You’ve seen the ads: “Tone your abs—just five minutes a day!” and “Tone your legs with this simple, everyday workout!” Well, as grating as they may be after repeated viewing, their message does have value. When we “tone” our muscles, we nourish them and bolster their strength. Generally speaking, a daily or frequent workout can provide results without much work. Medicinally, when we speak of tonics, we mean herbs and foods that do the conditioning work for us—they nourish, support, or strengthen our energy, blood, and organ function from the inside.
So while physical workouts remain important, maybe it’s time to look a little deeper. The heart, for instance, continuously pumps our blood and regulates its circulation. It also affects (and reflects) our emotional state—its rhythm is often mandated by the condition of our nervous system. Daily stress, nervous tension, and heartbreak (among other emotional strains) can interfere with the heart and cause palpitations, lack of sleep, and a racing mind. The best way to prevent acute issues of the heart is to keep it healthy by supporting the physical apparatus of the circulatory system and balancing the emotions that beset us. You can keep the blood flowing clean and without obstruction and your heart at an even and steady rhythm by making regular use of the following heart-friendly herbs.
Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
A natural source of theobromine, long considered a heart tonic and mild stimulant, cacao also contains epicatechin, a flavonol that improves the function of the blood vessels. Of course eating flavonol-rich cacao is not the same—on many levels, alas—as snacking on sugary chocolate bars. Your best bet? Munching on raw cacao nibs or taking a cacao tincture.
Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens)
Taken daily, this Indian spice strengthens, stimulates, and tones the heart, balances circulation, and calms palpitations. Start with a few grains at a time (up to 1/2 teaspoon), and add it to juice. If you feel hesitant because of cayenne’s spicy reputation, start with a a tiny pinch and increase the amount as you feel comfortable.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Many ancient cultures recognized garlic as a therapeutic plant—the Egyptians, for instance, found more than 200 medical uses for the herb. Several studies have shown that a clove a day (approximately 600 to 900 mg a day of powder) inhibits bad cholesterol (LDL) production and raises the good kind (HDL). Smaller trials have also demonstrated garlic’s promise in normalizing blood pressure, preventing blood platelet aggregation, and improving circulation.
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycanthus)
Boulder, Colorado-based herbalist Brigitte Mars can’t say enough about this heart and circulatory tonic, which she says can improve oxygen and blood supply. Rich in flavonoids that protect small capillary vessels from free-radical damage, hawthorn normalizes blood pressure and lowers cholesterol and fat deposits in the liver and aorta. Mars recommends it for angina, arrhythmia, arteriosclerosis, blood clots, and hypertension. You’re not likely to see results for a few months, but hawthorn is safe for long-term use. Take 15 to 25 drops of the tincture three times daily, says Mars.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Traditionally used to treat a racing heart caused by nervous tension, this herbal sedative may, with long-term use, reduce the formation of clotting factors, lower total cholesterol and triglycerides, and strengthen the heart muscle. Prepare a tea by soaking 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of dried motherwort in about 5 ounces of boiling water for five to 10 minutes. Drink it throughout the day, or take 10 to 20 drops of a tincture as often as every 10 minutes, if necessary.