footer logo

Healing Hearts: Top 4 Herbs for Cardiovascular Wellness

Valentine’s 2024 has come and gone, folks! While we hope your heart didn’t take too much of a beating, we’re willing to bet it’s feeling a little blue. 

After all, how can this regular old Wednesday live up to the holiday hullabaloo? Whether you spent it lavishing a lover or saving face in your mom’s basement, this year’s V-Day is finally where it belongs: in the rearview. 

But you know what’s still here, ticking away ever-faithful to its ungrateful flesh sack overlord? That’s right — it’s your heart

National Heart Month isn’t quite over yet, and neither is our tirade on cardiovascular health. 

We covered the wellness practices that will keep your ticker in tip-top shape for Free.99. We lamented over the cerebral support supplements that have the keys to our hearts. What more could we possibly have to say about maintaining heart health holistically? 

Well, friends and fellow wellness seekers, it’s time to talk plants. Scroll on to learn from integrative icon, Dr. Neal, about which heartthrob herbs have the science to back up their traditional use as heart medicines. 

In This Article: 

Before Taking Herbs: Put Some Respect on Their Names

There are few things as controversial as herbal medicines in the wellness world. Growing wild and wily as the subjects themselves, herbal myths have taken over the interweb like an invasive species. 

Without getting too deep in the weeds of Cartesian Dualism and the other sociocultural factors that have contributed to misinformation and misunderstandings about plant medicines, let’s take a look at the two most common misconceptions:

  1. Herbal medicines are pseudoscience quackery and they don’t do anything at all. 
  2. All plants are safe, magical, and good for everyone. 

Many herbal medicines have a subtle or else cumulative effect on the body and this is part of why they have a reputation for being both ineffective and totally safe.

Think of the cozy cup of chamomile tea your mother made you on sleepless nights as a child. It may not have knocked you flat like an Ambien will, but with the right conditions supporting its use, chamomile can gently push you out of the waking world.

The anti-science rhetoric that comes up in the former argument is enough to make any plant lover’s bloodroot boil, so let’s clear up this common misconception first.

Are Herbal Medicines Useless Bunk?

We’ll keep this bit short.

While plants may have been used by more primitive human cultures, their role in modern society is anything but. Scores of cutting-edge scientific research now exist to validate many — not all, but many — of the centuries-old herbal practices used for healing from illness and disease. In fact, some of the most common current-day medicines are derived from plant compounds.

Codeine, morphine, and other opioids, for example, come from the illustrious poppy flower.

So the next time you want to seem old-fashioned and ill-informed at a dinner party, try equating the use of plant-derived extracts and active compounds with something like homeopathy or astrology. 

Are Herbal Medicines Magic Cure-Alls?

The other side of the coin, while perhaps less embarrassing around pro-science people, can be equally as damaging. Why? Well, there’s an old, cross-cultural saying in herbal traditions that goes something like: What can cure, can kill

On the more extreme end of the spectrum, plants like hemlock can, via their alkaloid constituents, cause breathing muscles to fail resulting in death in as little as 15 minutes.

It’s also a near-identical twin to the wellness industry’s previously popular viral plant darling: Osha root. 

Then there’s something as simple and seemingly harmless as chamomile, which can cause vomiting in excess and miscarriage in expecting parents. Ginseng, which often finds its way into energy drinks, can have adverse interactions with blood-thinning medication, as can other common herbal ingredients like ginger, green tea, aloe, and more. 

If that wasn’t enough to make you do your research before taking a new herbal supplement, here’s another doozy. The industry regulations surrounding sourcing and manufacturing herbal products are even looser than those of the pharmaceutical industry.

So those lovely yellow turmeric capsules you bought for reducing inflammation? They could be glowing thanks to lead contamination. 

To boil it all down (tea pun intended): 

  • Many herbs are backed by valid scientific data. 
  • Not all herbs are safe for all people. 
  • You should ALWAYS do your research before trying a new plant. 

And if you really don’t want to f around and find out, talk to your doctor about potential interactions between your medications and herbal medicines first. 

4 Herbs for Heart Health

Now that that anything-but-brief disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get to the heart of the matter.

1. Red Yeast Rice — A Natural Statin for Heart Health

  • AKA: Red rice koji, anka, red fermented rice
  • Common Uses: To lower blood cholesterol levels

If you’re nearing the age where heart health suddenly seems like the most important thing in the world, then you’ve likely heard talk of statins. 

Statins are a group of lipid-lowering medications that can help support healthy cholesterol levels in those who are at risk of heart disease. They also come with a laundry list of potential side effects — like muscle, liver, and kidney damage — which often leads worried hearts in search of a natural alternative. 

The leading option for natural statins is, believe it or not, a kind of fermented rice with a signature fuchsia tint: Red yeast rice

The active compound in red yeast rice that makes it a potent cholesterol aid is called monacolin K, which is “structurally identical” to a commonly prescribed statin, Lovastatin. 

This miracle of fermentation can, like its prescribed counterparts, lower blood cholesterol levels as demonstrated in clinical settings. But does that mean it’s a safer option for the pharmaceutical-averse? 

Not quite. Red yeast rice might be a great option for you, but keep in mind that its potent nature means that it can have all the same side effects as a traditional statin.  

Before Taking: 

  • Talk to your doctor about potential interactions with medications
  • Find out if you have a personal or family history of liver, kidney, or muscle complications
  • Choose a brand with verified quality markers to avoid additional contaminants 

2. Hawthorne — A Common Herb for Heart Health

  • AKA: Mayblossom, Maythorn
  • Common Uses: Heart disease, digestion, kidney health

Known for their alluring red berries, Hawthorn bushes with their woody thorns are one plant that can definitely pierce your heart. Or at least your fingertips, if you aren’t careful. 

Hawthorn has been used as an herbal heart remedy for centuries, as early as the first century actually, and modern clinical research is catching up to the cause. By identifying the key constituents of the hawthorn plant — bioflavonoids and proanthocyanidins — we now have a better idea of why hawthorn does, in fact, heal the heart

A recent scientific review of hawthorn extracts has unveiled its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, which may be why the plant can lower serum lipids and offer cardioprotective benefits. As if that weren’t reason enough to run to the nearest hawthorn tree, there have also been promising results coming from trials using hawthorn for class II congestive heart failure. 

Keep in mind, though, that high doses of hawthorn may cause headaches, sleepiness, digestive symptoms, and more. Because, like we done already said, what can cure can kill — or give you a killer headache. 

Before Taking:

  • Talk to your doctor about potential interactions with vasodilating and other heart-related medications
  • Choose a brand with verified quality markers to avoid additional contaminants 

3. Amla — An Ayurvedic Herb for Heart Health

  • AKA: Indian gooseberry
  • Common Uses: Liver tonic, digestion, inflammation

Native to Southern Asia, amla is a fibrous, nutrient-dense berry that’s especially rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, making it a well-rounded ally for supporting overall wellness. 

As a staple in Ayurvedic practices, amla has a particular notoriety for healing the heart which is well-earned. In recent research, the plant has been shown to have a list of beneficial heart effects so long it’d make your eyes glaze over if we typed it all out. So here are just a few of those benefits, in bullet points, to make it easier for us all: 

  • Antioxidant: Something that inhibits oxidation
  • Vasodilatory: Something that opens or dilates blood vessels
  • Antiatherogenic: Something that helps prevent artery plaque build-up
  • Hypolipidemic: Something that decreases lipids in the blood
  • Anticoagulant: Something that thins the blood, reducing coagulation
  • Antihypertensive: Something that lowers blood pressure

Need we say more?

Just don’t forget that amla can be harmful for some liver conditions and iffy for people with diabetes.

Before Taking:

  • Talk to your doctor about potential interactions with medications
  • Find out if you have a personal or family history of liver complications or diabetes
  • Choose a brand with verified quality markers to avoid additional contaminants 

4. Garlic — A Culinary Herb for Heart Health

Last but certainly not least is perhaps the most unlikely hero herb for heart health of all: the humble garlic plant.

When it’s not making your chili decadent and your breath fragrant, garlic is working overtime to protect your heart health in a number of ways. A recent epidemiological study, for example, has revealed a correlation between eating the pungent plant and having a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease progression.

The soothing effect of garlic on your heart is due in part to its ability to lower serum lipids (read: cholesterol) and blood pressure levels while also inhibiting platelet aggregation and increasing antioxidant activity.

Garlic, in all its unsung glory, doesn’t have a whole lot of adverse side effects to watch out for, but some people are allergic to it. It can also increase the risk of bleeding for those on anticoagulant medication, so even though it seems like a common spice, treat it and eat it with respect.

Before Taking:

  • Talk to your doctor about potential interactions with medications
  • Find out if you have a personal or family history of liver complications or diabetes
  • Choose a brand with verified quality markers to avoid additional contaminants 

And if this last suggestion left you with eye-watering breath and nowhere to turn, give us a call. Our heart herb experts are always available via our always-free Counterside Consults, and we can’t smell you through the phone!


By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the use of cookies on your device in accordance with our Privacy and Cookie policies