World Heart Day Special: Herbs for a healthy heart

A healthy heart is the foundation of a healthy body and mind. Here are some herbs that will improve your heart health

woman running in natureCardiovascular disorders [CVD] like disorders of the heart and blood vessels, though more in the news today, are not a new-age disease. They have existed since generations and been treated or controlled successfully, often by herbal medicines. For those interested in trying out a herbal remedy for a cardiovascular disorder, the search will most often end in your own garden. If not, source 'heart-healthy-herbs' [whole herbs and not supplements] from stores selling organic or herbal products.

Alfalfa

Botanical Name: Medicago sativa

Commonly known as: Vilaiti gawuth, Jungli Lucerne

woman running in natureAlfalfa is a leguminous herb and nutritionally one of the most versatile. The credit of its discovery goes to the Arabs. The name is derived from the Arabic 'Al-fac-facah', which means 'Father of all foods'. It's a great source of protein, vitamins [A, C, E and K], minerals [calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, chlorine, sodium, and potassium] and phytoestrogens [dietary oestrogens].

The juice of fresh Alfalfa leaves is effective for most problems of the heart and blood vessels. It yields best results when consumed in combination with carrot juice. The sprouts are a popular salad ingredient, but not recommended for individuals with autoimmune disorders like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus [SLE].

Side-effects: Alfalfa has the tendency to act as a laxative and a diuretic.

Arjuna

Botanical Name: Terminalia arjuna

Commonly known as: Arjun, Kahu

A native of India, the Arjuna is considered as a sacred tree. Medicinally, the most useful part of the tree is its bark. Containing substances like beta-sitosterol, ellagic acid and arjunic acid, the bark of the Arjuna has anti-oxidant properties equal to that of vitamin E.

The bark/preparations made from it, serves as a cardio-protective agent and are useful in alleviating chest pain [angina pectoris], treating heart failure and coronary artery disease. Arjuna also reduces cholesterol by inhibiting its hepatic biosynthesis.

Consume the powdered bark daily, in doses of 0.75 – 2g, either with water or milk. This formula called Arjuna-kshira-paka has been in use for treating heart diseases for more than 1000 years.

Side-effects: Arjuna consumption may have a diuretic effect.

Hogweed

Botanical Name: Boerhaavia diffusa

Commonly known as: Punarnava

A creeping, perennial herb, the Hogweed is indigenous and the name Punarnava means 'one which renews the body'. The active component of this herb is the alkaloid punarnavine. The plant also contains large quantities of potassium salts which accounts for its diuretic properties.

Medicinally the most important part of this herb is its root. The root powder is used in treating Congestive Heart Failure [CHF], a condition characterised by the inability of the heart to adequately supply the body's organs and tissues with oxygenated blood. One can consume the powdered root in small doses of 2 – 3 g, thrice daily, with water.

Side-effects: Nausea and diuresis.

Indian Gooseberry

Botanical Name: Emblica officinalis

Commonly known as: Amla

woman running in natureThe Indian Gooseberry is a small or middle-sized tree and a native of India. The name amla in Sanskrit means 'the sustainer'. Ayurveda practitioners and hakims have been using various parts of the tree—fruit, flowers, root and bark—in their medicines, since early times. Amla is the primary ingredient in an ancient herbal preparation called Chyawanprash. The fruit is one of the richest sources of vitamin C. It also contains minerals like chromium, zinc, copper and amino acids like glutamic acid, proline, aspartic acid, alanine and lysine.

The juice of amla fruit controls high blood cholesterol [hypercholesterolemia] by reducing levels of serum cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL [low density lipoprotein]. It also reduces fatty deposits [plaques] in blood vessels, which would otherwise cause their clogging/hardening [a condition know as atherosclerosis].

You can consume one tablespoon of [fresh] amla fruit juice daily [plain or sweetened with honey]. In case of non-availability of fresh fruit, amla fruit powder can be used.

Side-effects: The fruit also acts as a diuretic and laxative.

Holy Basil

Botanical Name: Ocimum sanctum

Commonly known as: Tulsi, Tulasi

An indigenous herb, the holy basil plant is branched, stout and aromatic. It is considered a gift of Christ and the name 'holy basil' means 'holy king'. Its also one of the most cherished herbs in India, quite in sync with its other name, tulsi, which in Sanskrit means 'the incomparable one'. Its primary constituents like oleanolic acid, rosmarinic acid, carvacrol and ?-caryophyllene, have proven therapeutic effects.

This herb helps overcome the malaise associated with cardiac diseases, lowers cholesterol and strengthens the heart and blood vessels. It's also an adaptogen [agent which helps the body combat stress, anxiety and fatigue]. Prepare a decoction, using approximately two dozen leaves in suitable amount of water, and consume twice daily. One can also try chewing the leaves.

Side-effects: Increased perspiration and urinary output [diuresis].

Indian Spikenard

Botanical Name: Nardostachys jatamansi

Commonly known as: Jatamansi, Bal-chad

This perennial herb is named Jatamansi which in Hindi means 'lock of hair', probably due to the 'bearded' appearance of its rhizomes. This herb yields an essential oil, containing jatamansone, jatamansic acid and virolin.

The oil helps in cases of cardiac arrhythmia or dysrhythmia where the heart beat may be too fast or too slow and may be regular or irregular. This causes disturbance of the heart rhythm in which there is abnormal electrical activity in the heart. Make an infusion by steeping the herb in water. Consume once or twice daily, in doses of 30 – 60g.

Side-effects: Excessive dosage may cause nausea or diarrhoea, so do exercise caution.

Indian sweet fennel/Fennel

Botanical Name: Foeniculum vulgare

Commonly known as: Saunf

woman running in natureThe Fennel is a hardy, perennial herb. The word 'fennel' traces its origins to the Latin word fenum meaning 'hay'. As per Greek mythology, Prometheus, a deity, stole fire from Zeus [the king of the Greek Gods] in a fennel stalk and gave it to humans. Widely cultivated for its strongly flavoured seeds and leaves, this aromatic herb yields an essential oil containing anethole. The fruit similarly has pentosan, trigonelline, fenchone, seselin and choline.

Effective in controlling hypertension and hence the stress on heart and blood vessels, consumption of fennel may cause increased urinary output. Consume fennel seeds as it is or as an infusion made by boiling a tablespoon of seeds for half an hour, in 100ml of water. The infusion can be consumed once daily.

Side-effects: In very rare cases, allergic reactions have been noted, of the skin and respiratory tract.

Peepal

Botanical Name: Ficus religiosa

Commonly known as: Peepal, Peepul

Large, dry season-deciduous, the Peepal is one of the best known trees in India. Gautham Buddha attained enlightenment under this very tree and it's hence also known as the Bodhi tree or Bo-tree. Its bark and the leaves are used in many a medicinal preparation.

A rich source of phytonutrients, an infusion made from the leaves of this tree can treat palpitations and cardiac weakness. Infuse the leaves in water overnight, distill the next morning and store in white coloured bottles. Administer about 15mg, 2 – 3 times daily.

Side-effects: This infusion can also serve as a laxative when taken in large doses.

Rosemary

Botanical Name: Rosmarinus officinalis

Commonly known as: Rusmari

A sweet scented evergreen shrub, the leaves of the Rosemary yield a volatile oil called Oil of Rosemary. Apart from this, the leaves also contain active compounds like saponins, tannins, ursolic acid, carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid.

The Oil of the Rosemary is a proven circulatory and cardiac stimulant. One can consume a few drops of the oil directly on a daily basis. Another option is to use the dried and powdered leaves as a condiment in soups, stews, sauces and garnishing.

Side-effects: This herb induces excess perspiration [diaphoresis].

Remember.

The active constituents of the above herbs can enter the body in many ways. As an alternate to consuming them in form of decoctions or infusions, one has options like [a] application on the skin via a poultice and [b] steam inhalation of the essential oils.

While most herbs have little or no adverse effects, some may cause undesirable reactions in certain individuals. Thus, try only one herb at a time, beginning with small doses. Keep an eye for side-effects and consult your physician for guidance. Also, not all herbal medicines are effective in solving a problem in each and every individual. In addition, these herbs are not recommended for pregnant women, infants and children.

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Raksha Changappa
Raksha A Changappa is Founder-Principal Consultant, at Nutrewise, Bangalore. Her experience spans nutrition-research, lecturing, counselling and administration. She holds an M Sc [Food & Nutrition] and MBA [Mktg] degree and is a University 1st Ranker-triple Gold Medallist [M Sc.]

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