History of Tonic Medicine

There are two traditions of medicine in India. The first is Rig?Veda, compiled between the years 4,500 BC and 1,600 BC, and the second is Ayurveda, compiled between 2,500 BC and 600 BC. Two physicians are credited for putting Indian medicine in writing. Charaka, the first physician, left a list of 50 plant groups, each group containing 10 plants, that he thought was sufficient for the average doctor to practice medicine. Sushrata, the second physician, felt the minimum number to effectively practice medicine was 760 drugs, which he arranged into 37 sub?groups. (1) Tonic medicines are used singly or in combinations that are often complex formulae prepared in complex manners. Ayurvedic medicine has four basic components: personal hygiene (daily routines including bathing, exercising, meals, and sleep), rejuvenation (the use of drugs to increase immunity, resistance, improve mental function, and increase vitality), virility enhancement (the use of aphrodisiacs), and the practice of yoga. (6) Drugs used to rejuvenate or enhance virility are Agada (antidotes to poison), Rasayana (medicines which promote health and longevity), and Vajiaruna (aphrodisiacs). (7) Disease prevention is a central focus in Ayurvedic medicine. Prominent Ayurvedic drugs used to prevent disease include Allium sativum, Asparagus racemosus, Balsomodendron mukul, Bassia latifolia, Batatas paniculatus, Berberis asiatica, Cinnamomum camphor, Curcuma longa, Cyperus rotundus, Embelia ribes, Ferula asafoetida, Hydrocotyle asiatica, Lepidum sativum, Mucuna pruriens, Nigella sativa, Ocimum sanctum, Piper longum, Piper nigrum, Rhus succedanea, Sacharum officinarum, Sesamum indicum, Sida cordifolia, Tamarindus indica, Terminalia chebula, Tinospora cordifolia, Tribulis terrestris, Trichosanthus dioica,Trigonella sativa, Wedelia calendulacea, Withania somnifera, and Zingiber officinale. (8)

Dating to 3,100 BC, the Egyptian dynasties were sophisticated enough to build pyramids that still stand today. Not surprisingly, they were also learned in the subjects of agriculture, medicine, and pharmacy. Records suggest herbal medicines were a part of their wellness regimes. The Ebers papyrus, written around 1500 BC, contains medical information, plants, and prescriptions. Vitality medicines found listed in this document include Ficus carica, Ricinus communis, Commiphora molmol, Artemisia vulgaris, Aloe socotrina, Gentiana lutea, Cuminum cyminum, Mentha piperita, Foeniculum vulgare, Crocus sativus, Junperus communis, Vitis vinifera, Allium sativum, and Phoenix dactylifera. (2)

An ancient library discovered at Ashurbanipal contained clay tablets with information on the medicinal plants used by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The tablets are dated to 650 BC and contain a very similar list of plants as those used by the Egyptians. The Assyrian and Babylonian doctors may have learned from the Egyptians and kept the knowledge going as the Egyptian Empire was disappearing. (4)

The first evidence of a Chinese medical system appears during the Shang Empire that ruled between the 18th and 11th century BC. Artefacts and the written records of the Chou Dynasty (1050 BC? 256 BC) have been used to piece together a notion of medical practices of this earliest period. (9) However, the first major medical work still in existence today is the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing). Compiled between 200 and 100 BC, the book represents the philosophical and practical basis of what is known as Traditional Chinese Medicine. A second significant work is the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Coa Jing) produced during the later Han dynasty (25?220 AD.) This book gives attention to specific drugs, many used for tonic purposes that remain the mainstay of Chinese medicine. (3, 10) Indeed from the earliest times, Chinese medicine used drugs to improve health and prevent departure into disease. Their traditional medical system is so sophisticated that tonics are broken down into subgroups that tonify specific aspects of the body – the Yin, the Yang, the Chi, the blood, etc. For example, drugs that tonify the Chi include Astragalus membranaceus, Codonopsis pilosula, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Pseudostellaria heterophylla and Ziziphus jujube. (11) Drugs that tonify the bloodinclude Lycium chinense, Mori alba, Polygonum multiflorum and Rhemannia glutinosa. (12) that tonify the Yin include Glehnia littoralis and Momordica grosvenori (14) and those that tonify ang include Juglans regia, Alpinia oxyphylla and Cibotium barometz (13).

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