Tonics are traditionally prescribed to “restore, tone and invigorate” and this dark, sweet elixir is designed to do exactly that. It will deeply nourish your body, increase your resilience to stress, stimulate your immune system, optimize your digestion and support your cardiac and nervous system. Created for my recent herbal yoga workshop on boosting vitality, it also energetically helps balance the chakra system (the power centers or energy wheels of the subtle body) located near the major plexuses of our endocrine system.
In tune with the local landscape, this tonic was made with elderberry, calendula, dandelion, hawthorn, and lavender, all found growing in the Wark St. Commons where the workshop was held. It contains honey and some alcohol, so I call it a tonic elixir which is often made with both. And as it was a very hot sunny day, I mixed the elixir with sparkling mineral water over ice for a cooling refreshment. Which isn’t so strange considering that herbal tonics and medicinal elixirs are thought to be the precursor of the modern cocktail!
But before I get to the why, wherefores and recipe for this chakra balancing tonic elixir, I want to address some of the negative ideas associated with herbal tonics. At the beginning of the 20th century, they acquired the reputation of being “snake oil” elixirs and fraudulent “cure-alls”, but their use in healing traditions from Chinese medicine to Ayurveda to western herbalism is thousands of years old. Popular in Europe from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, tonics were manufactured for royal families and aristocrats under “patents of royal favor.”
In the 18th century, these “patent medicines” began to be exported to America and were sold to cure a wide variety of ailments including chronic pain, nervousness, insomnia, “female complaints” and kidney trouble. By the 19th century, however, herbal tonics became discredited and declared by the growing pharmaceutical industry to be without any medicinal value.
While there is no doubt many contained ingredients we would today consider questionable and even dangerous, turns out many of these tonics contained herbs known to medicinally effective, such as Willow Bark, whose salicin was used to develop aspirin. Lydia Pinkham’s famous Vegetable Compound contained black cohosh root, fenugreek seed, dandelion root, motherwort, and gentian root – herbs still sold today to help women with menstrual and/or menopausal discomfort.
Other popular tonics included echinacea (the first “quack” medicine labeled a “snake oil”) and medicinal herbs such as chamomile, dandelion, plantain, blood root, feverwort, poke, slippery elm, oak bark, to name but a few.
Today herbal tonics are enjoying a revival, longevity boosters, blood cleansers, brain tonics and energizing tonics abound. And while there still is no one definitive description of what a herbal tonic is or should do, this research study describes a tonic as a remedy purported to restore enfeebled function, promote vigor, and feelings of well-being.
Which isn’t surprising as they usually feature tonic plants so packed with vital nutrients they are considered “nutritive restoratives” by many herbalists. Research demonstrates our modern diets lack plant-derived nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and A, Omega-3 fats. But tonic plants like dandelion, nettles, and hawthorn (which I’ve used in my tonic elixir) positively brim with the vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, antioxidants and fatty acids depleted in our modern food supply, providing us with the nutrients we need to truly thrive.
A tonic is also defined by its capability to restore and/or maintain the physiological functioning of an organ system. Dandelion (a long standing liver and kidney remedy) is known to improve liver function, support bile production and reduce inflammation while helping the kidneys clear out toxins, waste, and excess water while re-establishing hydration and electrolyte balance.
Hawthorn, an old remedy for heart ailments is today considered a cardiotonic because it helps prevent cardiovascular disease, increases coronary blood flow, improve cardiac activity, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and repairs damaged cardiac cells.
Elderberry (a long time ingredient in flu remedies) is antiviral and rich in anthocyanidins, known to have immunostimulant effects. Stimulating and strengthening the body’s natural fighting mechanisms, elderberry extract has been shown to speed recovery from colds and flu.
And since dandelion, hawthorn, and elderberry, as well as calendula (uterine and digestive tonic) and lavender (nervous system tonic), are all found in my Chakra Balancing Tonic Elixir, I think it’s safe to say it could be considered a bit of a cure all!
Yarrow Willard is the well-known herbalist behind Harmonic Arts and he offers this advice for crafting herbal tonics and elixirs. “First, you simply begin with setting the intention of the desired effect of the brew. For example, this could be specified health benefits (like support the liver or kidneys), or energizing-effects, or an emotional lift. Then, craft the tonic with herbs and substances that support that intention.”
In yoga, the physical and subtle body is likened to a tree with different branches, and differing plants affect those branches in unique ways. Many herbs were used to activate certain chakras due to both their physical actions and energetic effects.
So for my tonic elixir, I began with dandelion roots, commonly used to ground the 1st or root chakra. Located at the base of the spine, it is the source of our life-giving connection to the earth and relates to issues of survival, security, and feelings of being safe in the world. Dandelions deep roots teach us there is no standing strong without first rooting down.
To this, I added calendula, whose sunny flowers are associated with the colors of both the 2nd (orange) and 3rd chakras (yellow). The 2nd chakra is associated with sexuality and creativity and governs our reproductive organs. Not coincidentally, calendula is a uterine tonic shown to support the healthy function of our reproductive system.
The third chakra or solar chakra is associated with the sun, as is calendula. Located in the abdominal area, the third chakra rules our personal power and the ability digest both the physical and emotional experiences of life. Calendula is also an effective tonic to help stimulate digestion, reduce digestive discomfort and soothe inflammatory conditions like leaky gut.
For the 4th ( Heart Chakra) I used Hawthorn for its heart healing abilities, and for the 5th (Throat Chakra) I used black elderberries high in the flavonoids which give the berries their deep blue color -the color of the 5th chakra. Finally, I used lavender’s nervine powers and violet energy to spiritually uplift the 6th chakra (governing the third eye) and 7th chakra (connecting us to Universal or Source Energy).
And in the words of herbalist and yoga teacher, Emily Perry I’d like to close with this, “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…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.”
Chakra Balancing Tonic Elixir
- 1/2 cup of elderberries (be sure to remove all stems – they are toxic!)
- 3 calendula flower heads
- 1/4 cup chopped dandelion root (or 4 tablespoons of dried root)
- 1/2 cup dried hawthorn blossoms/and or berries
- 4 large lavender flower heads
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup of honey
- 1/4 cup of high proof alcohol – i.e. vodka & brandy
- pinch of cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom
- Bring water to a boil in a saucepan.
- Add your plant material, reduce heat to low, and cover with a lid.
- Simmer on low for 20-30 minutes and then remove from the heat. Let cool and strain off plant material
- Mix with honey and alcohol. Store in airtight glass jar or container.
Use as daily tonic whenever you’re in need of a little vitalizing boost or when you are feeling run down to keep colds and flu at bay. Approximately two – three tablespoons per serving.