the skin. Apply more as needed throughout the day.|
Each herbal tonic may have its own set of instructions for use, depending on the type of tonic and the herbs it’s made from. In general, people use tonics once a day, though you may want to use some more frequently.
People use many herbal tonics to support overall health, wellness, and vitality. These are often daily supplements that support whole-body maintenance.
People use other herbal tonics to address specific medical concerns or target certain systems in the body, such as the immune or nervous systems.
The possibilities of herbs and herb combinations used in herbal tonics are endless.
Here is a list of herbs that people often use to support specific body systems.
- reishi mushrooms
- rose hip
Nerves, anxiety, and stress relief
- lemon balm
- St. John’s wort
Digestive system support
- angelica root
Musculoskeletal system support
Respiratory system support
- reishi mushrooms
You may use herbal tonics to support general health and wellness. However, some target specific body systems, such as the immune, digestive, or respiratory system.
People have used herbal tonics for thousands of years, and they’re still popular today. Some people in communities that practice traditional medicine hold them in extremely high regard.
However, since herbal tonics have only recently begun to enter the mainstream wellness industry, there is a lack of rigorous research on their safety and effectiveness.
Certain herbs have some research that supports their health benefits.
For example, there are multiple studies on astragalus root.
Scientists have found the herb to be rich in healthy plant chemicals that have disease-preventing properties. These include flavonoids and saponins (
Though scientists have uncovered evidence to support the anti-inflammatory properties of astragalus, they are still unclear on exactly how the root reduces inflammation (
Nevertheless, well-designed studies in humans are still needed to investigate how astragalus affects specific health conditions (
In general, this is the case for many herbs.
More research is needed on the safety and effectiveness of herbal tonics, as well as the best ways to use them.
What’s more, because you can use so many different types of herbs in herbal tonics, it’s important to investigate each individual herb before using them.
For weight loss
One of the most common benefits of herbal tonics that people report anecdotally is weight loss (
However, there is virtually no scientific evidence to show that any kind of herbal tonic helps with weight loss (
Furthermore, some herbal tonics that claim to support weight loss might even be dangerous if you use them improperly (
Studies have shown that some tonic herbs, including turmeric root, globe thistle, and moringa, may help with weight control. However, research has not confirmed the overall safety and effectiveness of these herbs (11,
Scientific studies have found many herbs may have beneficial effects. Nevertheless, there’s not enough evidence to say whether herbal tonics may help with weight loss. Many more human studies are still needed to understand their effects.
One of the most commonly used types of herbal tonics is a tincture.
Here is how to make your own tincture at home.
Recipe for herbal tonic tincture
You can take 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) of tincture two times daily.
- 3/4 cup (177 mL) chopped fresh or dried herbs of your choice
- 1 cup (237 mL) menstruum (drinking alcohol, vinegar, or vegetable glycerin)
- 1 half pint glass jar (1 cup or 237 mL)
- fine mesh strainer
- Finely chop the fresh or dried herbs, and place them into a clean, sterile half pint glass jar.
- Pour the menstruum over the herbs until they are completely covered in 2 inches (5 cm) of the liquid. Seal the jar with a tight lid.
- Set the jar in a warm, sunny location, such as a windowsill, and let it soak for about 5 weeks.
- Every couple of days, gently shake the jar or turn it upside down a few times to keep the herbs from settling on the bottom.
- At the end of the 5 weeks, place a piece of cheesecloth over the fine mesh strainer atop another clean jar. Slowly pour the herb mixture through the strainer to separate the herbs from the liquid.
- Store the finished tincture in a cool, dark place.
Some of the most common ways to take a tincture are by using a measuring spoon or a medicine dropper.
The type of herbs you choose will depend on what type of health benefits you want to achieve from your tincture.
You can make your own herbal tonic tincture at home with just a few ingredients, such as herbs and vinegar. You can make most other types of herbal tonics at home as well.
It’s important to note that not all herbal tonics are the same.
Some herbs are much more potent than others. Others may be safe when taken in small doses but more dangerous when consumed in larger quantities or too often (
Plus, certain herbs might interact with other medications or pose risks for certain groups of people, like children or pregnant people.
Here are a few herbs that have adverse effects on some people or can be toxic in large amounts or when used improperly (
- concentrated essential oils
- ginkgo biloba
- St. John’s wort
Furthermore, in some countries, including the United States, supplement companies do not have to prove that dietary supplements, like herbal tonics, are safe before selling them to consumers. However, they are monitored by regulatory agencies (
For these reasons, it’s important to always check with a trusted healthcare professional before using any herbal tonic and to only do so under their supervision.
Though many herbs and herbal tonics are considered safe for human use, others may be more dangerous for some groups of people when used improperly, or when taken in excessive amounts.
People have used herbal tonics for as long as 4,000 years.
Herbal tonics may not be for everyday use, though many people do enjoy them and find them to be invigorating or helpful for specific health concerns.
Though it’s too early to make specific claims about the effectiveness of herbal tonics for weight loss or other medical issues, early research does suggest that some herbs do have health benefits.
Still, because some herbal tonics can be dangerous if you use them improperly, it’s vital to check with your healthcare professional before starting to use one.