Herbs for the Heart and Cardiovascular System

herbs for heart

“It might look like I’m doing nothing, but at the cellular level I’m really quite busy.”
~Unknown

If you haven’t read my article on Tending Mother Ocean: Herbs for the Lymph, you might want to start there, as the heart and the lymph work so closely together. Or, alternately, you can just jump right in!

In most cultures since ancient times the heart has been viewed as connected to the feelings, love and the intuition. We say things like, “Do you feel it in your heart?” or, “What does your heart say?”

Personally, I don’t think we can separate the heart from its physiological and emotional aspects. I have seen broken hearts cause high blood pressure and heart disease. As herbalist Stephen Buhner says, the heart is an organ of perception and communication.

In turn, herbs are linked in with the circulation of the planet’s oxygen and nutrient flow. Beautifully, plants “breathe” CO2 (our waste gas) and provide us with oxygen. We depend on each other. We are linked with plants in so many ways. Chlorophyll is chemically similar to red blood cells, specifically the heme, which is the oxygen-transporting part of hemoglobin. The difference is that red blood cells contain iron as their central atom, whereas chlorophyll contains magnesium. Chlorophyll allows plants to use the energy in sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. This process, called photosynthesis, allows plants to create protein, fiber and other necessities for their growth.

Now back to humans, and the heart of the matter…

The cardio vascular system has many components. The heart is a hollow organ composed of four chambers. It initiates circulation of the blood throughout the body. Unlike other muscles, the heart muscle contracts and expands without any direct stimulus from the nervous system. Amazingly, the heart has its own conduction system and is made of specialized muscle tissue that generates its own electrical impulses that cause it to beat.

Blood Vessels are a network of tubes that carry blood away from the heart. Larger arteries transport blood to the tissues through capillaries and then blood is carried back to the heart through veins.

Arteries and veins have smooth muscle to help pump blood. Without this local contraction mechanism, the heart alone could not accomplish the monumental job of circulation. Because capillaries need to be porous, they have no smooth muscle surrounding them. Capillaries are permeable and this is where nutrients, gasses and wastes are exchanged from the blood to the interstitial fluid and into the cells.

Because most cells in the human body are stationary, they are completely reliant on the blood and lymph to make sure they get what they need: “groceries” such as oxygen, glucose, vitamins, electrolytes, proteins and hormones are delivered and, “trash”, such as CO2 and lactic acid, is taken away.

Now comes the interesting part…

The cells play a key role in feeding themselves. When a tissue’s metabolic needs are low (i.e. it is not being used much) only a small amount of blood ends up flowing to that area. When a tissue becomes active, the whole network fills with blood. This is done through a chemical reaction caused by cell metabolites – the “trash”. This allows each cell to get what it needs by controlling its own blood supply. How cool is that?

Our modern lifestyle greatly affects our cardiovascular system. High stress without a physical outlet can cause high blood pressure. Reduced exercise decreases circulation and heart and pulmonary health.

Below is a list of herbs that have specific healing effects on the cardiovascular system.

A Caution: please be careful using herbs if someone is on heart medications or blood thinners. When using herbs for blood pressure, it is very helpful to check the blood pressure daily.

Herbal Actions:

Blood thinners are anticoagulant herbs that prevent blood clotting. They contain substances that contain coumarin, salicylate, or antiplatelet properties. There have been no documented case reports of herbal interactions with the medication warfarin, never the less, it is important to be careful.

  • Herbs: garlic, ginkgo, ginger, feverfew
  • Herbs with coumarin or coumarin derivatives: angelica root, arnica flower, anise, asafoetida, celery, chamomile, fenugreek, horse chestnut, licorice root, lovage root, parsley, passionflower herb, quassia, red clover, and rue, sweet clover
  • Herbs with salicylates: meadowsweet, poplar, willow bark
  • Herbs that have antiplatelet activity: bromelain, clove, onion, and turmeric

garlic

Cardiac Nervines: have a calming effect on the heart and cardiovascular system

  • Herbs: Passionflower, motherwort, linden, hawthorn

Cardiac Tonics support normal cardiac function. They can work on the cardiovascular system, or several other organs in the body that deal with fluid transport.

  • Cardiovascular: hawthorn, garlic, motherwort, yarrow, rosemary
  • Lungs: garlic, angelica, horseradish
  • Digestive: yarrow, angelica, motherwort, rosemary, garlic
  • Nervous system: motherwort, linden, passionflower
  • Reproductive: angelica, motherwort, dong quai, yarrow
  • Musculoskeletal: cayenne, prickly ash, mustard

Circulatory Stimulants cause vasodilatation. They can aid in bringing herbs and blood to certain areas of the body.

  • Herbs: cinnamon, garlic, linden
  • Herbs for surface circulation: Cayenne, Yarrow, Figwort
  • Herbs for core circulation: Ginger
  • Herbs for the extremities: Prickly Ash, Rosemary, Ginkgo

Diaphoretics promote sweating. They can be helpful for a fever, or for people that under-use their skin as an eliminatory organ (i.e. don’t sweat enough).

  • Herbs: yarrow, boneset, cayenne, elder flower, ginger, garlic, peppermint, thyme

Diuretics increase the flow of urine – they make you pee.

  • Herbs: burdock, cleavers, corn silk, couch grass, dandelion leaf, gravel root, juniper, nettles, parsley, goldenrod, stone root

Hemostats reduce or stop bleeding or hemorrhage.

  • Herbs: bayberry, cinnamon, cayenne, geranium, oak, shepherd’s purse, witch hazel, yarrow, bugle weed, goldenseal

Hypotensives help to lower blood pressure.

  • Herbs: cayenne, garlic (fresh), ginger, hawthorn, linden, motherwort

hawthorn

Rubefacients encourage circulation externally through vasodilatation. They can draw congestion from other areas of the body.

  • Herbs: Cayenne, ginger, garlic, cloves, nettles, horseradish, poplar, mustard, onion
  • Essential oils: ginger, clove, rosemary, peppermint

Vasodilators help to widen blood vessels. They often act by relaxing smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, in particular in the large veins, large arteries, and smaller arterioles.

  • Herbs: thyme, linden, horsetail, bayberry, mugwort, butterbur, prickly ash, cayenne, ginger, vinca, garlic, hawthorn, Asclepias tuberosa, passion flower
  • Other ways to increase circulation to certain parts of the body include massage, castor oil packs, exercise, sitz baths, hot and cold packs, steaming, maxabustion, and cupping.

Vasoconstrictors help to constrict blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure. Although we rarely think on these terms, low blood pressure is also a problem as it is can cause transport problems to the cells and fainting and dizziness.

  • Herbs: goldenseal, barberry, ma haung, prickly poppy, yarrow, licorice

Herbal Formulations:

Cardiac Support Tincture:

  • 2 parts Hawthorn flowers and berries
  • 1 part Motherwort
  • ½ part Garlic

Use: as a basic tonic formula, Dosage: 40 drops 3 x a day

Relaxing Tea:

  • 1 part Passionflower
  • 1 part Linden flower
  • 1 part Lemon Balm
  • ½ part Spearmint
  • ½ part Hibiscus

Use: relaxing and soothing to cardiovascular system, Dosage: 1-3 cups throughout the day

Diaphoretic Tea/Bath: equal parts of each:

  • Yarrow
  • Ginger
  • Elder
  • Thyme

Make a tea with 4 tablespoons herbs and 1-pint water. Let it steep for half an hour and strain well. Add it to a hot bath and soak for 20 minutes. It may also be drunk as a tea. Be careful when exiting the tub.

Resources:

Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases, http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/activity.html

Potential Interactions Between Alternative Therapies and Warfarin, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/406896_2

© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2016

ElaineAbout the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 25 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, MT, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. An artist and writer, Elaine has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons.


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4 Comments on “Herbs for the Heart and Cardiovascular System

  1. Hi Elain I would really like to work with you. Please contact me. I have a degree in Alternative Medicine and working hard to obtain my certification as a Master Herbalist. This is such a beautiful page.

    • Hi Tonya, I’m glad you like the article. Depending on where you live, we have lots of classes (and levels of classes) at Green Path. I also do distance mentorships if that helps. Warmly, Elaine

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