An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘heart health’

Love Medicine: Traditional and Scientific Uses of Herbs for Love

Nature loves. It shows its heart if you look.

Nature loves. It shows its heart if you look.

In his song “Nature Boy,” Nat King Cole sings, “The greatest thing you have to learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” Nature is abundant with plants that help us learn to love and be loved in return—and not all of them are for the Viagra-kind of love.

The quest for romantic love is a part of the human condition. Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, recorded over a hundred stories of Native American tribes using plants as love charms to lure a potential suitor. For instance, the Iroquois considered asters, which are daisy-like flowers, to be love medicine. Perhaps asters were used like the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not daisy method of divining a suitor’s sincerity, or they could have been knotted into chains like dandelion-flower necklaces.

Several tribes used powdered seeds of Columbine to be sprinkled as a kind of love-dust. Other tribes marked a man’s palm with bloodroot, a native wildflower aptly named for the blood-red liquid which oozes from a cut root.

As a more drastic measure—and maybe a last resort for the desperate and restless—yellow dock root was boiled and splashed on the face and clothes to make one more appealing to a love interest. Though, anyone who has seen yellow dock root knows it makes a yellow-staining dye, and therefore, it seems the amorous seeker would be made quite obvious.

Contemporary use of aphrodisiac herbs include performance-enhancing herbs, such as yohimbe or Asian ginseng, which increase virility for men, or female tonics, which help maintain sexual function, such as an herb from India called shatavari, which means “she who has a hundred husbands.” The name conveys its efficacy.

For relaxing into a romantic relationship, damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca or Turnera diffusa) is a traditional herbal beverage, either as a tea or as a Mexican herbal liqueur. Supported by scientific studies, damiana is considered to be a mild antidepressant and nervine, which relaxes and calms the nerves so that a couple isn’t too stressed out to be interested in each other.

Passionflower helps with marriage maintenance.

Passionflower helps with marriage maintenance.

For marriage maintenance, old-timey Appalachian herbalists revived tired domestic partnerships with passionflower vine, appropriate for couples who’ve grown bored in a relationship, having lost the appreciation for the familiar. A recent clinical trial has proven passionflower as effective for anxiety as an anti-anxiety pharmaceutical benzodiazepine, which would likely help the relationship, as well.

More than just finding and keeping a romance, love medicine can foster a sense of togetherness, which is needed in building and maintaining all relationships. Since communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships, kava kava, a Polynesian herb which means “talk talk,” could be of value. Kava kava has been traditionally used to ease communication and facilitate a win-win conversation when different tribes join together in conversation.

A farmer's market potato heart.

A farmer’s market potato heart.

Most importantly, all love is built upon a compassionate, forgiving self-love. Cultivating self-love involves physically, spiritually and emotionally healing the wounds of the heart, so that one can be open to feeling love for others and allowing oneself to receive love. Reishi mushroom and hawthorn are used as herbal tonics to heal and support the heart on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. By nourishing the heart with antioxidants, and calming the emotional and spiritual mind which, according to Traditional Chinese medicine, resides in the heart, reishi and hawthorn prepare someone to learn to love and be loved in return.

Ginkgo biloba enhances brain and circulatory function

In the realm of long-lived trees, Ginkgo is among the oldest. Some Ginkgos in East Asia are more than 4,000 years old. This tree’s method of longevity provides answers for humanity’s alchemical anti-aging quest.

Ginkgo biloba's beautiful fan-shaped leaves turn canary-yellow in fall. The leaves turn from tip to stem.

Ginkgos’ abundance in antioxidant flavonoids can serve humans when they ingest them, but they are vital to the plant’s developed ability to protect itself from environmental stressors. Flavonoid compounds predominate in the surface of plants serving as an exterior structure, counteracting oxidative stress from pollutants and, more interestingly, acting as communication molecules, much like our own hormones, to warn the plant of threats.

Current research suggests plant flavonoid compounds can communicate with human hormone receptor-sites and actually lower cortisol, a primary hormone associated with stress.

Through multiple mechanisms Ginkgo enhances brain function. Ginkgo has been shown to actually support and enhance the function of neural tissue by protecting neurons from damage, and also regenerating neurons.

Ginkgo leaves protect the brain and cardivascular system from oxidative stress, and actually enhances brain function.

In a college town, many can identify with the consequences of burning the candle at both ends: forgetfulness, depression, general cerebral insufficiency. Ginkgo is used to restore brain function in generally healthy adults experiencing mental exhaustion or attention deficit.

Research shows Ginkgo has prevented beta-amyloid plaques implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, and has enhanced neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a significant memory area of the brain.

Ginkgo’s circulatory support enhances the blood flow by preventing damaging oxidation to lipids, or fats, in the arteries and capillaries. Studies show Ginkgo-treated red blood cells become more slippery and flexible, less sticky, which ultimately prevents atherosclerosis.

Ginkgo didn’t become internationally known for circulatory and brain support until German physician Dr. Willmar Schwabe studied its effect on circulation, oxidation and brain health. Schwabe’s extract is known as EGB761, and is the reason why Ginkgo is the most studied plant medicine in Europe.

Currently, controversial banter exists between one camp claiming the only therapeutic benefits from Ginkgo leaves can be obtained from laboratory-isolated compounds, and standardized extracts of 24 percent ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6 percent erpene lactones. The other camp states harvested young leaves from “wild” trees also are effective in supporting brain and circulatory health.

Traditional Chinese medicine utilized the seeds, which are more like nuts, more than the leaves, and each part offers different medicinal properties. The seeds are removed from the stinky flesh of the female fruit, then cooked, and utilized for lung ailments. A Chinese restaurant in the Washington, D.C., area serves Ginkgo seeds as a tasty appetizer.

Antioxidants within Ginkgos provide the power to withstand urban pollution, and grant them the approved status of acceptable trees for city streets. If they’re male, that is. Female fruits smell like rotting flesh in order to attract animals to serve as seed distributors. Although this works for the tree, it’s off-putting for the human olfactory senses.

Ginkgos offer a gloriously uniform, canary-yellow brilliance in the fall, which flutter down, covering the sidewalks, so that above and below is completely gold. During this mesmerizing phenomenon, it is the best week to be strolling through downtown Athens.

This article originally appeared in the Urban Forager Column of Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, November 7, 2010.

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