Chinese Medicine, Herbalism
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Kidney Yang Tonics – Warm the Source

Remember that the Kidneys are the root of both Yin and Yang, even though in and of themselves the Kidneys are considered Yin. Michael Tierra says that Kidney Yang is the “pilot light for our energy system”. When deficient, the warming ability of the Kidneys decreases and can manifest in one or more of the following patterns:

  • Cold, sore, weak low back
  • Copius clear or pale urine, incontinence, nighttime urination, weak or dripping urine stream
  • Coldness, cold limbs, avoiding cold and wanting warm
  • Weak legs, leg edema
  • Poor appetite, loose stools
  • Sexual dysfunction, infertility, premature ejaculation, nocturnal emission
  • Chronic vaginal discharge, leukorrhea, spermatorrhea

As you can see, some of these Kidney Yang deficiency patterns overlap with other Kidney deficiency patterns, although the bolded symptoms are the most tell-tale of Kidney Yang. We should also keep in mind that a person may very well have Kidney Yang deficiency and another pattern of excess, and maybe more deficiency patterns, as our bodymind is connected on so many levels. For example, the Kidneys receive from the Spleen and give to the Heart and Pericardium, so if the Spleen is out of balance that may be the underlying reason for Kidney deficiency. It is also a good practice to add a bit of yin tonic (like lycii) to balance a yang tonic.

A few Yang tonics:

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a warm, bitter and aromatic seed has a multitude of culinary and medicinal applications. As a Yang tonic, it is used for coldness, sore lower back, pain in the torso and extremities, morning sickness and indigestion. Make into a gruel with milk or tea to nourish the body and stimulate the appetite during or after debilitating diseases and sicknesses, including infant diarrhea. Lesley Tierra suggests sprouting and eating the seeds to aid digestion.

  • Fenugreek gruel: 1 1/2 tablespoon fenugreek ground coarsly simmered low in 1 cup milk or water, for a 5 minuets or until it thickens. Add herbs to flavor or thicken, cinnamon, fennel, slippery elm, marshmallow, ect. Turn off heat, let sit to cool, covered. Three times daily.

Damiana‘s (Turnera aphrodisiacea) spicy leaves combined with cinnamon, dried ginger and lemon peel are one of my favorite ways to warm up and tonify yang in the winter. The herbalist/acupuncturist at the Medicine Tree in St. Croix Falls formulated this “Libido Lifter/Kidney Tonic”, one of the most popular tea blends. Damiana is attuned to the Kidneys as it is a well-known aphrodisiac (just check the botanical name) that also treats impotence. The Tierras use it for irritable coughs, which I have yet to try, but I don’t doubt its soothing expectorant abilities, as I have felt how calming damiana can be to the nerves.

Blend and drink as needed. I like it strong; 2 tablespoons to a pint of boiling water, steeped an hour.

  • 2 parts Damiana
  • 1/2 part each cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel ground coarsely
  • 1 part Spearmint

Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) tastes bitter, with an underlying sweetness and a slight warming to the body. Its has yang tonic, aphrodisiac, sedative, astringent and adaptogenic properties. Some yang tonic can be too stimulating (think deer antler, yohimbe), but ashwaganda apparently does not overstimulate and in fact is used for improving sleep and clearing the mind when stressed or overworked. I have witnessed a complete turn around for a friend with lower back pain, creaky knees, low libido and a general state of low energy by mixing a teaspoon of the powder in heated raw milk daily. Personally, I have used ashwaganda tincture in adrenal formulas, which I always seems to need in spring. Perhaps I should be taking some right now for to tonify my Kidney Yang so to prevent adrenal exhaustion.

  • Delicious dosage to nourish yang: Mix 1/2 teaspoon powder with warm milk (can be rice, almond, soy, or ghee), take twice a day.

Other notable herbs:

Teasel Root (Dipsacus sylvestris)

Saw Palmetto (Sabal serrulata)

Celery Seeds (Apium graveolens)

False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum)


  1. You’ve created a really generous and in-depth blog. Lovely! Thank you so much for sharing with us.

    You mentioned Teasel root. Recently I’ve begun working with this but am not finding many resources other than Matthew Wood, Lady Barbara and some brief mentions of its use in TCM. Hmm. I need a little more. I’m trying it out on myself first getting a feel for dosage, pace etc. before I suggest it to others. Do you know of any other resources, or have you worked with Dear Teasel much? My primary draw to it (besides finding the plant in my world these days) is “repairs that which has been broken” and bone/ligament repair/regeneration.

    Autumn Blessings,

  2. celia says

    Carey, I feel the same way about finding sources about this plant. I haven’t used it for a while, but when I did I just made a regular decoction and took 1-2 cups a day, combined with some flavoring herbs. Here’s a little more info from Michael Tierra’s
    Chinese Traditional Herbal Medicine Vol I:
    “Xu Duan, Energy and Flovor: bitter, acrid, Warm. Organ Meridians Affected: Kidney and Liver.
    Actions: 1. Tonifies the Liver and Kidneys; 2. Assists in the healing of bones; 3. Both stops bleeding and moves Blood, 4. Clams the fetus.
    The name ‘Xu Duan’ means ‘Heal Fracture’; it is one of the important herbs fro back pain, weakness of tendons, bones, legs and knees, it has tonic and blood moving properties” His dosage is 6-8 grams.

    Lesley Tierra gives the dose of 6-21 grams in a decoction.

    Matthew Wood’s dosage is a small dose, one to three drops of the vodka tincture, one to three times a day. He says, “In a serious, chronic case, even this may produce aggravation. in this case, the doseage should be stopped or lessend for a while.”

    One other place to look is Stephan Harrod Buhner’s
    Healing Lyme

    book, because I have heard other’s mention that he suggests it for lyme (and thus many be in the book). Good luck and let me know what you find out!

  3. Thank you Celia! (Especially for typing all that out for me. 🙂 ) I will definitely write back with my findings. I am finding it completely baffling that this delightfully spunky plant with such a c.v. as described above hasn’t been more widely used. Especially considering the near epidemic of such conditions in the western world. Perhaps madame Teasel just wasn’t ready to have her full debut? We’ll see. About 6 years ago, in a very urban neighborhood that was my home I’d noticed these terrific looking thistley plants. At the time I’d had no idea what they were. So majestic and bold! They were growing on this patch of abandoned soil between the street and the sidewalk. They were at least up to my neck and I am 5-5. That was the beginning of “Hey Lady!! look at us!”

    Thanks again for the resources and information.

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