Chinese Medicine, Herbalism
comments 3

Yin Tonics – Nourish the Fluids

Here is the long time in coming follow-up to a post I did a while back about Kidney Yang tonics. I realized in I need to resolve the ‘wintery’ topics and start thinking about ‘spring’ topics. From browsing some of my favorite herb blogs, I have fully realized how behind Northern Minnesota is, seasonally speaking. We are late bloomers! The grass just started to turn green last week, along with tiny dandelion whorls and a few budding trees. Luckily, I was able to harvest some Cottonwood buds last week after a storm broke a good sized branch to the ground. Umm, those resinous buds pack a powerfully good scent!

Ok, back to Yin… Yin, like Yang, is stored in the Kidneys. Yin is the watery foundation for the entire body; it moistens, nourishes and lubricates all the organs and tissues in the body. Yin and Yang may originate from the Kidneys, but of course are found all over the body and organ systems. We can talk about Yin in a general sense, or we can specify Stomach Yin or Deficient Liver Yin for example.

Yin concerns the fluids of the body: blood, lymph, muscles and connective tissues, reproductive and urinary fluids, and the fluids that lubricate the mucus membranes, skin and joints. It is normal for some Yin to diminish as we age. Basically, aging is when the Yin dries up; it is responsible for greying of the hair, lower libido, and dry, wrinkled skin. Vegetable foods and passive exercises like yoga preserve the Yin essence because they build rather than diminish our energy reserves. Herbs that nourish Yin build compassion, tolerance, patience. In my mind I have two ways of remembering Yin: I think of cigarettes as being the antithesis of Yin, and of amniotic fluid as being incredibly Yin.

When Yin is deficient, not only is the cooling, moistening qualities of Yin lacking, but Yang may overcompensate and become excessive with its warming and circulating energy. Remember that Yang is like the “pilot light for our energy system”, so if this energy is unchecked by Yin, what should be a little “pilot light” may turn into an inflammatory condition, and out energy system my go into autoimmune overdrive.

What do you think the symptoms of Stomach Yin deficiency would be? You guessed it: lack of stomach fluids. There may be other symptoms that overlap with Spleen Yin deficiency, like bloating and hunger with no desire to eat. Lung Yin deficiency manifests as a dry throat and cough without mucus, a great example of a lack of nourishing fluids.

Michael Tierra says that Kidney Yin tonics nourish the parasympathetic nervous system. Yin tonics support the cooling aspect of the adrenals. Kidney Yin Deficiency tends towards the following symptoms: Dry mouth at night, night sweats, dry throat with thirst, dizziness, tinnitus lack of libido and impotence, heat in palms, soles and chest, aches in the bones, constipation, dark, scanty urination, tendency towards being thin, dry and shriveled, malar flush, red tongue with no coat and a weak, tight and deep (thready) pulse.

Rehmannia is great for night sweats, thirst, back pains of kidney deficiency and to promote the healing of bones and flesh. We mention “wasting” or “wasting diseases”, tuberculosis is a good example, but any disease that effects you for a long time and steals your energy could be considered wasting, like scarlet fever or pneumonia. Rehmannia is enriches the blood, which makes it very replenishing and regulating to the menses. Add a bit of cinnamon or cardamon to make it more suitable for cold types, or use the prepared (rather than fresh or dried) version.

Lycii is sweet and nourishing. It is both a yin and blood tonic, which makes it handy in reproductive dryness. It is well known for strengthening and maintaining vision. Again used for yin deficiency (good for low back pain, weak knees and legs, impotence, tinnitus, poor eye sight) and wasting diseases, since it replenishes Chi. This delicious sweet and almost salty dried fruit is one of my favorite snacks.

Chrysanthemum, ligustrum, saw palmetto are other great nourishing herbs.

Filed under: Chinese Medicine, Herbalism


Tea-drinking, nature-loving acupuncturist, East Asian Medicine practitioner, herbalism and birth doula living in the Pacific Northwest.


  1. Hi, I hope you don’t mind if I veer off of the herbal component of yin for a moment, but I have a question. You mentioned an excess of Yang as resulting in autoimmune overdrive. Do you think it is a stretch to consider a possibility that children can become yin deficient due to yin deficiency in the mother. I don’t mean in utero, but of course a yin deficient mother (of young children) may have been yin deficient when she was pregnant. Could a yin-deficient environment—or overly yang-cause yin deficiency in the children in a particular environment? Again…I apologize for this veering from the herbal for the moment but this is something I’d like your opinion on. Also, does building and nourishing the yin allow excessive Yang to be returned to “pilot light” ? Thanks for this great article on kidney Yin and Yin in general.

  2. celia says

    That is an interesting question you pose about Yin deficiency coming from the mother but not in-utero. Jing, or essence, is partially from the food we eat (via the Spleen) and the air we breath (via the Lungs), but a good deal of our essence/Jing is pre-determined by our parents Jing the pass on to us after conception. After that, the childrens’ destiny/individual path and their environment are influential, so I certainly think you are right on. When it comes to an environment, I think it’s apt to call it Yang or Yin, just like our entire culture is Yang.

    Hmm… excess Yang being returned to the ‘pilot light’… I am not entirely sure about this, as it would depend on the relative amount of Yang present. Since we are saying “deficient Yin” and not “Excess Yang”, we can assume that the amount of Yang is normal but only excess when compared to the Yin. I think it still exists circulating around the body as it normally does, but paired more equally with yin (after nourishing a deficient yin, that is). To bring a level of excess Yang down, maybe it is released from the body? This is a very good question. What do you think?

  3. Celia, I am just now seeing your response to my question!? Actually what I meant and could have worded it better was restored, rather than “returned”. Releasing it from the body makes sense to my un-scientific mind. Would this be done through herbs that make you sweat?

    I am amazed, after spending time on Kidney this winter, that it seems many many people have Kidney issues. My son has had recurring sore throats since January, no bacterial infection either. They usually come on cyclically. I came across something saying this could be due to deficient Kidney chi. Hmmm. what do you think about this association. How would one nourish kidney chi in an 11 year old boy? I am also wondering if this could have any link with developing hormones at this age considering the link between Kidneys and Sexuality.
    also have to say Thanks for all your wonderful posts. I’m learning a lot here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *