What would you do for your heart health?
Too often, our culture reduces the heart to mechanics, so we get: “Here, take this pill.” Or: “No more saturated fat for you!”
Seldom do we ask, “What do our hearts need? What do they want?” And then cultivate a deep listening presence and await the answers.
That probably is the first step to supporting heart health: following our hearts, despite what our family, friends, and society expect.
Hundreds of books and web sites urge us to ask the right questions and delve for the answers. One of my favorites is The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature by herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner. Using the heart as metaphor, Buhner breaks through the sclerosis of heart-as-pump and expands our understanding of this marvelous “organ of perception.”
So much involving the heart is not “either/or” but “both/and.” Care extends from the metaphysical to the physical, with one feeding into the other and vice versa. Of course, taking care of the heart’s physical needs can better support us in listening to its wisdom.
And the care-taking need not be expensive or involve heavy-handed measures such as pharmaceuticals. Good food, herbs, movement and relaxation all offer support.
Heart Healthy Foods
Eat whole, unprocessed foods and stick with what’s in-season and at farmers markets.
Unless you grow your own food, this food tends to be the freshest you can find.
Don’t overeat. Ayurveda, the ancient medicine of India, suggests we stop eating when we’re about 70 percent full. This allows space for the stomach to do its job.
Eat a fair amount of plants, including some wild ones, if you can, such as lambsquarter, chickweed, and early-season dandelion greens. Add a fat to help absorb vitamins A,D, E, and K.
Avoid polyunsaturated oils (vegetable, cottonseed, corn, soy, canola, flax) as these turn rancid quickly and are unstable. Stick with extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and ghee.
Make liberal use of culinary spices, which are rich in antioxidants.
Nervines and Adaptogens for Heart Health
Get familiar with nervines and adaptogens. Nervines are herbs that support the nervous system.
Adaptogens work specifically on the sympatho-adrenal and neuroendocrine systems to help us counter the effects of stress, the cause of much cardiovascular degeneration and illness.
Milky oats—oats picked in the milky stage—are a nerve nourisher that can be taken as an infusion (steeped in hot water) and drunk daily. Adaptogens include eleuthero, American ginseng, schizandra berry, ashwagandha, shatavari, and holy basil. Each of these adaptogens has different qualities, so consult with someone knowledgeable to ensure you are using one that’s appropriate for you.
Cardiotonic and Cardioactive Herbs
Cardioactive herbs, such as Lily of the Valley and Digitalis, contain cardioactive glycosides, which the body is slow to release. These plants may help people who have cardiovascular disease, but need to be used under the care of someone skilled in their use.
Digitalis is used in conventional medicine as Digoxin.
Cardiotonic herbs are specifically for tonifying the cardiovascular system. The main ones are hawthorn leaf, flower and berry and linden leaf and flower. Both of these can be taken as an infusion—1 tsp to 1 T of herb per cup of boiling water, steeped for 10-15 minutes. Add honey, if desired, and drink.
Other cardiotonic herbs to consider, along with the other systems they benefit, include:
- garlic (blood vessel support, respiratory, digestive)
- motherwort (digestive, reproductive, and nervous)
- rosemary (respiratory and digestive)
- yarrow (blood vessel support, digestive, urinary, reproductive, and skin as varicosities)
- horse chestnut (small amounts may help strengthen capillary integrity and assist with varicosities)
- cayenne and ginger (circulatory, including peripheral circulation)
- gotu kola and ginkgo biloba (cerebral blood flow)
A couple of other herbs to keep in mind are licorice, which, used in small amounts as part of a larger formula, supports the adrenal glands, and stinging nettles, which, cooked as greens, made into pesto or infused in hot water, help support the kidneys.
DISCLAIMER: Anyone already on heart or blood pressure medications is urged to seek care from a qualified health practitioner as combining herbs with meds can often have undesired effects.
Leigh Glenn is a community and clinical herbalist in Annapolis, Md.
Information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any illness or disease.
- Dani Stone at Ancestral Nutrition asks Why is the AHA endorsing Subway?
- Jack Moore, guest blogger at HartkeIsOnline tells us How a Heart Attack Changed My Diet!
- Lori Elliot at Our Heritage of Health teaches us How to Listen To Your Body. She says, at first, it’s like trying to hear a pin drop at Niagara Falls :)
- Dr. Peggy Malone on Heart Healthy Nutrition