by Steven H. Horne, RH (AHG)

When someone says “heart,” does it conjure up the image of a pump? Most likely not. While Western science has told us that the organ beating inside our chests is just a pump, our cultural use of the word heart suggests the “heart” is much more. For instance:

  • We talk about “giving our heart” to someone when we fall in love.
  • We feel our “heart breaking” when relationships end.
  • We say “take heart” to encourage someone.
  • We “take things to heart” when we allow them to affect us emotionally.
  • We “have a heart” when we exhibit compassion for others.
  • We “harden our heart” when we emotionally lose good feelings for someone because of hurt and betrayal.
  • We refer to love and relationships as “matters of the heart.”

All of these examples show that subjectively, we experience our heart as much more than a mechanical pump for blood. The heart is deeply connected with feelings and relationships with others. However, when the heart is diseased, most of us tend to completely ignore this deep emotional experience of the heart and act as if our feelings have little or nothing to do with the health of our heart.

I believe that when it comes to treating heart problems, addressing these emotional and relationship issues is just as important as working on the heart nutritionally. I have often told people that “the heart knows things the brain does not.” I know this because 22 years ago I started working with emotional healing. I’ve had a lot of success working with clients on both the emotional and physical levels at the same time, but have lacked the objective language to explain some of what my heart understands.

Recently, however, I came across a book called The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature by Stephen Harrod Buhner. This remarkable book provided me with the understanding I needed to vocalize the truths my own heart had been teaching me. The fact is, science has confirmed our heart is much more than a pump. Let me share what I’ve learned.

The Heart is More Than a Pump

We’ve all been taught that the heart pumps the blood through the circulatory system, but according to Buhner, the blood starts circulating in the fetus before the heart starts pumping. Furthermore, modern research shows that the heart is simply not a strong enough pump to move the blood through the tens of thousands of miles of blood vessels in the body.

More recent research shows that the blood travels on an electromagnetic wave. It moves in a vortex, like water spiraling down a drain. The spinning red blood cells act like an electromagnetic generator, maintaining the wave. The heart sets the pace for this wave and the entire body responds to it.

This adds new meaning to the idea of pulse diagnosis. Instead of just measuring blood pressure and heart rate (like modern medicine does), the traditional art of pulse diagnosis is sensing this wave moving through the body. This is how the pulse provides information about the health of the whole body.

Our new understanding of the heart doesn’t stop here. The heart is also a brain. Again, according to Buhner, the heart is 60-65% nerve cells. So, it is wrong to think of the heart as simply a muscle, because the heart is more of a brain than a muscle. The heart has intelligence and memory—it literally thinks.

An interesting book that substantiates this is The Heart’s Code by Dr. Paul Pearsall. Dr. Pearsall has studied the phenomenon of memory transfer in organ transplant patients. People can suddenly acquire new food preferences, interests and other memories from the donors of organs. The heart appears to be particularly prone to memory transfer and people who receive heart transplants often undergo major emotional and personality shifts. The book contains fascinating stories about this.

Of course, the heart doesn’t think in words. The heart thinks in feelings, which are both non-linear and holographic. This makes it difficult to explain in words what our heart is thinking. Of course, this is what drives the great poets, artists and musicians—their art is born of their struggle to communicate information in the language of the heart, rather than the language of the brain.

There is more! The heart is also a gland. It secretes hormones that communicate with the rest of the cells of the body. So, the heart has a major impact on the health of the body on many levels, and the best way to understand our heart is to start understanding its language—emotions and feelings.

Speaking the Language of the Heart

The above information helps us gain a new understanding of our emotions. When I started doing emotional healing work, I learned that it was possible to empathetically tune into another person’s emotions and gain powerful insights into what was troubling them. I didn’t know how this was taking place, but I experienced it in very profound ways.

The Secret Teachings of Plants helped me understand objectively what I’ve been experiencing subjectively. This understanding begins with the knowledge that heart cells entrain on one another. This means that they try to synchronize their beating via their shared electromagnetic pulses.

Buhner says that a single heart cell will beat erratically and rapidly die. Put another heart cell near it (not touching it, just near it) and the two cells will synchronize their beats and live longer. Heart cells do this because they both send and receive electromagnetic impulses. The heart’s electromagnetic field can be detected via electronic instruments up to five feet away from the body, but Buhner provides evidence that living things can receive these same electromagnetic pulses at much greater distances.

The bottom line is that the heart is both broadcasting the electromagnetic frequencies we call emotions and it is also receiving them. These electromagnetic frequencies carry very subtle and complex messages, not only from other people, but also from animals, plants and even non-living things.

We have all experienced this subjectively. We have “felt” someone’s anger before they verbalized it. We have sensed the presence of someone who is loving and kind. We have felt both good and bad “vibes” from certain environments. We also know the good feeling we get when our heart entrains, that is, synchronizes its beating with someone else. We feel “in sync” with this person and “in tune” with them.

This is the meaning of the word compassion. Passion is emotion and the word compassion refers to “common passion” or shared feelings. When we have empathy for someone else’s emotional experience we are able to have compassion for them. We can allow our hearts to be open to this non-verbal exchange of information.

I could write a lot more about this, but I need to move on. I suggest you read Buhner’s book. In fact, read several of his books. He’s got some amazing insights into herbalism and healing, and he explains how native healers “talked” to plants through their heart and learned how to use them.

Emotions and Heart Disease

All this leads into the primary topic I’m addressing—heart disease. Heart disease always has an emotional component. Yes, there are physical factors that contribute to the development of heart disease, but there are always emotional factors, too.

My understanding of how emotions contribute to heart disease started years ago when I read a book called Love, Sex and Your Heart by Alexander Lowen. Dr. Lowen explains that the flow of blood is directly connected to the experience of pleasure, and pleasure is intimately connected with feelings of love. We love (I prefer to use the word desire) what brings us pleasure.

When we experience pleasure, our blood vessels dilate allowing blood to flow more freely to the extremities. This heightens nerve sensations, because blood flow makes cells more alive and energetic. This increased blood flow makes our skin both redder and warmer. It also makes our eyes and skin look radiant.

Dr. Lowen also points out that the parts of our body that are the most erotic (that is, subject to highly pleasurable sensations) are also the areas of the body where blood flows most closely to the surface of the body. These areas include the lips, the side of the neck and, of course, the genitals. These areas engorge with blood during the experience of pleasure, making good circulation an essential component of the experience of sensual pleasure.

All of this explains why we describe love as “warm” and associate the color red with sexual pleasure and passion. It also explains why a person who is experiencing love “glows.” Their heart is broadcasting a strong electromagnetic signal and is also open to compassion—to entraining with other hearts.

Now, contrast this with what happens when we experience the shock of a severe and/or sudden hurt or loss. When we go into shock, the blood retreats into the internal organs. The color drains from our face and our skin becomes cold and clammy. Instead of sparkling, our eyes develop a “glazed over” look.

Shock creates a numbing sensation in the body. It deadens nerve sensations so we are less open to sensation and feeling. We feel “hardened” and “cold.” This is why we say that a person who has a hard time experiencing sensual pleasure is frigid or cold. Again, all of this is tied in with the heart and circulation.

When we experience the massive flow of blood into the internal organs, it gives us a tremendous sensation of pressure in the chest. We call this sensation “heartache.” What naturally happens is that this sensation of pressure leads to grieving. When we grieve, we sob and cry, and perhaps even wail.

These convulsive movements of the body force a redistribution of the circulation. They push blood back into the extremities. This opens us up to again be able to experience pleasure. When a person is unable to grieve, and keep in mind that this is a very physical process, they can become permanently “cold” or “hard of heart.”

The Hardening of the Heart

Traditionally, men were more susceptible to heart disease than women, primarily because “big boys don’t cry.” However, as women have emulated men in trying to be assertive, tough and aggressive, the rates of heart disease in women have increased as well.

The mindset that tenderness, compassion, empathy, openness and vulnerability are signs of weakness is rampant in our society. If you look at traditional cultures, like the ancient Hebrew culture, it was not only appropriate, it was almost expected that you “weep and wail and rend your garments (i.e., tear your clothes)” when you were grieving. In our society, this is seen as “losing control” and is highly frowned on.

Unfortunately, failure to grieve and the inability to share grief (that is the inability to be compassionate with someone who is grieving), makes heart disease rampant in our society. Many respiratory and coronary diseases are directly linked with the stoic tendency we have to suppress our sadness and grief.

Tears are a sign of an open heart. Grieving opens the heart. It literally “breaks” it open. But, we can also cry when something touches our heart deeply with kindness or compassion. This is also a sign of an open heart, one that is willing to entrain with other hearts and energies. The ability to have a soft or open heart is essential to heart health.

The vital importance of this is affirmed by new technology that is able to measure heart function over time and graph it. What we’ve learned through this new technology is that a healthy heart varies greatly in its pulse and pressure over time. The more regular and predictable the heartbeat becomes, the sicker the heart will be.

I first learned about this in a lecture by AHG professional Jonathan Treasure several years ago. Buhner mentions the same research. Again, the more regular and predictable our heart function becomes, the sicker our heart.

If we have an open heart, one that is ready and willing to detect and receive signals from nature and other people, then our heart will be constantly entraining on the electromagnetic vibrations of other people around us. This will mean that it will be open and responsive to changing situations.

In contrast, a heart that has closed down or hardened itself due to unresolved grief will be trying to “go it alone” and will become like that lone heart cell, dying prematurely because it has no other heart cells to connect with. The fact is, we need connections with other people through an open heart to feel alive. Being alive means being passionate, which means having strong feelings pulsing from our heart throughout our body.

Look around and you will see that many people in our society are walking around in a chronic state of “shock.” They are cold. Their eyes are dull. They lack passion, compassion and empathy. They are chronically angry and anger is an emotion where we harden our heart and refuse to empathize with another. This allows us to attack them and not care about the pain we inflict in the process.

According to Dr. Lowen, a heart attack happens to people whose hearts are closed and tense. They are afraid of losing control, of being vulnerable to others. When something happens that touches their heart, it scares them. They react by trying to close down to it, which sends the heart into a spasm, causing a heart attack and ironically, a total feeling of loss of control.

How to Stop Attacking the Heart

There is a reference in the New Testament, where Jesus said that in the last days men’s hearts would “fail them.” I would suggest our hearts fail us because we first attack them. We attack them by suppressing and denying the messages our heart is sending to us—i.e., our feelings. In our culture, thinking is supreme, which feelings are not to be trusted.

When we become critical of ourselves for feeling angry, hurt, sad, depressed or afraid, we are attacking our heart. We are told these feelings are “negative” and that if we “think positively” we will never have these “negative” feelings.

But, these feelings are the thinking of our heart. They are messages from our heart. To ignore, attack, suppress them or deny them is to attack our own heart. When you see how widespread this denial and suppression of feeling is, it’s little wonder that half of us die of heart disease!

Of course, I’m not suggesting we all revert to being little children and venting every emotion we feel. As adults we have to find a healthy balance between our logic and our feelings, between our head and our heart.

I happen to be a big Star Trek fan. I think that one of the things that made the original Star Trek so compelling is that the three principle characters, Captain Kirk, Dr. Spock and Dr. McCoy, represent three aspects of our own nature. Dr. Spock represents the brain, the intellectual part of ourselves. McCoy, the doctor, represents the emotional aspect of ourselves, the compassionate heart. Captain Kirk is constantly having to try to balance these two advisors and chose the right course of action. So, he represents the physical aspect of our nature which is to make choices and act.

This is what all of us are constantly having to do. We have to listen to our intellect (our Dr. Spock), but we can’t allow ourselves to become cold Vulcans. We also have to listen to our heart (our Dr. McCoy). Then, we need to make choices that balance these two forces within us.

My new DVD, Manage Your Mood, discusses how we learn to listen to and understand what our emotions are communicating to us. It also provides suggestions on how to act constructively on these messages to improve both our life and our health.

Green Friends for a Healthy Red Heart

For all the reasons I’ve discussed, I believe we should always treat the heart emotionally as well as physically when we are trying to help someone with heart problems. Fortunately, herbs can treat the heart both emotionally and physically.

I have had a particular interest in learning about heart remedies because my father had a problem with atrial fibrillation and tachycardia. It was one thing I was not able to correct herbally. He had to have his heart stopped and restarted twice to correct this.

My youngest son developed the same problem in the womb and we had to have an emergency C-section. He also wound up having to have his heart stopped and restarted to correct its rhythm. They prescribed digitalis for him. I gave him a much lower dose than they recommended, along with hawthorn (which potentiates digitalis, by the way).

I have a lacuna in the heart area of my left iris. This is a sign of a family history of heart disease. My father had moderately high blood pressure and died of a stroke, but I think it is much deeper than this. I have experienced a lot of grief and sadness in my life. Two of my seven children have died and I have been through three divorces and the death of both of my parents.

A few years back, I had severe gum disease and spider veins on my nose. These are early warning signs of the chronic inflammation that leads to heart disease. I started taking Co-Q10 75 and have taken about 150 mg. per day for the last four years. My gums have healed and the spider veins are pretty much gone.

I’ve also had some moderate angina from time to time, associated primarily with stress and anxiety. Nervous Fatigue Formula and Magnesium Complex has been a big help here. I’ve also started taking RG-Max. I’ve also started on a custom cardiac blend with hawthorn blend (berries, leaves and flowers), a little lily of the valley, goldenrod and other herbs.

The bottom line is that I’ve been very interested in understanding how to treat the heart holistically, both for myself and others. As a result, I have learned a lot about heart remedies and I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned here.

But before I do, I want to stress that while supplements like Co-Q10, magnesium, l-arginine, l-carnitine and so forth can be really beneficial for the heart, they can’t help the emotional aspects of heart disease the way herbs can.

That’s because our green friends are electromagnetic beings, too. Our hearts can entrain on plant energies, too. In fact, Buhner explains that this is how native people talked to plants. They allowed their heart to synchronize with the electromagnetic frequency of the plant and then let the heart communicate its understanding to the brain.

So, our green friends are here to not just help us heal physically. They can also help our wounded hearts to heal. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite herbs for the heart.

Rose Re-opens the Closed Heart to Love

Rose is the primary heart remedy from an emotional standpoint. Both the essential oil of rose and the flower essence are used to awaken the healing powers of the heart. They help to open the heart to love and to heal from grief. The popularity of roses as a gift of love is directly linked to their ability to open the heart.

When I was first learning about aromatherapy, my instructor suggested I put a drop of rose oil on the pulse points on my wrist. In trying to do so, I accidently spilled a large quantity of the oil on my wrist. For the next two days, every time I brought my hands near my mouth I could smell roses. I experienced first hand the joy and light-heartedness that rose can bring. Since that time, I have used both the oil and the flower essence with people who are hard of heart or going through a grieving process to heal their wounded hearts.

The fruit of rose, the rose hips, contains vitamin C and bioflavonoids which strengthen the integrity of capillary membranes. They are helpful for nosebleeds, easy bruising, spider veins and the prevention of varicose veins, but this means they are also good for the heart in a similar manner to hawthorn. In fact, I maintain that most of the fruit trees in the rose family, including peaches, applies, apricots, pears, plums and cherries are also good for the heart energy. We also associate these fruits with objects of affection, as in “she’s my peach,” “he’s the apple of my eye,” and “her lips were like cherries.”

Hawthorn Revitalizes the Hurting Heart

Although all members of the rose family probably help the heart to one degree or another, hawthorn stands out as the primary heart remedy in our Western herbal materia medica. Like other members of the rose family it contains the vitamin C and bioflavonoids and protects the blood vessels. It also reduces heat and inflammation throughout the body. The heart-shaped red berries, however, have particular affinity for the heart. And, hawthorn, like rose, can be used as a flower remedy for helping the heart to heal emotionally.

Studies around the world have confirmed that hawthorn berries improve the tone of the cardiac muscle, improve oxygen uptake by the heart, improve circulation in the heart, energize the heart cells and dilate blood vessels in the extremities to reduce strain on the heart. These properties are not limited to the berries, however. Hawthorn flowers, leaves and twigs are also valuable for the heart and circulation.

Bleeding Heart Heals the Wounded Heart

Along with wild rose, this is one of the flower essences I frequently use to help people’s hearts to heal on an emotional level. If you’ve ever seen this flower, it looks like a heart that has cracked in two with a big drop falling from the middle of the crack, hence the name bleeding heart. This is the perfect signature for a broken heart and that is exactly what bleeding heart is used to help.

Bleeding heart helps people heal from grief. It is valuable for divorce, death of loved ones or simply the break-up of relationships. It teaches people to “let go.” The heart longs for connection with other hearts, but when one of these connections is severed, one’s heart has to learn to release that connection and be open to new ones. Bleeding heart helps facilitate this process.

It also teaches the heart that love has to exist in freedom. This is one of the most powerful lessons the heart has to learn. Often we try to control the people we love out of fear of losing them, and yet, this desire to control those we love is often what drives them away. We have to learn to love with an open heart, knowing that we cannot control the people we love and that they may not chose to return that love.

I highly recommend the combination of bleeding heart and rose flower essences for anyone who is going through loss or breakup of any kind. I’ve also seen it help people who have stuffed their grief and pain to get in touch with it and release it through a normal grieving process.

Borage Cheers the Discouraged Heart

We’ve all heard the expression, “take heart.” The heart isn’t just a seat of love, it’s also an organ of courage. Our heart gives us courage to face life and go on living. Sometimes, we “lose heart” and feel discouraged and “dis-heartened.” That’s where the flower essence of borage is helpful. It gives people’s hearts the courage they need to face life by promoting cheerful courage in the face of adversity.

Motherwort Calms the Agitated Heart

This is a remedy I wish I had known about when I was trying to help my father and my son. I believe it would have helped them both. Motherwort is a primary remedy for tachycardia or rapid heart beat. It has a calming effect on the heart and acts as a vasodilator to help lower blood pressure.

This is a very safe cardiac remedy and if you have clients with rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations, consider using it. I also use it for hyperthyroid where a person is getting a rapid heartbeat.

Lobelia Relaxes the Tense Heart

While you may not think of lobelia as a cardiac herb, it has a tremendous affect on the heart. Lobeline, the principle alkaloid in lobelia, binds to adrenergic receptors in the central nervous system to lower the heart rate while strengthening the heartbeat at the same time.

Because lobelia is an antispasmodic, it helps relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. I had one client with a particularly difficult blood pressure problem that lobelia, in combination with other herbs, really helped.

The tinctures of lobelia and capsicum are very useful for heart attack victims en route to emergency care. At an NSP convention in Australia many years ago, one of the Managers had symptoms of a heart attack and I was asked to see what I could do while we were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. I gave him lobelia and capsicum extracts.

He asked me to ride in the ambulance with him and by the time we got to the hospital, he was doing much better. I think every first aid kit should have lobelia and capsicum.

Capsicum Fires Up the Cold Heart

And since we were talking about it, capsicum is a catalyst for circulation in general. While it is not a specific remedy for the heart, I usually use it in all cardiac formulas because it equalizes circulation throughout the body.

I didn’t really understand what that phrase “equalizes circulation” meant until I learned pulse diagnosis from Matthew Wood. Matthew taught me that sometimes, when you feel the pulse on both wrists at the same time, the pulse feels “out of sync.” Instead of beating together, the two pulses feel like they are slightly different, not quite beating together.

Capsicum immediately corrects this. It helps blood flow evenly and smoothly to all parts of the body. It’s quite amazing. This is why anybody suffering from a heart attack should be given capsicum extract or powder (not capsules).

Arjuna and Coleus Nourish the Weakened Heart

Valued as a remedy for the heart in Ayurvedic medicine, arjuna is used to treat angina, low and high blood pressure, edema, congestive heart failure heart and high cholesterol. I’ve seen it benefit a number of people with heart problems, so I keep it in stock.

Coleus is a circulatory tonic used to treat congestive heart failure and poor coronary blood flow. It is helpful when used with hawthorn for high blood pressure and is an ingredient in NSP’s Blood Pressurex.

Lily of the Valley Strengthens the Weak of Heart

I mentioned earlier that I have searched for cardiac remedies I can use when some of the standard remedies like hawthorn, garlic and capsicum aren’t enough. This has led me to learn about and collect some potentially toxic botanicals that can be used for more serious heart problems. Lily of the Valley is one of these. You won’t find it at the health food store. I’m able to get it because I’m a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild. It’s not an herb for amateur herbalists.

Lily of the valley contains cardiac glycosides similar to the digitalis found in foxglove. It is less toxic than foxglove, however, so it is much safer to use. It is primarily beneficial for congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat and angina. The way I use it, is I combine it with other, less toxic, botanicals. This way, I not only get a synergistic effect, I also ensure that the dose of lily of the valley the person will be taking is well within safe limits.

When I have a client with a serious heart problem, I use muscle testing to decide which of my cardiac remedies they need. I then blend the individual tinctures into one formula. Lily of the valley and hawthorn are the two remedies that test strong for most people’s serious heart problems and I typically use them in combination with some of the remedies which follow, but remember these formulas are very customized.

Heart-Leafed Arnica Soothes the Bruised Heart

Arnica has affinity for circulation as shown by its ability to both prevent and heal bruising. The heart-leafed arnica is different from the arnica used for bruising because it has heart-shaped leaves and contains cardiac glycosides. I made a tincture of the leaves and used small amounts in some of my cardiac formulas with great success, but I’ve run out. I do have regular arnica, but the heart-leafed worked much better for cardiac problems.

Like lily of the valley, this is a potentially toxic remedy and great care needs to be taken in using it. However, I also made a flower essence of it and found it to work wonders on a bruised heart. Unfortunately, I’m out of this remedy (double check that statement), but plan to make some next summer.

Scotch Broom Stimulates the Sluggish Heart

This is the last of the potentially toxic botanicals I’ve collected for heart problems. Scotch Broom contains an alkaloid known as sparteine which has an effect on the electrical conductivity of the heart muscle. Caution should be used with this herb as it has been known to have life-threatening side effects to certain individuals with heart disease and who are taking heart medications. It is used to stimulate the heart and may be helpful for low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm and fluid retention in the legs. Again, I never use this herb by itself. It is always part of a blend so that the client is unlikely to be able to take a large enough dose to cause any problems.

Other Heart Remedies

There are, of course, other heart remedies besides those I’ve mentioned, but space does not permit discussing them. One is night-blooming cereus, a cactus plant that is used like hawthorn as a cardiac tonic.

Then, there is holly flower essence, which is for jealousy and other vexations of the heart. It’s a Bach flower remedy that also helps keep the heart open to love.

Finally, I should mention pink yarrow flower essence, which is for people whose heart is too open. They are overly empathetic and too easily influenced by the emotions of others.

These are some of the primary plant allies I employ in helping to treat “problems of the heart” both physically and emotionally. I trust you will find this information helpful in healing the many broken hearts in our society. I also hope reading this information will help you to start listening to your heart’s wisdom. You’ll be amazed at what your heart will teach you if you start to pay attention to it.