Now that you have reviewed the anatomy and physiology of the circulatory system, you should have a deeper appreciation for this system's role in whole body detoxification and regeneration. In this blog, we meet some of the best herbs for supporting circulatory health and discuss some other health and lifestyle shifts you can adopt to support a healthy circulatory system.
Before we dive in, be sure to sign up for our upcoming free live webinar where our in-house herbalist Colleen will take you through the anatomy and physiology of the circulatory system and guide you through a virtual herb walk, discussing supportive herbs in-depth.
Herbal Circulatory Therapeutics
Hawthorn tree species are native to northern temperate zones across the world from northern Europe to N. China and N. California. The hawthorn tree is considered sacred as it was said that Jesus’ crown of thorns was made of hawthorn twigs. The white blossoms that blanket the tree in May have a slight aroma of decay, which is why “Many country villagers believe that Hawthorn flowers still bear the smell of the Great Plague of London... This familiar tree will attain a height of 30 feet and lives to a great age. It possesses a single seed-vessel to each blossom producing a separate fruit, which when ripe is a brilliant red and this is in miniature a stony apple (M. Grieve, Modern Herbal, 1931).”
The fruit, leaves and berries are all harvested and traditionally used to support a strong heart. Flavonoids, such as quercetin and rutin, are antioxidant compounds found in Hawthorn. They help protect the heart by reducing oxidative stress and supporting healthy inflammatory levels in blood vessels, improving blood flow and the relaxation of blood vessels, ultimately promoting healthy blood pressure. Proanthocyanins found in hawthorn are a type of flavonoid that promotes the strength and elasticity of blood vessels, helping to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Cardiotonic Amines in Hawthorn have a positive inotropic effect, meaning they can strengthen the heart's contractions, promoting healthy heart function. Hawthorn berry is in Strong Heart and Blood Circulation.*
Prickly ash is a tree that grows 8-15 feet high and is native to North America from Canada to Virginia and west to the Mississippi river. Its bark is covered in prickles (hence the name), and the bark and berries have a pungent, stimulating flavor that makes prickly ash a popular herb traditionally added to formulas as a catalyst. In small doses, prickly ash supports an increased heart rate and blood flow. “It promotes general perspiration, invigorates the stomach and strengthens the digestive organs when slow, which permits unwanted sluggish fermentation, at the same time equalizing circulation (A Hutchens, 1973).” Doctor Morse includes prickly ash in Blood Circulation, Blood Support and Liver/Skin.*
Cayenne pepper is a perfect pairing for circulatory system support. Like our other hot, pungent allies, this nightshade (Solanaceae) family member packs a punch to the circulatory system. We all probably have a story of some uncle who has eaten too hot a pepper and started to sweat uncontrollably. Uncomfortable? Yes. Therapeutic? Absolutely! Cayenne pepper heat generates a systemic response that includes the dilation of blood vessels, increased circulation, sweating, and the release of endorphins, which all support improved blood flow, enhanced metabolism, and detoxification via the liver to skin eliminatory pathway; what Doctor Morse refers to as the 3rd kidney. Cayenne pepper is added to our Bleeding formula, Brain & Nervous Systems and Metal Detox.*
Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) is, like so many herbs used for stimulating circulation, prickly. Unrelated to its plant therapeutics, butcher’s broom earned its name by being bundled and sold to butchers to sweep their chopping blocks. The root and rhizome are traditionally used as a vascular tonic, constricting (tonifying) blood vessels and moving blockages in the blood, especially those in the lower extremities, while also being a mover of the bowels. Butcher’s broom also stimulates urination and promotes sweating, so it is no surprise that it is incorporated into 10 of Dr Morse’s cellular botanicals formulas. It is the definition of a whole-body herbal detoxifier. Try it in our Blood Circulation formula, and our Heal All and Kidney teas.*
Gingko biloba is one of the oldest living tree species on the planet. According to a research paper published in the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry (Shah Faisal Ahmad Tarfarosh et al, 2017), ginkgo supports healthy blood circulation to brain, healthy functioning of the brain, eyes, ears, and legs, reduction of occasional stress, improved memory, attention and speed of thinking in healthy adults, and improved cognition especially in age related cognitive decline. Ginkgo is also a well-known backpacker's companion for gaining altitude. Ginkgo is a primary herb in Blood Circulation.*
“Rosemary for remembrance.” This age-old herb for memory has the pungency attributed to so many circulatory stimulants while also containing rosmarinic acid and 24 different flavonoids, supporting a heathy inflammatory response and reduced oxidative stress in the brain and nervous system. Flavonoids in rosemary, such as diosmin and hesperidin, help strengthen blood vessel walls. Rosemary is a mint that is extremely high in volatile oils, these are concentrated during the distillation process to produce essential oil. Terpenes in this essential oil content seem to support general relaxation of the blood vessels, contributing to smooth flow and healthy blood pressure levels. Find rosemary in Strong Heart and Blood Circulation.*
Yellow dock or curly dock is likely a volunteer in your garden. You can dig it up in the fall, dry and roast it, and enjoy it as a coffee substitute. A digestive alterative, yellow dock supports digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. In small doses its tannic astringency supports healthy inflammatory levels in the intestines while also firming up loose stool, in high doses it is a mild mover. Yellow dock is traditionally added to blood formula because it is high in iron. For this reason, it is showcased in our Blood Support formula.*
White oak bark is traditionally renowned for its high tannin content. The bark, leaves and acorns are all tannic and white oak bark was historically used for tanning hides for this reason. Through the lens of the circulatory system, herbs high in tannins are extremely important for their astringency. When consumed, they can help constrict blood vessels, potentially supporting your body’s natural healing processes. While this action is most employed topically to the skin and mucous membranes, it indirectly supports circulatory health by aiding in the body's ability to maintain tissue integrity. Internally, white oak’s tannic astringency tones lax tissue and blood vessels and supports healthy circulation. White oak is in many Doctor Morse’s formulas, but in relation to circulatory support, find it in Bleeding, Blood Support, Blood Circulation and Lymphatic Drainage Daily.*
Motherwort’s scientific binomial name is Leonurus cardiaca, meaning “lion tail heart.” This mint family member has both nervous system and cardiovascular supportive properties. It helps support the release of anxious tension that accompanies stress and overwhelm (aka, motherhood) not just on a physical level, but also on the emotional level that may be at their root. Leonurine is a bioactive alkaloid found in motherwort that is believed to help relax blood vessels, supporting blood flow to the heart. Its antispasmodic and tonifying qualities are also employed to support the restoration of the uterus following childbirth. Alkaloids in this herb make it mildly vasodilating. This plant is traditionally used to mend familial wounds with what many say is the equivalent of a mother’s hug. Motherwort is a primary ingredient in Strong Heart.*
Other Therapeutics for Circulatory Health
The foods we consume are incredibly important to the detoxification process and contribute to a fulfilling and vibrant lifestyle.
All our body’s systems require vital nutrients to support their function, cleansing processes and general strength. The heart and cardiovascular system are no exception, and a heart-healthy diet consists of fruits and vegetables. What is crucial to understand is how proper food combining is important to heart health during and after the detoxification process.
Food combining is all about chemistry and how this affects digestion, absorption and utilization of nutrients in the body. The foods we eat need to be properly broken down to avoid unwanted chemical changes and unpleasant effects – like gas and bloating. Improper food combining affects how nutrients are absorbed and how the cells receive the fuel they need for their processes. These interactions further contribute to systemic acidosis, lymphatic stagnation, and build-up in the eliminatory pathways.
The heart requires vitamins and minerals, like potassium and calcium, to regulate heart rhythm. The greater cardiovascular system also has nutritional requirements to maintain blood vessel integrity and so much more. Thus, proper food combining assists the heart and cardiovascular system (and the body) in their natural functions while cleaning and strengthening the cells and tissues to improve absorption, elimination, and lymph flow.
Keep your choices simple and select “meals” that suit your routine. This could consist of a large fruit bowl (properly combined, of course) or the wonderful simplicity of mono-fruit eating.
How you combine these fruits and vegetables is of the utmost importance. Use Dr. Morse’s guide to food combining and review acid and alkaline foods chart to help you in your detoxification journey and beyond!
Movement and Venous Return
Oxygenated blood leaving the heart and lungs is propelled through the arteries and delivered to organs and tissues throughout the body thanks to the contractions of our heart muscle. But did you know that blood returning to the heart, laden with cellular waste and carbon dioxide, does not have a pump? Like lymphatic vessels, veins require the mechanism of our conscious, or somatic movement to return deoxygenated blood to the heart.
Here are the best ways to promote venous return (the flow of blood from the body back to the heart).
Muscular Contraction: Skeletal muscles, particularly those in the legs, play a crucial role in returning blood to the heart. When these muscles contract during movement, they compress the nearby veins. This compression pushes blood upward, against gravity, and toward the heart. This mechanism is often referred to as the "muscle pump." Movement is the only way to stimulate blood flow in this way so walk, dance, stretch or do whatever inspires you to get on your feet and move!
Respiratory Pump: Breathing also aids in venous return. When you inhale, the diaphragm descends, creating a decrease in intrathoracic pressure. This lower pressure in the chest helps to draw blood from the veins in the upper body back toward the heart. It's often referred to as the "respiratory pump." Take a deep breath, you’re now supporting venous return.
Gravity: While gravity can hinder venous return in the lower extremities, it can also assist blood flow from the upper body to the lower body when you are in an upright position. Sitting with your legs raised against a wall at a 90-degree angle is often referred to as "Legs Up the Wall" pose. This posture is known for its potential benefits in improving circulation, reducing swelling in the legs, and promoting venous return. It's a simple and effective way to help drain excess fluid from the legs and feet, especially after long periods of sitting or standing.
Heart Rate Variability
Circling back to our discussion of the nervous system, you will recall that there are two branches to the nervous system: the autonomic nervous system and the somatic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating many essential bodily functions without our conscious control such as heart rate, respiration, digestion, blood pressure and pupillary reflex.
Your vagus nerve, also known as the "vagal" nerve, is a key component of the autonomic nervous system. It is a long cranial nerve that originates in the brainstem and extends down into the body, branching out to various organs and tissues including the heart, lungs, and digestive organs. It helps control your heart rate and keeps it flexible based on signals it receives from our experiences; When your body faces different situations, whether it's stress, relaxation, or even digestion, the vagus nerve sends signals to adjust your heart rate accordingly.
When your heart rate can change easily in response to different situations, it's a sign that your vagus nerve is doing its job. This vagal activity is referred to as vagal tone and the measurement of this tone is known as heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is typically measured using an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) or other heart rate monitoring devices.
Remember those two branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS)? The parasympathetic (rest & digest) and sympathetic (fight or flight) divisions of the ANS are orchestrating the variability in heartrate:
“The sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS are continually interacting to maintain cardiovascular activity in its optimal range and to permit appropriate reactions to changing external and internal conditions. The analysis of HRV therefore serves as a dynamic window into the function and balance of the autonomic nervous system. (HeartMath).”
A dynamic heartbeat is considered healthy. Too much sympathetic input leads to increased heart rate, high blood pressure and, if left unchecked, serious heart problems. Too much parasympathetic input leads to excessively slow heart rates, which can result in dizziness, fatigue, fainting as well as digestive disturbances.
Although the term “high” is often used to describe negative health issues: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, Hypertension, hyperthyroidism, etc., having a high HRV is a good thing! When HRV is high, it means that the heart can respond more flexibly to the body's demands, adjusting heart rate and rhythm efficiently in different situations. High HRV is often linked to improved cardiovascular fitness, reduced risk of heart disease, and better resilience to stress.
Achieving high Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is generally associated with good cardiovascular health and overall well-being. You can start monitoring your heart rate variability using personal sensors and apps. The HeartMath Institute is a great resource. They are pioneers in HRV research and sell a sensor and app that will read your HRV and offer you a way to increase your “coherence” (HRV) through exercises.
The heart, HRV, and HeartMath lead to a discussion on electromagnetism and the heart. HeartMath’s founder Rolin McCraty says it best in his 2015 book Science of the Heart:
“The heart is the most powerful source of electromagnetic energy in the human body, producing the largest rhythmic electromagnetic field of any of the body’s organs. The heart’s electrical field is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain. This field, measured in the form of an electrocardiogram (ECG), can be detected anywhere on the surface of the body. Furthermore, the magnetic field produced by the heart is more than 100 times greater in strength than the field generated by the brain and can be detected up to 3 feet away from the body, in all directions, using SQUID-based magnetometers (Science of the Heart, 2015, chapter 6).”
Scientific research has shown that the heart generates a powerful electromagnetic field, a phenomenon known as heart electromagnetism. This electromagnetic field extends beyond our bodies and interacts with the electromagnetic fields of others and the environment, forming a dynamic web of connections often referred to in HeartMath as "the grid."
It is essential to reflect on how your thoughts, emotions, and overall heart coherence contribute to this interconnected grid. Consider what energetic frequencies you've contributed today and how they may ripple through this web, affecting not only your own well-being but also that of others and the world around you. As they say in HeartMath, what have you fed the grid today?
*FDA warning: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.