Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fungi with Benefits: Mushrooms for Food & Health

by Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

In spite of the many cultures in Asia and Europe that adore mushrooms, most Americans are fungalphobes with the exception of an occasional button mushroom gravy smothered steak. This autumn, I encourage you to break out of your plant-loving shell and venture into this amazing kingdom of healing creatures. I consider medicinal mushrooms part of “herbal medicine” even though, genetically, they have more in common with humans than plants. The unique nature of mushrooms is part of the reason why they offer so many healing properties that other remedies and foods do not.

Mushrooms as Food

Mushrooms are unbeatable for fiber and boast a good amount of protein and trace minerals. In fact, it’s 25 times more efficient to get protein from mushrooms than meat, according to herbalist Christopher Hobbs, author of Medicinal Mushrooms. And adding mushrooms to a dish provides a meaty, savory texture and flavor that can replace or stretch meat. Another impressive attribute is their ability to make vitamin D when exposed to the sun or ultraviolet light, much the same way we make vitamin D in our skin. Vitamin D is extremely difficult to get from food and nonexistent in plants. In one test performed by mushroom guru Paul Stamets, vitamin D levels in three ounces of shiitakes jumped from 110 IU to an astonishing 46,000 IU after six hours. If your mushrooms haven’t been “pre-treated” with sunlight, you can place fresh mushrooms, gills up, in the sun for a few hours. All edible mushrooms should be cooked, which helps make certain nutrients and compounds more absorbable and also destroys problematic compounds. Try them sauteed or simmered in soups. Shiitakes are a classic culinary medicinal, but you can also experiment with oyster mushrooms (often available from local sources), maitake (more rare), and an array of specialty dried mushrooms. I love adding them to soup broth.

Mushrooms as Medicine

All mushrooms contain polysaccharides (best extracted through cooking or simmering in water), which stimulate and modulate our immune function in a variety of ways and also tend to lower cholesterol and blood sugar. Alcohol-soluble compounds called triterpenes (which taste bitter) give medicinals like reishi the ability to reduce histamine in allergies and improve oxygen utilization and liver function. You can use them in food or buy them as tinctures or capsules. If you want to make your own remedies, do some research – they require special treatment to get the most benefit.

Preventing Common Infections:
Because mushrooms strengthen and modulate immune function, they are a great way to bolster your immune system in expectation of wintertime infections. While some compounds in mushrooms may directly attack viruses and bacteria, mainly they help your immune system work better and smarter. They’re also perfect for people who just keep getting sick or catch every bug that comes their way. Consider reishi, maitake, shiitake, chaga, and blends like Host Defense MyCommunity and New Chapter’s LifeShield Immunity. You can take them as a supplement or simmer them in broths.

Autoimmune & Allergy Support: Our immune-enhancing mushrooms (see above) also help correct an over-reactive immune system, as in the case of allergies and autoimmune disease. Reishi is particularly useful.

Cancer Prevention & Treatment: Many mushrooms improve our immune system’s defense against cancer, the outcome of conventional care, and survival rates. Turkey tails, maitake, shiitake, reishi, and chaga can be a useful adjunct in cancer prevention and treatment. However, you should always work with your oncologist before adding supplements to your regimen.

Lung Support: Alongside their general immune benefits, certain mushrooms strengthen lung health and improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. Reishi and cordyceps, in particular, can be used alongside other remedies for asthma, chronic lung infections, and other respiratory ailments to slowly improve respiratory capacity. I have seen good results with Host Defense Cordychi and New Chapter’s Breathe.

Nerve & Brain Support: Recent research on lion’s mane mushroom supports its ability to improve mental clarity amongst the elderly, and practitioners use the mushroom to heal nerve damage.

Energy, Vitality & Stress Response: Reishi and cordyceps are also noted for their ability to improve mental and physical energy and allay some of the effects of stress and aging. Reishi is often called the Mushroom of Immortality and grouped with stress-busting herbs as an adaptogen.

This information is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. Always check with your doctor before taking new supplements.

Maria teaches classes and sees clients at Wintergreen Botanicals in Allenstown. Find lots of information about herbs, health, recipes and more at

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Self Massage: Feel Like a Million Bucks!

by Dr. Sam Sanzone, DC, Chiropractor & Co-op Wellness Educator

Let’s face it, daily living can be pretty punishing on your body. Muscle tension, knots, painful trigger points, and stiff muscles are just some of the complaints I hear from patients in my office on a regular basis. In working with folks to help diminish their symptoms and maximize their enjoyment of life I will regularly empower them with self myofascial release (self-massage) techniques using foam rollers and other tools. My appreciation of the benefits of this type of work stems from an earlier career as a licensed massage therapist prior to attending graduate school to get my chiropractic degree.

It is common to discover that the low back pain someone is experiencing (by far the most common complaint people bring to my office) is not the result of a direct injury to the lower back. Sometimes it can result from a “knot” in the quadriceps muscles just above the knee, other times it can be the result of trigger points in the gluteus muscles. Often it can be the result of a tight iliotibial (IT) band or hip flexors. By taking a self-guided tour, or exploratory expedition of some of the common causative regions we find that we can locate a major underlying cause of the problems we experience and can bring about some level of relief on our own. After all, there are many tools for individuals to take control of their own health, and that is where health reform begins.

Let’s take a look at what causes trigger points and tight muscles. Many times it can be our own, well-intended fitness endeavors. If our regular exercise plan has us working through old injuries, they may never have the opportunity to fully recover. Often they can be the result of neglect, poor posture, hydration, nutrition or other lifestyle factors. The wisdom in our bodies is always at work trying to compensate for what we subject them to every moment. This is when we need assistance; either self administered or that of a professional. Everyone can benefit from these techniques. Face it: If you’ve lived a perfect life with everything in balance, you would never need to concern yourself with these types of issues... I have yet to meet that person.

The goal of foam rolling is to restore healthy muscle tone, this means your muscles are elastic, healthy, and ready to perform at a moment’s notice – it is not a pain tolerance test. When working on tight/sore muscles, it is normal to experience discomfort or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done, it should feel better. The tools I like to recommend include a foam roller, lacrosse ball, Thera Cane, or your own hands. Never roll a joint, and it’s wise to avoid rolling your lower back. To foam roll properly, apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group using the roller and your body weight. There are specific techniques and certain precautions that should be taken into consideration. This article is meant as a brief introduction to an extremely rewarding practice of self care. Consider joining Eric Marsh, fitness trainer and I for our upcoming hands-on workshop demonstrating the background and techniques that you can start using right away  - Click here for details and online registration!

Dr. Sam sees clients and runs Community Chiropractic in Concord. Visit

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Green Cleaning with Essential Oils

By Kelly Lang, Health Coach & Co-op Wellness Educator

Kelly is teaching a FREE Green Cleaning Class in Concord on July 8, 2014. Click here for details and online registration.

Even if you’re not ready to install solar panels or a composting toilet, you can still take smaller steps to be more green and environmentally conscious.

Using all-natural cleaning products is be one excellent step toward living a greener lifestyle because the chemicals found in typical cleaning solutions can be some of the most toxic both to the environment and your health.

One way to upgrade to all-natural cleaning products is to learn how to use essential oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic extracts from plants, and most are naturally antibacterial. In some cases essential oils are also antiseptic and anti-fungal, making them a powerful germ-killing, mold-eradicating option without the toxic side effects.

At first it may seem daunting to learn which oils to use for the cleaning task at hand, but once you find a few favorites you can easily forgo the bottles of toxic spray under your sink and enjoy cleaning in a healthy, environmentally safe way.

Here are a few essential oils that can be excellent and effective for cleaning:


Lemon essential oil is both antibacterial and antiseptic. It can be used in a spray bottle with water to disinfect cutting boards, counter tops, sinks and other surfaces, or just to impart a clean, fresh scent into the room. It is also great for whitening, so you can add it to your homemade floor cleaner to whiten tile floors or add it to homemade laundry detergent to brighten whites. You can also drop lemon essential oil onto sticky substances like gum or glue to remove from just about any surface (including skin). Just be sure to use good quality, pure oil and dilute it if you’re using it directly on the skin. Lastly, lemon oil is a great essential oil to add to homemade furniture polishes.

Tea Tree

Tea tree oil, also known as Melaleuca can be a wonderful antibacterial cleaner for germ-ridden areas like the bathroom. You can add tea tree to a spray bottle with water and spritz bathroom fixtures and flooring before you wipe or mop. Tea tree is especially effective on showers, since its antifungal properties can cut through mold and mildew. It’s also a great choice for cleaning plastic patio furniture that develops mold spots.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint is another oil that kills bacteria, but it also has a wonderful, fresh scent. Peppermint oil is a great option for any room but because it also increases alertness it can be a perfect choice in the homework area or home office. You can also add one drop of peppermint oil to your toilet to keep it smelling fresh and kill bacteria at the same time. Peppermint oil also deters pests and can be sprayed or placed on cotton balls in areas that are prone to infestation.

Kelly sees clients and runs Green Life Wellness. Learn more at

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Love Your Skin Even If You Love the Sun

By Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG)
Love this $5 sunhat from the feed store!
Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Summer is just about here! Sitting out in the sun on a nice summer day is the epitome of a relaxing good time. But, excess sun exposure can damage the skin over time, encouraging wrinkles and skin cancer to take hold. Take a queue from hot climates. Your best sunscreen is a tightly woven sun hat, sunglasses, light, loose-fitting clothes, and hanging out in the shade when possible. The runner up: a good sunscreen.

Not all sunscreens are made equal. Some make false claims while others contain potentially toxic chemicals. Of course, you can trust the Co-op to offer good, safe brands like Badger and All Terrain (both New Hampshire companies). See the complete list of approved sunscreens on the Environmental Working Group's 2014 Guide to Safe Sunscreen or ask the Co-op’s helpful Health & Beauty staff to assist you.

Remember that while using sunscreen does protect against sunburns, there is no consensus that using sunscreen prevents skin cancer. And some sun, without sunscreen, is essential to allow your body to make the important nutrient vitamin D.
A favorite!

Got Kids? Childhood sunburns may increase the likelihood of dangerous melanomas in adulthood. Shade is really the best sunscreen, especially for infants. With toddlers and older children, choose one of the many kid-friendly sunscreens as a backup and apply heavily.

Got Burned? Turn to remedies with cooling and antioxidant-rich ingredients to help minimize the damage and find relief.
  • Green Tea: Make quart or two of strong green tea, add it to a tepid bath, and rest in the cool water or soak a towel to apply as a compress.
  • Aloe Gel: Store-bought gels work, and freshly sliced aloe leaves are even better. For extra cooling, store your aloe gel or leaves in the fridge.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Vinegar helps restore the acid mantle to the skin and does a surprisingly good job relieving sunburn pain (although you will smell a bit like salad dressing!) Dab or spray to onto the burn. Feel free to add a few drops of lavender essential oil for extra healing properties… and improved scent. Store your vinegar in glass or plastic – it will break down metal containers and lids.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lyme Disease: The Great Imitator

Guest post by by Dr. Amanda Hegnauer, N.D., Naturopathic Doctor & Co-op Wellness Educator

Lyme disease is often referred to as the “great imitator” because it mimics other conditions, often causing patients to suffer a complicated maze of doctors in search of appropriate treatment. It is a disease whose diagnosis is synonymous with anxiety, fear, and frustration. As with any chronic disease, Lyme disease ebbs and flows; three steps forward and four steps back. I find that it is important to keep this in mind as we begin our journey to beat back the symptoms of this bacterial menace.

Some Basic Information

Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of a tick. Ticks lack respect and know no boundaries. People travel, pets travel, and ticks travel; therefore, residence does not accurately reflect a person’s disease risk. The disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria (spirochete) called Borrelia burgdorferi. The Lyme spirochete can cause infection of multiple organs and produce a wide range of symptoms.

Symptoms Can Include…
  • Bull’s eye rash
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Joint pain
  • Numbness or weakness of limbs
  • Paralysis of one side of the face
  • Impaired muscle movement
  • Meningitis-like symptoms
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Eye inflammation
  • Severe fatigue
It is very important to note that fewer than 50 percent of patients with Lyme disease recall a tick bite. In some studies this number is as low as 15 percent in the culture-proven infection of the Lyme spirochete. Fewer than 50 percent of patients with Lyme disease recall any rash. Although the erythema migrans (EM) or “bull’s-eye” rash is considered classic, it is not the most common dermatologic manifestation of early-localized Lyme infection. Atypical forms of this rash are more commonly seen.

Not only are we to combat Borrelia burgdorferi but there are five subspecies and more than 100 strains in the United States and 300 strains worldwide. This diversity may contribute to its ability to evade the immune system and antibiotic therapy, leading to chronic infection. Not only should we test for Borrelia but also Lyme co-infectors including Babesia, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Bartonella. The presence of a co-infection with these organisms leads to infection with the Lyme spirochete as well. If these co-infections are left untreated, their continued presence increases morbidity and prevents the successful treatment of Lyme disease.

Click here for more on what to do in the event of a tick bite.

The Difficulty of Testing

The accuracy and reliability of testing for Lyme disease is surrounded by a great deal of controversy and opinion. The ELISA screening test is unreliable; it misses 35 percent of culture-proven Lyme disease (only 65 percent sensitivity) and is unacceptable as the first step of a two-step screening protocol. By definition, a screening test should have at least 95 percent sensitivity. The next test to consider is the Western Blot Blood test. Of patients with acute culture-proven Lyme disease, 20 to 30 percent remain seronegative on serial western blot sampling. Antibody titers also appear to decline over time. So, while the Western Blot may remain positive for months, it may not always be sensitive enough to detect chronic infection with the Lyme spirochete. And since these bands are so specific to Borrelia borgdorferi (Bb), the CDC chose them for vaccine development. If a patient has formed an antibody (a protein against a foreign substance) to a specific Bb protein, a “band” will form at a specific place on the immunoblot (the process when proteins are identified by their reaction with antibodies). By looking at the band pattern of patient’s results, the lab can determine if the patient’s immune response is specific for Bb.

According to a recent alert from the NH Divisions of Public Health Services, recent reports of sudden cardiac death attributed to Lyme disease carditis highlights the importance of prompt diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. New Hampshire has the highest reported incidence of Lyme Disease per capita than any other state in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lyme Treatment

Antibiotic TreatmentMost cases of chronic Lyme disease require an extended course of antibiotic therapy to achieve symptomatic relief. The return of symptoms and evidence of the continued presence of Borrelia burgdorferi indicates the need for further treatment. The very real consequences of untreated chronic persistent Lyme infection far outweigh the potential consequences of long-term antibiotic therapy. Many patients with chronic Lyme disease require prolonged treatment until the patient is symptom-free. Relapses occur and re-treatment may be required. There are no tests currently available to prove that the organism is eradicated or that the patient with chronic Lyme disease is cured.  High-dose antibiotic treatment is overwhelming and speculative. Benefits versus risks must be taken into serious consideration.

Naturopathic medicine offers a unique approach in which the doctor can determine the root cause of disease and individualize a treatment plan that may or may not include antibiotics as well as natural therapies. We often support the immune system, balance hormones and the adrenal glands, eliminate toxins, focus on a whole foods diet, and eliminate food sensitivity. We always focus on the center of the body’s universe: the gut. High-dose antibiotics have a propensity to eat away at the gut, disrupting the natural course of healthy bacteria.

Natural TherapiesSelf-treatment of Lyme with natural remedies is tricky because it is so individualized. Treatment is based on fighting the disease intra- and/or extra-cellularly and per symptoms. Self-treatment – even with natural therapies – can be challenging because a patient may start to utilize a therapy that is not appropriate for his/her needs.

We always treat the immune system because Lyme disease can initiate an underlying autoimmune concern. It takes a real toll on the immune system even if there is no underlying pathology.  It is important to note that any treatment may exacerbate a Herxheimer Response.  Therefore, please consult your health care provider prior to initiating treatment.  However it is always valuable for patients to educate themselves about possible therapies! These include....

Immune system support:
  • Citrus bioflavonoids
  • Cordyceps mushroom
  • Maitake mushroom
  • Reishi mushroom
  • Shiitake mushroom
  • Gingko
  • Vitamins: Vitamins C & D-3, B Vitamins
Herbs specific to Lyme disease and general symptoms of inflammation:
  • Andrographis
  • Cats Claw
  • Eleuthero
  • Pau D’Arco
  • Teasel Root

Homeopathy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, reiki and massage therapy can also help in a natural approach.

As we tackle individual symptoms, it is important to step back, breathe, and consider the body as a whole. Ask yourself, how is this chronic illness affecting me emotionally? Are my symptoms exacerbated by other factors? Keep in mind that an illness not only affects you but reaches others as well. Lyme disease is a serious diagnosis and not to be taken lightly.

Dr. Hegnauer practices naturopathic medicine at Whole Health Concord. Her specialties include autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue, endocrinology, gastroenterology, and women’s health. Learn more at

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.

Monday, March 10, 2014

DeVita Natural Skincare Products at the Concord Food Co-op

By Jaimie Jusczyk, Marketing Specialist at the Concord Food Co-op

As part of our mission to provide our community with high quality natural and environmentally sound products at reasonable prices, Sandrine in the Health and Beauty Aids Department has been busy, as usual, sourcing new and exciting products for the Co-op shelves. The latest addition to the beauty department is a completely vegan line of products by Devita Natural Skincare from Arizona. If you are looking for products that don’t contain animal products, lists of chemicals and impure oils, come in to the Concord store to try these luxuriously essential creams, cleansers and toner.
Watch the video below...

DeVita Natural Skincare was created by a mother in Arizona, Cherylanne DeVita, Ph.D., who needed to find a solution for her acne prone skin after realizing that all the big brand name products contained ingredients that couldn’t produce the results they claimed. After trying countless products and not finding a solution with her dermatologist, she decided to put her chemistry background to work. Using natural products, pure essential oils and an aloe base, DeVita was created to heal and protect our largest organ! With ingredients like chamomile, rose oil and Japanese green tea, DeVita Natural Skincare products will leave you feeling clean, calm and ready to take on the world with your new found confidence that comes naturally with clear, soft skin.
Sandrine is stocking the core eight products that are just the beginning to beautiful, youthful skin in the Concord store. You will find on the Co-op shelves an Aloe Vera Moisture Cleanser, Gentle Aloe Facial Scrub, Moroccan Rose Facial Toner, Perfect Timing Moisturizer, Evening Rich Nutritional Moisturizer, Revitalizing Eye Lift Cream, Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+, and an Optimal Rejuvenation Age Defying Serum.

DeVita Natural Skincare at the Concord Food Co-op
Sandrine raves about the Moroccan Rose Facial Toner, “I plan to use the rose toner as a spritzer. It is very refreshing and has a delicious smell!” and she definitely knows about the difference high quality rose oils can make. She had me try the SPF 30+ cream on the back of my hand that has been suffering through the dry air this winter. It went on nice and smooth, not greasy or heavy feeling like I was expecting for a sunscreen with the first ingredient listed as zinc. Hours later as I am sitting here writing this, the back of my hand still feels smooth and soft, the papery dryness hasn’t come back. This is definitely a product I am going to have to try out this summer when I want to enjoy the sun safely.  Let me know in the comments if you have tried these products yet and share your experience.
Sandrine is happy to help answer your questions and select the right products for you. For more information about DeVita Natural Skincare, visit their website where you can find ingredient lists and the full story behind the brand. And this month only, enjoy 20% off all the Devita Natural Skincare products in the Concord Food Co-op, March 2014.
See you in the Co-op!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Heart of the Matter: Cardio Tonic Herbs

By Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Think of the cardiovascular system as the highways and byways in the road map of our body. Nutrients, hormones, oxygen, immune cells, and other important compounds speed their way through your body through this intricate system of vessels. These vessels need to be smooth, flexible, and resilient to handle the day-to-day stress of traffic flow. At the center of this universe lies your heart, a literal symbol of vitality and life for your entire body, pumping blood to the rest of your body. The heart also plays a psycho-spiritual role; almost every culture sees it as the seat of emotions. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States, and it can be difficult to catch in the early stages.

Risk factors for heart disease and cardio-related death include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and insulin resistance, smoking, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, inflammation, oxidation, stress, obesity, and family history. But keying in on just one of these risk factors can give us a false sense of security. For example, approximately half of first-time heart attack patients have normal cholesterol levels, and the jury is still out on whether artificially lowering high cholesterol with statins actually reduces your overall morbidity and mortality risk. While nothing is a guarantee, keeping a wide range of our risk factors at bay certainly improves our odds, as do a slew of wonderful herbs and delicious foods.

Hawthorn Berries, Leaves & Flowers (Crataegus spp) research amazes me. How can one herb – growing happily at the forest’s edge – have such affinity for the human heart? The berries, leaves, and flowers of this thorny tree strengthen the pumping ability of the heart muscle, enhance blood flow and supply to the heart, dilate and relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and protect the cardiovascular system from oxidative stress. Antioxidant pigments called procyanidins in hawthorn also appear to inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme, an enzyme that catalyzes blood vessel constriction and the target of ACE-inhibitor hypertension drugs. Over time, hawthorn improves oxygen supply to the heart and strengthens the muscles of the cardiovascular system. The red rosehip-like berry tastes good, is rich in antioxidants, and has traditionally been used. Modern phytopharmacology focuses on the leaves and flowers, and many herbalists combine all three parts into their preparations. Hawthorn is a gentle, slow-acting tonic, so it may take a couple months of steady use to notice the effects. Blood pressure numbers may only improve a bit, but overall benefit throughout the cardiovascular system is impressive. Hawthorn shows promise for mild, chronic congestive heart failure, cardiac insufficiency, post-heart attack care, an aging heart, arrhythmia, angina, cardiomyopathy, and overall heart health. It’s very safe with few side effects or contraindications. However, hawthorn has a potentially dangerous synergistic effect when combined with digitalis/ digoxin and blood pressure meds. Practitioners in Europe purposely combine hawthorn with digoxin to lessen the drug dose and side effects while maintaining efficacy, but this requires the skill of a trained practitioner.  If you take blood pressure medication, work with your doctor to determine whether or not your medication doses should be reduced.

Hibiscus Flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), are two tasty red teas that have been making headlines for their cardiovascular benefits. Popular in Central America, hibiscus offers similar plant chemicals and antioxidants as berries: blue-red pigments called anthocyanins, citric acid, malic acid, polyphenols, bioflavonoids, and as small amount of vitamin C. The plain, strong tea tastes like unsweetened cranberry juice. A handful of recent preliminary studies have found that drinking just a few cups of hibiscus tea lowers hypertension. In one study, four weeks of hibiscus outperformed the blood pressure drug lisinopril while also lowering sodium (but not potassium) levels and inhibiting ACE. Hibiscus also appears to have a positive effect on cholesterol and triglycerides and may have protective effects for the capillaries, blood sugar/diabetes, insulin resistance, and the liver. South Africans sip on rooibos, an antioxidant-rich fermented caffeine-free tea that tastes like a mild black tea with fruity, plum-y undertones. Preliminary research shows that rooibos protects the liver and reduces cholesterol and blood pressure. In one study, participants who drank six cups of rooibos tea daily for six weeks (as opposed to just water), increased blood levels of polyphenols and nutrients, decreased cholesterol oxidants, increased function of the body’s natural antioxidant systems, decreased LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and increased HDL cholesterol. Another study found that it reduced hypertension and inhibited ACE. Even though the research on both plants is still preliminary, they have such a high degree of safety, they’re worth adding to your daily routine.

Pomegranate frequently makes headlines for its antioxidant and health-promoting properties. Research suggests the puckery, sweet seeds reduce atherosclerosis, enhance nitric oxide, improve endothelial function, reverse plaque buildup, and reduce heart disease risk. Pomegranates are in season sporadically throughout the winter months but are available year-round as juice. Look for products made with 100 percent pomegranate. Drink it straight and add it to seltzer water, smoothies, salad dressings, and sauces.

Berries pack a healthy punch in a tasty, little package. In a Finnish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating about five ounces daily of mixed berries reduced blood pressure and increased good cholesterol. Cranberries and cherries also appear to reduce bad cholesterol, total cholesterol, and blood pressure while enhancing endothelial health. Dark purple grapes contain antioxidant resveratrol, noted for cardioprotective actions including the ability to tighten and tone the vascular lining. Though it’s most famous in the form of red wine, drinking 100 percent dark purple grape juice offers similar benefits. Check out the juice section as well as frozen concentrates. Aim for at least a 1/2 cup of berries fresh, frozen, pureed, juiced daily.

Linden Leaves and Flowers (Tilia spp) are abuzz with bees when in bloom. The ornamental trees, also called lime (no relation to citrus) and basswood, line the streets in cities throughout Europe and America. The leaves are shaped like hearts and are almost always enjoyed as a pleasant tasting, honey scented tea. Europeans enjoy the calming, flavonoid-rich tea after dinner. Although research is slim, European herbalists have long relied on linden to calm and strengthen the heart, reduce blood pressure, decrease inflammation, relax spasms, and soothe the nerves. It’s specific for stress that manifests in the heart and heart issues aggravated by stress, as is the less pleasant tasting motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca).

Cocoa & Dark Chocolate (Theobroma cacao) may be our most delicious heart tonics. Native people who consume cocoa beverages have reduced hypertension, and researchers back that up with clinical studies on more than 66,000 people showing that cocoa consumption reduces the risk of death due to heart disease. Chocolate is made from cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and often milk. Beneficial compounds including antioxidant flavanols and magnesium seem to work together to have broad-reaching benefits on the cardiovascular system. Preliminary studies show that chocolate reduces the oxidative stress that aggravates atherosclerosis and plaque formation, decreases the inflammation known to aggravate cardiovascular disease, increases circulation, decreases blood pressure, improves the integrity of the walls of our blood vessels, and may also improve cholesterol and glucose levels. The higher the cocoa content, the better the effects. Dark chocolate has 120 to 150 mg of beneficial polyphenols while pure cocoa has almost five times that amount and milk chocolate has almost none. And, it boosts your mood! Enjoy a few squares of dark chocolate and incorporate cocoa nibs and cocoa powder into smoothies, hot beverages, and recipes.

Heart-Healthy Diet & Lifestyle

Dean Ornish proved that we can slow, stop, and even reverse heart disease with diet and lifestyle, and these tactics remain our most heavy-hitting heart remedies. Here are the basics:

Eat Well: Opt for low-glycemic, high-fiber whole foods (whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds), foods rich in omega 3s (fatty fish, flax oil, chia, hemp, walnuts, purslane), olive oil, ideally nine servings of vegetables and fruit daily in a rainbow of colors, garlic, onions, plenty of antioxidant and inflammatory herbs and spices, green tea, and red wine and dark chocolate in moderation. Vegetarian and vegan diets are most promising; if you opt to eat meat, choose grass-fed or wild sources (which will provide some heart-healthy omega 3s), and keep them in moderation.

About those spices… a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers gave study participants highly spiced meals (about a half ounce of high-antioxidant spices added) or the same meal without spices. The spices meals demonstrated 20 to 30 percent less of an insulin and triglyceride response as well as 13 percent higher ORAC (antioxidant) levels. The spice blend included rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, garlic powder, cloves, and paprika. The researchers estimated that the spices provided similar antioxidant levels as a glass of wine or one and a half ounces of dark chocolate. Take a cue from some of the heart-healthiest, most heavily seasoned, plant-based diets in the world: Mediterranean, Indian, and Asian.

Exercise: We call it “cardio” for a reason! All forms of exercise have merit, but mild to moderate intensity cardiovascular exercises like walking, dancing, and biking strengthen the heart and lung muscles, improve circulation, and decrease blood pressure. If you currently have heart disease or are completely sedentary, work with a trainer or qualified expert to slowly work your way into a regimen.

Calm Mind: Stress has an incredible effect on heart disease and is actually a better predictor for heart disease than cholesterol, cigarette smoking, or obesity! Work-related stress doubles your risk of dying from heart disease. On the flip side, regular meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and other forms of stress management and mind-body balance have a direct beneficial effect on the heart.

Safety Note

If you have heart disease or are currently taking medication, it is particularly important that you work with your doctor before adding herbs to your regimen. Though herbs can have a profound benefit even in serious heart disease, they may not be sufficient to replace conventional care and may also interact with medications. Many cardiovascular medications pose serious herb/food-drug interaction risks, particularly blood-thinning medications.

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.