Did you know that the heart contains over between 60 and 65 percent neural cells, identical to those present in the brain?
This means that the nervous system and our heart are intricately connected. The nervous system is akin to a communications network, constantly processing stimuli from the environment and our bodily systems, as well as sending messages from the brain back to the body, in the form of electrical and magnetic impulses.
The heart sits in the centre of this network, adding emotional intelligence to an intricate system of feedback and regulation. It powerfully distributes blood through the vascular system, rich with biochemical molecules designed to maintain homeostasis. The heart does not stop while we live, tirelessly sustaining life.
Much more than a pump, the heart is an electrical, sensing organ which provides an interface for emotional-physiological processing and messaging. The heart is the physical centre of the circulatory system, managing over 75 trillion cells. It is also the electromagnetic centre of the body, emanating thousands of times more electricity and magnetism than the brain.3
We can then understand the connection between anxiety, high stress and high blood pressure. How worry and heartache contribute to insomnia; shock and trauma can result in atrial fibrillation or arrhythmia. Conversely we also know that being in love feels like nothing can harm us, how the joy of holding a baby or puppy clears depression and how love can move mountains. One case of a mother manually lifting a car off her child who had been run over, demonstrates this literally.
Herbalism has long addressed both the cardiovascular and nervous system together. One of the most cherished of these plant medicines is Hawthorn. While the berry is supremely nourishing to both the organ and the blood it distributes to the rest of the body, the leaves are a tonic for the vessels and help to reduce any blood stagnation.
Using this alongside Cramp Bark and Valerian is a traditional formula to help reduce high blood pressure as well as facilitate better sleep.
Frequently there is a link between emotional burdens and poor sleep. Matthew Wood recommends Lavender in cases of stagnation and a broken heart; to clear old lingering cobwebs of depression.
Lavender in modern day herbalism is wonderful to improve sleep latency – being able to stay asleep during the night.
Our hearts are strong as well as tender. Researchers have observed skilled meditators, who were able to produce visible light. When this occurred during studies at the University of Kassel in Germany in 1997, the heart emanated a sustained light of one hundred thousand photons per second1
Herbal medicine can facilitate a calm state of awareness and to assist meditation. Melissa is used in states of overexcitement, heart palpitations and anxiety5, which can be linked to hyperthyroid states, viral infection or digestive unease.
We often think of the heart of a family as being the mother, the hearth, the safe place to rest and return to when the day is done. It is interesting that men are more prone to have heart attacks while
more recent studies (2003) show that men and women may have totally different symptoms during a heart attack and that about 50 percent of women don’t experience chest pain during an attack.6
Research into heart disease frequently focuses on men and may be missing the psycho-physiological link between heart health and emotional wellbeing.
Two herbs often used here are Motherwort and Heartsease – their names give us a clue to their traditional use.
Motherwort we use often for the menopausal woman, where hormonal changes can appear overwhelming, including palpitations, hyperthyroid, poor sleep, anxiety and slowed digestive function. It is also fabulous for high blood pressure in both gender and at any age.
Heartsease or Viola is a delicate little flower, often hidden in shady areas of a garden. Its medicine speaks well to shy, delicate constitutions, who suffer from anxiety, panic7 and where the lymphatic system is compromised, resulting in fluid build up or skin eruptions. Excess fluid can affect blood pressure and circulation.
While these are only a small number of herbal remedies that help to nourish this vital part of our anatomy, it gives us an insight into the close link between emotions, the heart and plant medicines, which nurture not just the physiology, but also the higher or emotional heart.