The heart is the most important organ in the body, and an optimal circulatory system is essential to cardiovascular health. Fortunately there exist many medicinal plants that have been proven through centuries of use to nourish and improve circulation and tone damaged veins. This article will cover six plants (four of them trees) that have historically been used to improve circulation.
The Top Six
Gentian (root) – Centiana lutea (Gentianaceae)
A perennial shrub with a large root system, Gentian is native to the Alps and southern Europe. Gentian contains amarogentin, one of the most bitter substances on the planet. One drop of amarogentin can be tasted in a 2.5 liter bucket of water (seven 12 ounce cans worth). Containing large amounts of vitamin B12 and iron, Gentian is used to treat anemia, blood loss and menstruation, in addition to improving circulation. An essential component in bitter extracts, gentian improves digestion, increases nutrient absorption and relieves stomach pain while stimulating the liver and gall bladder. The flowering tops and leaves are used in a tincture or tablets. The plant is named after Gentius, the king of Illyria, who in the second century BC reputedly discovered the benefits of the plant. Gentian has stimulant properties.
Ginkgo (seed and leaf) – Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgoaceae)
A deciduous tree growing up to 100 feet (30m), Ginkgo is native to China and possibly Japan. Ginkgo contains flavonoids, ginkgolides and bilobalides. Ginkgo is used to improve memory, increase circulation, regulate blood pressure, and treat arteriosclerosis. The seeds are used to reduce wheezing and phlegm. Ginkgo can be used to reduce strokes and treat auto-immune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and organ transplant reactions. Ginkgo biloba has been shown to inhibit platelet activating factor (PAF), so it reduces allergies. Ginkgo is considered to be the oldest tree on the planet. The fresh leaves are used in a tincture and both the leaves and seeds can be dried and used. Ginkgo has anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hawthorn (flower and berry) – Crataegus oxyacantha (Rosaceae)
A deciduous, thorny tree growing up to 25 feet (8m), Hawthorn is native to all temperature regions of the northern hemisphere. Hawthorn contains bioflavonoids such as rutin and quercitin, along with amines including trimethylamine (flowers only), known to improve circulation. Perhaps the most popular heart remedy herb, Hawthorn was originally used as a diuretic and for kidney stones. Hawthorn is now used to treat angina and coronary artery disease along with (mild) congestive heart failure and irregular heartbeat. Hawthorn has also been proven to regulate blood pressure. Hawthorn is used to increase memory by increasing oxygen to the brain. The berries and flowers are used in both fresh and dried forms for tincture, decoction or tablets. Hawthorn has relaxant and antioxidant properties.
Slippery Elm (inner bark) – Ulmus rubra (Ulmaceae)
A large tree growing up to 60 feet (18m), Slippery Elm trees are native to US and Canada. Slippery Elm contains mucilage which soothes and reduces inflammation, and it can be used for detoxifying and protecting the skin. Slippery Elm causes a reflex action when taken internally, increasing the secretion of mucus. An excellent food and baby food, Slippery Elm relieves heartburn by soothing the mucus membranes in the chest. It also can be used externally to treat boils and draw splinters. Slippery Elm trees that are ten years old are used for their inner bark, which is dried when fresh and used immediately as an infusion or via capsules. Slippery Elm bark helps to improve digestion by relieving acidity, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Slippery elm has demulcent and laxative properties.
Witch Hazel (bark and leaf) – Hamamelis virginiana (Hamamelidaceae)
A small tree growing up to 15 feet (5m), Witch Hazel is indigenous to Canada and the eastern United States. Containing large amounts of tannins which have astringent action, the leaves of Witch Hazel contain volatile oil. Witch Hazel helps improve damaged veins such as varicose veins, facial veins, bruises and hemorrhoids. Helping to improve skin conditions such as eczema and dandruff, the leaves and inner bark Witch Hazel are distilled and dried. Witch Hazel has astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.
Yarrow (flower and leaf) – Achillea millefolium (Compositae)
A perennial flowering herb, Yarrow is native to Europe and western Asia. Yarrow contains volatile oils including linalool, camphor, sabinene and chamazulene. Known to provide strong anti-allergenic and anti-spasmodic action, Yarrow is used to lower blood pressure, tone varicose veins, improve circulation, regulate menstruation, improve digestion, and to reduce colds and flu. The aerial parts (flowers and leaves) of Yarrow are used in both fresh and dried form, often in tinctures and essential oil extract. Yarrow has astringent, antispasmodic, bitter, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
For more information:
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants – Dorling Kindersley and Andrew Chevallier