By Ken Babal, CN Originally Published In DRUM! Magazine's April 2010 Issue
When we think of herbs, we often think of the culinary spices in ethnic cuisines. Medicinal herbs also come to mind, like goldenseal or echinacea, which are taken to fight colds and flu. But there’s another category you might not be familiar with: tonic herbs.
Unlike medicinal herbs, which are taken temporarily when we are ill, tonic herbs can and should be taken routinely for health maintenance and superior health. A tonic is defined as a restorative substance that strengthens and invigorates organs or the entire body. Tonic herbs may be thought of as superfoods that nourish and protect us. Sometimes they are referred to as adaptogens because they help us adapt to stressful conditions by restoring altered body conditions back to normal.
Eleuthero (sometimes called Siberian ginseng) is an adaptogenic herb that was taken by Russian cosmonauts to help them adapt to the rigors of space flight. Eleuthero is claimed to provide energy, endurance, and an ability to withstand a wide range of adverse physical conditions, including noise. Studies show that the herb may enhance sensorial perception and heighten auditory awareness, all while protecting the hearing apparatus from damage due to excess stimulation.
Tonic herbs are particularly useful to drummers seeking power, stamina, improved coordination, and quick reflexes. Rhodiola is an adaptogen used for decades by Russian Olympians to maximize endurance and peak physical performance. Test subjects taking Rhodiola demonstrated greater back-muscle strength and hand endurance, better coordination, and a more economical expenditure of oxygen. Any substance that is able to increase blood oxygen will provide a major advantage in terms of stamina and recovery. (You might’ve heard of Mick Jagger using an oxygen tank backstage to help him get through his grueling live shows.)
Goji (lycium) is a broad-range adaptogen regarded by the Chinese as a longevity herb. Popular with martial artists, studies show that it is calming when one is overexcited and stimulating when one is depressed. It is said that eating a handful a day of the dried berries will make you happy for the rest of the day. Other superstar tonics in Chinese herbalism that are worth looking into are cordyceps, Panax ginseng, astragalus, and schizandra.