Before microscopes, MRIs, blood tests or CT scans, health practitioners — in particular herbalists — were taught to considered the circulatory system in any disease they were asked to treat. Considering that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death of Canadians, they were on to something.
But it wasn’t only strokes and heart attacks that attract the herbalist’s attention to the cardiovascular system, it is all disease.
Blood nourishes and supplies oxygen to all areas of the body. It also removes wastes such as poisonous carbon dioxide made by every cell in the body as it goes about its daily routine.
The traditional premise of well being is: if blood supply to any area of the body is weak, that area of the body will be more likely to fall into ill health due to poor nourishment and sluggish removal of toxins.
The controversial liberation therapy now being tested in Canada, to reverse the effects of Multiple Sclerosis, it based on this traditional view of medicine. By opening blood supply to the brain, delicate nerve tissue has more oxygen and the debilitating effects of poor blood flow to the brain are reversed, at least temporarily. As the brain has no ability to store food, it is essential that it has a continued rich flow of blood.
Gingko (Gingko biloba)is specific to increase blood flow to the brain.
Cancer and the circulatory system are also intimately entwined. Cancer grows blood vessels, quickly, to feed its ravenous hunger.
These blood vessels are weak and easily tear encouraging the spread and growth of the cancer. Herbs like turmeric (Curcuma longa) slow the growth of the cancer’s blood vessels. Blood vessel tonics, herbs which strengthen blood vessel walls, are also used. My personal favourite is the lovely calming flower from the linden tree (Tulia europa).
In treating chronic inflammation, herbalists turn to plants which stimulate both the circulatory system and lymphatic system.
After all, the lymphatic system is the cleaning lady of the body, removing debris from any over indulgence the body many participate in, including inflammation. The lymph vessels partner with blood vessels throughout the body.
I think of the lymph system as a close relative to the circulatory system. I like the combination of echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) and prickly ash (Zanthoxylum spp.) to improve both circulation and lymph flow. The challenge is the taste!
Herbs that relax and open blood vessels are an essential in easing the frequency of migraine and cluster headaches.
The jarring pain of these headaches is caused by spasms in the blood vessels. Both the linden flowers and valarian (Valarianna officinalis) relax blood vessel, reducing the spasms and the frequency of the headaches. Both herbs are used as preventative measure. At the first signs of headache, I generally recommend ginger (Zingiber officinale) for both nausea and a more dramatic relaxation of the blood vessels.
Herbalists also call upon a class of herbs called blood builders to strengthen the circulatory system. Blood builders improve the mineral balance, including iron, in the blood.
Nettles (Urtica dioica), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), yellow doc (Rumex crispus), chickweed (Stellaria media) and raspberry leaves (Rubus ideaus) and all blood builders. Adding rose hips (Rosa acicularis) to the formula, improves the absorption of the minerals, as well as providing a tonic to the blood vessels.
Other than raspberry leaves, the blood builders remove toxins from the body. Strongly nourishing detoxifying herbs are frequently the key to feeling good and sustaining good health.
I prefer sipping nourishing teas for cleansing toxins over the boxed detox kits. A herbal tea of nettles, alfalfa and rosehips is gentle, effective and provides lasting results. Or in herbalist language, the tea will build blood, improve vascular integrity and remove wastes from cellular metabolism. It also tastes good!
Sometimes, I think we are blinded by the amazingly useful diagnostic tools at a doctor’s disposal today. Or as a friend says, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water.
Sometimes it the simplicity of gently nourishing, strengthening and removing wastes which are the key to health. Or, as traditional herbalists teach, “pay attention to the circulatory system in disease”.
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 email@example.com