An African Shaman I once knew said, “The short way to reach any goal is to follow your heart…follow your head instead and it will take you a really, really, really long time to get where you are going.”
Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States? And that the same number of women die from heart disease as men? While fewer women have heart attacks than men, they are more likely to die from one, and exhibit fewer warning signals than men. Many women suffer massive heart attacks with no previous warning that anything was amiss. The old adage, “prevention is the best cure,” couldn't be more true when addressing cardiovascular disease. Certain unchangeable genetic factors do play a role, African American women have a higher rate of cardiovascular disease than other women, for example. However, across the board, health providers agree that many deaths could be averted if greater care was taken to prevent the disease from taking hold.
The herbalist, or natural health care provider, shines in the department of preventive care. With an eye for the whole body, mind and spirit, she may take a unique approach in steering her client towards wellness. Rather than focus solely on heart herbs, for example, she may also make recommendations for better digestion and brain function. A deep honest look at health beyond the physiology of the body can be transforming for someone in midlife, with risk factors for developing heart disease.
Back to the Shaman side of things, while our bones hold the memory of why we came to this earth, the heart manifests this purpose. The things that we truly and deeply love can reveal our greatest gifts. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, tells us that we all arrive on this lovely earth with the same instructions, to “use your gifts and dreams for good.” It is our hopes and dreams that help us sort out the difference between what we love and what we crave.
I remember walking among the trees as a very young child and pondering these instructions. I was very aware of them, and while I lost sight of them as a teenager, they returned to my consciousness as a young woman, much to my delight. When one becomes aware of life purpose within, a deep longing stirs. Discovering this purpose and doing it becomes essential to happiness.
Born in a “Mineral Year,” according to the Dagara cosmology of the world, part of my life purpose is to help others find theirs. Minerals, being such a significant constituent of bones, are “rememberers.” They hold that feeling, “I know it in my bones that this is so.” Simply hanging out with stones can be enough to stir this memory of why they are here.
Is the physical health of the heart connected to one’s emotional state of being? Does feeling happy, loved and full of life purpose protect the heart against cardiovascular disease? I do not know the answer. Instinctively, most people would say there is a correlation. Studies abound that ponder this question. To many however, the contentment and satisfaction of a life filled with meaning tops everything.
When incorporating herbs into one’s heart health plan, plants address both the physical and the emotional well-being of the heart. Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries make a wonderful tonic for the cardiovascular system. This barbed tree has a long tradition of use to nourish the heart and blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and working peacefully alongside prescription medications. More in the category of food, than “medicine,” it can be taken freely, just as someone might diligently eat their vegetables. Rosemary Gladstar, in Medicinal Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide, writes, “The herb of the heart, hawthorn is also one of my favorite remedies for grief and sadness.”
Rose petals, possibly one of the most delicious of all herbal remedies, is one of my favorite heart tonics, especially for women and children. Picture the wild rose, Rosa rugosa, growing along the New England coast. Strong and hardy through furious stormy wind and rain, this plant reveals its tender side with lovely, fragrant blossoms in early summer. Deb Soule first introduced me to this plant with her astoundingly delicious Rose Petal Elixir. For women who have endured tough times, and perhaps who are suffering with a burden of grief, rose can imbue them with the strength to continue and transform their grief into something beautiful.
For cardiovascular disease that has progressed, nature offers deep support in the form of plants and nutrients, best prescribed by a practitioner who knows you well. If you would like to learn more pop over to GingerJuice, an online forum for women who love plants and natural medicine. Join our live class, Food for the Heart, Thursday May 26, or watch the replay if you miss it!