The heart of herbal medicine

February was heart month. It’s always a perfect time to explore the heart and herbal medicine.

February was heart month. It’s always a perfect time to explore the heart and herbal medicine.

Being someone who considers healthy expression of emotions to be at the heart of good health, I can not help but reflect on all the expressions used in everyday language with regard to the heart. Such as: “Follow your heart” or “Trust your heart” or my favourite, “The heart has reasons that reason does not understand”.

These expressions suggest that the heart has a kind of emotional wisdom which transcends the brain.

If one considers findings from the emerging field of cardioneurology (the study of the interaction between the heart and the nervous system), one discovers truth in this statement.

To begin, the heart contains over 40,000 neurons. These heart neurons make and transmit both the feel good hormone dopamine and the stress neurotransmitter noradrenalin. In other words, a happy heart makes happy chemicals, and a stressed heart creates more stress.

The second significant fact in the marriage between the heart and the brain is the direct line of communication between the two. This direct line is called the vagus nerve and the brain cannot ignore a message from the heart.

However, the heart can ignore what the brain has to say.

For example, if the brain dies, the heart can continue to beat.

However, if the heart is removed from the body, it’s lights out for the brain.

Mother Nature seems to have understood the intimate relationship between the heart and brain when she supplied medicine for the broken hearted. Let’s look at few:

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) tried to dominate my garden last year. Motherwort is the herb for the anxious heart.

It is the plant to use when high blood pressure and heart palpations are associated with prolonged stress or menopause.

Motherwort relaxes the heart while increasing its ability to pump blood. It will calm the mind and reduce the need to react to the proverbial “The storm in a teacup.”

I like to think of motherwort as the herb for those who loose themselves to the cares of others.

This herb’s motto is: In taking care of the world, I take care of myself. Taking care of myself, I take care of the world.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is well known for bringing sleep.

Like most herbs, the effect of the herb is dependant on the amount one takes. If enough valerian is taken, one will sleep.

At lower doses valarian eases cramping. When someone tells me they feel like they have a cramp in their heart and have undergone the appropriate medical testing, I think valerian.

At daily low doses it eases cramps in the heart, uterus and digestive tract. It also reduces anxiety.

My current favourite heart herb, having taken the place of motherwort, is linden flowers (Tilia europa).

This herb I enjoy as calming tea. Rich in heart healthy flavonoids, when steeped over night linden turns a bright ruby red. Some consider this red colour to be the herb’s signature. A herb’s signature suggests which system it will benefit. The redness of linden tea denotes its value to blood and the circulatory system.

Linden dilates blood vessels reducing blood pressure. This ability also makes it useful in easing migraine headaches. Like valerian, one has to be careful how much linden to offer, as it will help one sleep.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) also makes a lovely soothing tea.

Like linden, it reduces blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. Also like linden, it helps to ease migraine headaches. Unlike linden though, lemon balm is quite specific to easing depression accompanying anxiety.

Depression significantly increases the risk of heart disease. Those muscular aches and pains of depression also profoundly effect the heart. Lemon balm, although mild in effect, certainly offers support to other herbs to ease the effects of depression on both mind and heart.

These are just a few herbs nature offers to nourish both the heart and the brain. Perhaps it is an error to consider matters of the heart separate from the cool reason of brain.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at abrah@shaw.ca