Saturday, February 10, 2018

Herbal Love for the Heart

Linden leaf

February....the month of the heart. This is the month for giving heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and passing out love notes, for a candlelit dinners for two and romantic rendezvous, and for not only thinking of those that we love but for turning some love inward, caring for your own heart as well. Let the herbal world be your ally when it comes to both the emotional and physical health of the heart through the use of cardiotonics.

Cardiotonics is a broad term for a class of herbs that have an affinity with the heart and have a positive effect on the heart and larger cardiovascular system. The ways in which these herbs can have a gentle yet powerful effect on the heart are multitude,  from strengthening the veins to dilating the coronary artery to calming anxiety, and many of these effects are believed to stem from their high flavonoid content. Flavonoids are phyto-nutrients or plant nutrients essentially, inherent in all plants to varying degrees. Science is discovering flavonoids can do everything from strengthen the vascular system to boost the immune system to relieve depression. However, despite recent discoveries, science hasn't quite figured it all out yet, that is in just how these herbs have the effect they do. What we do know from experience, is that they do.

Hawthorn fruits

The first herb I would like to highlight is Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), an herb that has been both valued traditionally as a heart herb for centuries and more recently backed by science and embraced by modern medicine.

Hawthorn, a member of the Rose family, is a small to medium-sized tree and encompasses numerous species. Hawthorn can be found both in cultivation given its beautiful white flowers in the spring and scarlet fruits in the autumn, as well as naturalized in our forests and meadows. Because its leaves can be variable in form, I find it easiest to recognize by its four-seeded fruits and its one to two inch long sharps spines that are found on its branches and twigs.

Thorns of Hawthorn
Most of Hawthorn's medicine is found in its fruit, which can be eaten fresh as a food or dried and steeped in a tea. Hawthorn has the ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure while also reducing platelet activity and strengthening the blood vessels.  However in addition to these skills it has the superpower to gently increase the force of the contractions of the heart, in turn improving the availability of energy. This unique quality does not happen overnight but rather through consistent ingestion. Studies show that once the heart's pump has strengthened, it remains stronger over time. Additionally Hawthorn will dilate the coronary artery, increasing blood flow and nourishment to the heart. Thus, when we look at Hawthorn on a whole, it not only decreases the risk for coronary heart disease but quite literally is food for the heart, protecting as it strengthens.

Motherwort leaves found near base of plant

This next herb, Motherwort, has a strong affinity for the heart as evidenced even by its scientific name: Leonurus cardiaca. Even its common name suggests that its role is that of caregiver. Recognize it by its lobed leaves, maple shaped near the base of the plant and goosefoot shaped as they travel up the stalk. Leaves will be oppositely arranged and tiny flowers will be irregular shaped, both indicative of its place in the Mint Family. I have also suggested Motherwort for use in revitalization as well as relaxation. Therefore, although often considered a weed, common to old homesites and roadsides, Motherwort has a spectrum of medicinal qualities.

Motherwort flowers

The medicine of Motherwort is largely due to its inherent flavonoids and has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce platelet activity in turn reducing the likelihood of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack. It is a mild nervine, reducing anxiety and heartache. Given this cardiotonic/nervine combo, it is especially beneficial for those who suffer heart palpitations as a result of high stress. It is also indicated in general weakness of the heart after surgery or infection, having the ability to strengthen the heart without straining. Infuse leaves, stems, and flowers in hot water for 10 minutes, strain and sip.

Linden leaves, flowers (not yet open) and bracts
Lastly, let's take a look at Linden (Tilia spp.), otherwise known as Basswood. Linden possesses a number of species but is generally a tree strong in stature, often reaching tall towards the sky with widely spreading branches. Because of its attractive appearance it is not unusual to find Linden planted on lawns and in parks where it is well-manicured, as well as deep in the forest growing whichever way it pleases. I am most apt to identify Linda by its large hand-sized leaves with a heart-shaped base and uneven lobes. In the spring, it produces fragrant tiny flowers that hang on slender stems attached to bracts  - and therein lies its medicine.

Linden flowers (not yet open) and bracts

 Although here in the States, we may not be as familiar with this tree, it is well-accepted in Europe as a relaxing tea, calming to not only adults but children. A simple cup of tea made from its flowers and attached bracts (small leaf-like appendages) can quickly reduce blood pressure and after a few more sips calm the nerves and lift the spirits. Drink a cup or two daily to fight depression, support the heart, and even prevent hardening of the arteries due to those almighty flavonoids. Similar to Motherwort, this herb is particularly good for anxiety induced palpitations.

These are just a handful of herbs that show a little love to the heart. Drop in on my class at The Lodge at Woodloch titled: Herbs for the Heart, to learn more!

Be certain to consult with your doctor before consuming any herbs that may affect the heart. Some of these herbs may interact with other prescription drugs for the heart. Additionally, these are not safe during pregnancy.

Find my activities such as plant walks, herbal workshops, and hiker Q &A  on the weekly schedule at: This post will also be available at Woodloch's blog: