Many years ago, when I was first introduced to the art and science of herbal medicine, my mentor was an old style naturopathic doctor and medical herbalist by the name of Albert J. Thut, ND,  MNAMH. Walking into Dr. Thut’s house in Guelph, Ontario, one would always be greeted by  the strong aroma of  some particular concoction simmering away on the stove.

When I began an apprenticeship with him, part of the work entailed bottling and labelling his various decoctions: sometimes a Digestive Tonic, or Liver  Tonic, later Kidney Tonic, or  Blood Purifier Tonic, and especially Nervine Tonic. These would be lined up on shelves behind his desk, and given after his consultation with a patient, invariably along with some special Tea and occasionally a package of tablets. They comprised an integral part of his treatment protocol, and would be relied upon to treat a wide variety of ailments.  In an interview with a local newspaper, he stated that for most common complaints, he would give one or more standard herbal remedies… what I later came to call herbal ‘tonics’.

If I have learned anything of value from the dear Doctor, it was how many ailments would respond to such a mixture of herbs which were formulated to normalize the functional activity of key organs, glands and tissues. This synergistic herb combining was the secret behind the formula’s effectiveness. Thus, my own customized tonics are the result of a careful combination of herbs:

– Liver Tonic: contains Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale), Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum  perforatum), Elecampane Root (Inula helenum), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Blue Flag Root (Iris versicolor), and Barberry  bark (berberis vulgaris).

– Digestive Tonic: contains Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium),  Gentian Root (Gentiana lutea), Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), Juniper Berries (Juniperus communis), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata).

Properly designed and constructed (I use that term specifically, as it hints at the intent and  purposeful choice of the herbs used), herbal formulae can be made to address the multiple layers of many chronic diseases. They can tonify or tone up key organs or glands of the various ‘systems’ of the body, whether it be the blood and circulatory system, the digestive system, the  eliminative system, etc.

In an article I wrote last year for Vitality, I stated that the solar plexus is the seat of (will) power, and this power is resident in, and reaches proper fruition in, the optimal functioning of the digestive system. This digestive system can be damaged by chronic poor diet, involving – amongst other things – excessive ingestion of white flour products, milk, cheeses, and other mucous-forming foods.

In order to restore proper functioning of the digestive system, part of this process involves the use of herbs to dissolve the accumulation of mucoid matter that coat the villi of the small intestine which impedes absorption, negatively affecting cellular nutrition and causing a domino effect all down the line. Other herbs would rekindle the production of  hydrochloric acid by the parietal cells of the stomach wall; and still others would work on the liver – probably the most important organ in the whole body, cleaning out the Kuepfer cells to help it filter toxic matter from the blood, or to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, including bile production for storage in the gall bladder.

Left untreated, these key components of the digestive system ultimately would lead to poor health, sallow and pasty skin, chronic constipation, and most likely an early demise brought on by some of the secondary effects and ailments associated with this original disturbance.

To illustrate the potential power and reconstructive ability of various herbal “tonics” let me share two case histories – one from two years ago, the other from 15 years ago.

Two Case Histories

CASE #1:  This involved a 68-year-old farmer who, having been diagnosed with cancer, was taken in for surgery to remove the tumour. During the operation, they accidentally cut into the femoral artery, releasing a large number of micro-emboli (essentially clot-like material composed of fatty or tumorous tissue). This material spread throughout his body, down to the feet and into the kidneys and liver.

While the farmer recuperated at home, his wife called me for help in dealing with this matter. During my first visit, I observed that the patient’s weight had dropped to 110 pounds from its original 200+, and he was very weak with minimal flesh on the bones, had gangrenous feet, could eat little more than soup, slept poorly, was on dialysis, and was horribly constipated.

At the risk of eliminating too much information here, but simply to highlight  the focus of my treatment approach, I treated his gangrenous feet with a special herb mixture, and put him on a regimen which included taking Digestive Tonic in the morning, and Liver Tonic in the evening. Gradually, his appetite improved to the point where he began eating solid foods, his skin and appearance improved greatly, he steadily gained weight and his bowels began working on a more regular basis. I also gave him a Nerve Tonic to help both he and his wife to sleep better and settle their nervous exhaustion.

After he was stabilized, I began a long term approach to treating his weakened kidneys. While he remains on dialysis, the two key aspects of kidney function – creatinine levels and the Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) – are improving steadily. Whereas the creatinine levels were once up around  the high 400’s, and the GFR was down  to 13 (a level of 15 and below is kidney failure), the creatinine levels are now down to low 200’s and the GFR is up to 22. While I readily acknowledge that he is not out of the woods yet, I have every reason to believe that after a period of 2-3 more years, his kidney function will return to normal.

CASE #2: This involved a call from a woman from out of province whose 3 year old son had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a potentially deadly disease characterized by an abnormal production of thick mucus in the lungs.

Recognizing her desperation, and in an effort to offer some form of assistance,  I sent her a number of bottles of my Lung Tonic, and continued to do so for approximately 6 months or  longer. After awhile,  there was no further contact and I was unable to determine if the treatment was successful or not.  In February of this year, I again heard from the mother.  Her son was now 18 years old and she stated that the  Lung Tonic had cleared up the cystic fibrosis in her young son, but now it was starting to come back. She wanted some more of the Lung Tonic, which I readily sent her.

This is not to say that my Lung Tonic is  a cure for C.F., but having thought about it in depth I now realize  exactly how and why it did work.  I am currently engaged in discussions with a  natural health food company in the U.S. that is doing research on C.F.; if all works out well, I may offer my Lung Tonic for use in clinical trials there.

While the above two examples are not necessarily meant to be  stellar applications of these two Tonics, they nonetheless illustrate the extent and depth to which  properly formulated Tonics can be employed. And if they worked so well for the extremes of these two cases,  both  theory as well as long term practice would suggest that they work  quite nicely for a host of conditions in between.

This is the beauty and complexity of herbs as restorative agents, and as very specialized foods for the cells of the body.  It is at once a confirmation of the multiple layers of disease as a process, and of herbs as restorative agents that address the  primary, secondary, and tertiary aspects of those processes. Many years ago, Dr. John Skelton (1855) stated: “Substances contained in the mineral kingdom are also contained in the vegetable and animal kingdom; in order to build up and sustain the animal body, Nature has established it as an infallible law that all nutritive force be derived from organized life, and that all violations of this law tend to disorganize and destroy the living structure.”

Be it ever thus…

Richard DeSylva is the owner of The Herb Works in Rockwood, Ont. He is on the Boards of the Ontario Herbalist Association, and the Canadian Council of Herbalists Association. For many years, Richard has been a long-time advocate and lobbyist for the appropriate regulation of herbs and herbal medicine. For more information, email:, or call: (519) 856-1636.

Catch Richard DeSylva at Whole Life Expo, where he will be offering a variety of herbal formulas at THE HERB WORKS booth 38 on November 22,23,24. See Showguide in this issue, or visit

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