Herbal Heart Tonics

Incorporate these five delicious herbs into your daily routine to strengthen and gladden your heart.

| October/November 2017

tea ball

Herbs can help keep your heart and cardiovascular system functioning optimally.

Photo by Getty Images/picalotta

Your heart is the capital city at the center of your body, with an intricate network of blood vessels branching out in the form of superhighways (arteries), routes (arterioles), and winding, narrow backroads (capillaries), with your veins serving as the return route. Together, these elements are your primary transport system, delivering life-giving oxygen, nutrients, hormones, and other compounds throughout your body while picking up waste for elimination. An intricate balance of muscle strength and nervous impulse moves an astonishing 2,000 gallons of blood every day with approximately 100,000 heartbeats. No matter your age, herbs can help keep this important organ and body system functioning optimally.

Red Heart Tea Recipe

Hawthorn Berries, Leaves, Flowers, and Twigs (Crataegus spp.)

The thorny, shrubby hawthorn tree provides profound heart medicine with a long history of safe use as a tonic. Alongside the classic fall-harvested berries, you can also include leaves, flowers, and twigs, pinched off in spring just before or as the flowers bloom. All these parts are rich in antioxidant compounds and have a variety of beneficial effects on the heart and cardiovascular system. Hawthorn helps decrease oxidative damage and inflammation; normalizes and reduces blood pressure; modestly reduces cholesterol; dilates blood vessels; improves oxygen utilization; strengthens the structure and function of the heart; reduces blood stickiness (platelet aggregation); protects against injury; helps with healing from cardiovascular events; improves heart rhythm; reduces chest pain and angina; strengthens the heart in congestive heart failure; and helps achieve and maintain smooth blood vessel lining.

Hawthorn — particularly the flowers — is also used to help people heal from grief. It’s quite amazing the diverse ways in which hawthorn improves the status of the human cardiovascular system, all while being very safe and food-like. However, as a tonic, it can take several months of steady and relatively high doses before the effects become noticeable. My favorite way to take hawthorn is as a highly concentrated (and tasty!) solid extract, but you can also use tinctures, teas, and standardized capsules, and you can add the powder to smoothies and other recipes.

While generally safe, hawthorn may interact with and synergize or increase the effects of some heart medications. These include digoxin and blood pressure drugs.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

This “stinking rose” also offers broad-spectrum heart tonic properties. Studies generally support garlic’s ability to modestly reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, platelet aggregation, atherosclerosis, fibrin (which is associated with clots and coagulation), and inflammation. One of the challenges in studying and using garlic is the many ways in which it can be prepared. Allicin, a key sulfur component, gives garlic its odor and some of its benefits. However, it’s also unstable and difficult to preserve in supplement form. Aged garlic extract has performed well in studies and focuses on different, more stable garlic compounds. When using fresh garlic in food, let it sit for approximately 10 minutes after you chop or mince it to transform garlic into its most active form. Eat one or more cloves daily.

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