Healing Herbs for your Heart

Happy Valentine’s Day!

As something a little different this year, why not treat yourself to a gorgeous nurturing herbal remedy to help heal the heart.

Our Medical Herbalist Isobel Ravden has a wealth of knowledge about how certain herbs can help a range of conditions, and this month she is sharing with us how Hawthorn, Garlic, Foxglove and Ginseng all have their ‘roots’ in cardiovascular medicine.

For a personalised herbal remedy just for you call 01392 875 550 or email [email protected] to make an appointment.

By Isobel Ravden:

Hawthorn (Crataegus Species) – the one I prescribe the most…

Crataegus encompasses many species used in Herbal Medicine to treat a multitude of cardiovascular disorders, particularly angina, heart failure, and hyperlipidemia (high levels of cholesterol and triglyceride fats in the blood), (Chang et al. 2002). In my practice I use it most often in cases of Hypertension (high blood pressure) and Palpitations.  Hawthorn is thought to be a tonic for the heart, with a balancing, or ‘amphoteric’ action that helps to normalise the heart rate.  The leaves, flowers, and fruits of the Hawthorn species contain varying amounts of a number of biologically active substances, including oligomeric procyanins, flavonoids, and catechin, which have antioxidant properties, (Bahorun et al. 1994Vibes et al. 1994). In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), hawthorn berries (usually Crataegus pinnatifida; known as shanzha) are widely used for many indications, including digestive disorders and for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure (Chang et al. 2002).

Garlic (Allium sativum) – the Superfood that does it all!

For centuries, garlic has been valued for its broad and varied therapeutic properties and has probably been more closely scrutinised than many other medicinal herbs. There are many studies focussing on garlic for preventing atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on blood vessel walls), and  many beneficial cardiovascular effects have been found, including lowering of blood pressure, inhibition of platelet aggregation and improved fibrinolytic activity (ie blood-thinning properties), lowering of cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and protection of the elastic properties of the blood vessels (Rahman and Lowe 2006, Steiner et al. 1996)

So how much should one have?!  The consumption of large quantities of fresh garlic (0.25-1.0 g/kg or about 5-20 average-sized cloves) has been found to produce beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system (Kleijnen, Knipschild, and ter Riet 1989), so make sure your loved ones are dosed up too! If that’s too much of a good thing for you, don’t despair, there are garlic supplements out there but be careful and do your research, or come in for a chat, as many of the products on the market will not provide enough of the active constituents to be effective.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea/lanata)

The beautiful Foxglove was found to contain potent cardioactive glycosides (digitalis, digitoxin, and digoxin) which have been used in the allopathic treatment of chronic heart failure for many years.  In my clinic, I tend to treat less severe conditions, but it is interesting to note the historical importance of plant medicine in treating the Heart.  There are many other plant sources of cardiac glycosides, including Convallaria majalis(lily of the valley, convallaria), Helleborus niger (black hellebore), Nerium oleander (oleander), to name but a few, and as an aside, the venom of the cane toad (Bufo marinus) also contains cardiac glycosides (Mashour, Lin, and Frishman 1998)!

Ginseng (Panax Species)

Ginseng has been used medicinally in East Asian countries for thousands of years as an adaptogen and a tonic. I use it primarily I cases where fatigue, stress and debility are contributing factors. And the effects of stress upon the heart are well documented.  The two species that have been the most extensively researched are Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) and P. quinquefolius (American ginseng). The name Panax is derived from the Latin word “panacea,” which reflects the usage of this herb for a wide range of conditions. P. ginsengand P. notoginseng are used in TCM for hemostasis and the treatment of patients with angina and coronary artery disease (Mashour, Lin, and Frishman 1998).  Ginseng is a difficult and expensive plant to cultivate and harvest, so beware of substandard products on the market, and when in doubt, do consult a trained professional herbalist.

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