Recently, I found myself discussing foraging and medicinal herbs with a police officer. The officer noticed me reading Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Healthful Herbs while waiting at a tire store. To my surprise, it turned into a nearly two-hour conversation. The officer was a survivalist and primitive skills enthusiast. After discussing dozens of herbs and their uses, he told me, "What really worries me more than anything, when the Shit really Hits The Fan, is what I am going to do about my blood pressure." He had an excellent point. In any emergency, real or even perceived, blood pressure is likely to elevate. We prepare and train as best we can, but elevated blood pressure is a natural response. For a person who has a problem with high blood pressure, this can be deadly. That would especially be the case if supply chains were interrupted and one was unable to have prescription medication re-filled. So, I got his email address and sent him a list of herbs for blood pressure. He can stock up on these herbs in dry form and several, he can find easily on roadsides and grassy areas while on patrol.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) grows wild where I live. It can be grown in a garden, or even purchased in capsule form in the grocery store vitamin isle in the store closest to me. Valerian is the herb most commonly recommended for high blood pressure and for sleep. It is among the most simple of sedative herbs in its action. It slows the heart rate and respiration, lowers blood pressure and in larger doses, induces sleep. The herb is considered to be a very effective nervine, tranquilizer and antispasmodic. Valerian is a very individualistic herb - each person will have to experiment to find the dosage right for them. Some may find that small amounts of Valerian are sufficient for their needs. It takes a very large dose to affect me. For some (about 10% or people) Valerian causes intense dreams - not necessarily nightmares, but often strange and disturbing dreams, or dreams of bad memories. Overuse may cause a person to become more emotional or quick to anger - usually, that would require extreme overuse. For most, it is a harmless herb and I consider it essential to have in the herbal medicine cabinet.
Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) is another herb that is nervine, sedative, antispasmodic, etc. It is less sleep inducing than valerian. The two are often combined for deeper muscle and nerve relaxation. Skullcap is also anti-inflammatory, which makes it especially good for muscle and nerve pain. For some, Skullcap has an intoxicating narcotic effect. For me, it has little effect at all unless combined with other herbs...and then, only mildly calming and relaxing. For most, Skullcap is an excellent herb for anxiety.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) is another calming, relaxing herb. Before Saint Hildegard von Bingen recommended Hops for use in beer, as a bitter and preservative, many other herbs were used. Some of these made the beer not only more intoxicating, but put people in a mood to fight... and some even caused hallucinations. Obviously, this led to some pretty rowdy crowds. Imagine those European "soccer hooligans", who bash each other in the head after a few modern beers being "hopped up" on anger inducing hallucinogens! The use of Hops was encouraged by religious and government leaders so that the beer that most Europeans consumed by the gallon each day would be more calming. There is still a great debate among some of us whether or not this was for the best. I brew my own, so I get to experiment with different herbs... anyone else curious should definitely get Stephen Buhner's Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers. I've become fond of Mugwort, which was one of those pre-Hops beer bittering agents. Mugwort has the opposite effect of Valerian on dreams - it seems to help people forget bad and painful memories, and has been used for this purpose for centuries in Europe. If that were better known, it could put many psychologists and psychiatrists out of business! But, back to Hops. Hops are in the cannabis family, but they will not make you high. Hops are nervine and sedative. They lower blood pressure and even the scent can induce sleep. Those who harvest Hops are notorious for falling asleep on the job! Until recently, it was illegal to grow Hops without special permits, which were only given to those who owned the beer companies here in "the land of the free." Now, we can all grow Hops, and brew a couple hundred gallons per year of our own beer... a hammock in the beer garden, under a canopy of trellised Hops vines sounds pretty nice!
Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata) is another herb I'd grow in that beer garden. Passion Flower grows wild in much of America, but it is never very common. The flower is simply incredible and the fruit delicious, but you will rarely see the fruit sold as it is so perishable. Passion Flowers have good sedative properties. Its other properties are listed as antispasmodic, tranquilizer, narcotic, hypnotic and vasodilating. With all those adjectives, you might think it was like opium! However, Passion Flower is very mild in its action. It is calming. It is good for high blood pressure and when combined with Skullcap and Hops, it is good for sleep. By the way, the word "narcotic" used in herbalism really only means that is slows heart rate and respiration - Passion Flower will not make you high in any reasonable amount. I doubt seriously that it could be intoxicating in any amount.
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is one of my favorite herbs and one that my cop friend will see growing all over in the spring. It was once a popular ornamental plant, but is now considered weed by many. It is a low growing member of the mint family, with dark green to purple leaves that make a very nice ground cover. In the spring, it sends up flowering spikes. This is the part of the herb that we harvest. They may be eaten fresh or dried for tinctures and teas. I have mentioned this herb previously under herbs for wounds, which was once very common. I believe this was likely Nicholas Culpepper's favorite herb, as it is one of mine; writing of Bugle in the 1600s he said:
If the virtues of it make you fall in love with it (as they will if you be wise) keep a syrup of it to take inwardly, an ointment and plaister of it to use outwardly, always by you.
The decoction of the leaves and flowers made in wine, and taken, dissolves the congealed blood in those that are bruised inwardly by a fall, or otherwise is very effectual for any inward wounds, thrusts, or stabs in the body or bowels: and it is an especial help in all wound-drinks, and for those that are liver- grown (as they call it.) It is wonderful in curing all manner of ulcers and sores, whether new or fresh, or old and inveterate yea, gangrenes and fistulas also, if the leaves bruised and applied, or their juice be used to wash and bathe the place, and the same made into a lotion, and some honey and allum, cureth all sores in the mouth and gums, be they never so foul, or of long continuance; and worketh no less powerfully and effectually for such ulcers and sores as happen in the secret parts of men and women. Being also taken inwardly, or outwardly applied, it helpeth those that have broken any bone, or have any member out of joint. An ointment made with the leaves of bugle, scabions and sanicle bruised and boiled in hog's grease, until the herbs be dry, and then strained forth into a pot for such occasions as shall require; it is so singularly good for all sorts of hurts in the body, that none that know its usefulness will be without it.
For our purposes in this chapter, it is a lesser known quality of Bugle that is important. Bugle is a "cardio-tonic" herb. It slows and strengthens the heart rate and helps with arrhythmia because it contains digitalis-like compounds. It is far less dramatic or dangerous than other herbs for this purpose such as Foxglove or Lilly of The Valley. Eating one stalk of Bugle has a similar effect on me as drinking two glasses of wine or beer. It is mildly calming, relaxing and lowers blood pressure. The herb is bitter, but no more so than some salad greens, and it goes very well in a salad, especially with some blue cheese dressing, a few culinary herbs in the mint family, chives, some bacon and a glass of wine... eaten in the beer garden, of course. This whole beer garden thing is sounding like a very good idea!
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is really the best herb for folks like my cop friend. Ashwagandha is a sedative adaptogen. It not only helps lower and normalize high blood pressure, but it helps the body deal with stress. As the Latin name implies, it can induce sleep in large doses. However, unlike all of the herbs I have mentioned so far in this chapter, Ashagandha, when taken regularly and in moderate doses as a tonic, should not slow reflexes or cause sleepiness. In larger doses, it may be strongly sedative depending on the individual. It has very little sedative effect for me. Adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Ginseng and Aralia would be particularly useful for people in jobs that are both emotionally/mentally and physically stressful. Some adaptogens though, can increase blood pressure in some individuals, so Ashwagandha would be and choice in this instance.
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) In small to moderate doses, depending on the individual, is an excellent, stress reducing, calming, sedative herb. In larger doses, it can be quite intoxicating. Kava has an odd quality of numbing the throat and mouth when taken in smaller doses. That makes it good for a sore throat, too by the way. With a larger dose, that numbness spreads into the neck and shoulders, which makes it good for neck and shoulder pain. As the doses get larger, that numbness spreads to the entire body. In many Polynesian cultures, a beer is made of Kava that is enjoyed for this very effect. It is consumed until the drinker is nearly paralyzed, unable to walk or talk and remarkably relaxed. Before that state is reached, the person is usually quite talkative. A good time is had by all... except for those who have to drag massive Polynesian folks home!
Borage (Borago officinalis) was another of Culpepper's favorite herbs. He believed that eating Borage gave joy to the heart, dispelling melancholy and inducing euphoria. Other ancient herbalists agreed and also said that it gave courage. One thing we know that regular consumption of Borage does is to lower blood pressure. Honestly, I have not experienced any Borage induced euphoria. However, it is another good herb to add to beers and as many great (and not so great) men have said, "Beer is evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy." It is good in salads, as well.
Chamomile is a much under-rated herb. It is a calming, soothing nervine, that is very mild. Chamomile would not be the herb to use for emergencies, but could be very useful as a cup of tea during a stressful day. Chamomile is also good to settle the stomach, which can be an issue for some people during stress. One of the toughest, most solid guys I ever knew had a nervous stomach. It would begin making all sorts of noises whenever he experienced stress - in certain situations where silence is key, that could be quite an issue. Left untreated, it can cause ulcers. Simple, mild herbs like Chamomile should not be overlooked.
Most of the old German herbalists I reference wrote before our modern concept of blood pressure was developed. Maria Treben, however, made several recommendations. However, I have to point out that if you read her books, perhaps the primary herb she recommended for this use was Mistletoe. BUT this was European Mistletoe. American Mistletoe is very different and very dangerous, because it has almost the exact opposite properties of European Mistletoe. European Mistletoe lowers blood pressure and relaxes muscles. American Mistletoe raises blood pressure and causes muscle contractions/cramps. European Mistletoe is included in the Swedish Bitters and is safe to use. American Mistletoe is extremely poisonous; only minute doses may be used in very specific instances by an experienced and skilled herbalist.
Club Moss (Lycopodium clavatum) - I myself suffered from high blood pressure for years. Mostly this was due to over functioning of the kidneys. Therefore I applied a small bag stuffed with Club Moss to the kidney region overnight. The next day my blood pressure was down from 200 to 165. Since then I apply a small bag filled with Club Moss to the kidney region from time to time.
The Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)- similar to the (European) Mistletoe - is a circulation equalizing herb, recommended for high as well as for low blood pressure. Contrary to Mistletoe which must be prepared cold, this tea is infused with boiling water. Two cups are taken daily and stopped when the circulation has become normal. Like Mistletoe, Shepherd's Purse is good for uterine bleeding. The tea in this case is drunk only for some time.
Other herbs for high blood pressure:
Earlier, I mentioned Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) in the salad with Bugle. That was not just because they are delicious and aromatic, with a flavor somewhat between onion and garlic... the potato's best friend. Chives are also good for lowering high blood pressure! Chives and other alliums have been shown to reduce arterial plaque and relax blood vessels. Never should one go through a day without eating Chives, Onions, Garlic, Leaks, Ramps, Scallions or Shallots.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a mild diuretic. Diuretics take excess fluid from the body, which lowers blood pressure. Citrus juice is also a diuretic. Now, why would I mention that with Dandelion? Well, remember that blood pressure lowering salad I keep mentioning? Dandelion is an excellent salad green! It is especially good with onions, wilted in hot bacon fat and salt, with a splash of lemon juice. Throw some Bugle, Chives and Borage in there, and you might be able to fire your doctor. With that in mind, diced apple is excellent in such a salad, and you know that they say about an apple a day.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) Oil taken internally has been shown to reduce high blood pressure.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is a member of the mint family that has been traditionally grown at temples in Thailand. It is an interesting herb that we are just beginning to use in the west. Among its many virtues, it is said to regulate blood pressure.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a very popular herb for calming, relaxing, lower blood pressure and sleep. Unfortunately, I am allergic to it, so I have not been able to explore its use in depth. Lavender taken internally is a diuretic, while the scent of Lavender is nervine. I have never met a lady who did not love the scent of Lavender... if you are not allergic and your wife is the cause of your stress... maybe this herb could help ensure domestic bliss?
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is another member of the mint family that makes a mildly calming tea... that is how most people experience it. According to the late herbalist, Michael Moore, if it is grown right and harvested at the right time - so as to get the strongest possible volatile oils - and made into either a very strong fresh plant tincture (see instructions in The Preps) or a percolation, it can knock a big hairy biker on his butt!
Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) is another mint that is good for high blood pressure - it is a diuretic herb.
Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) The essential oil of this herb, inhaled, is said to lower blood pressure.
Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is an herb we have discussed before. It has great promise as an antiviral and anti-inflammatory. It also seems to help lower blood pressure.
False Hellebore (Veratrum viride) is an herb I am hesitant to mention. Its primary use is for treating high blood pressure and rapid heart rate, though. Only small amounts should be used by experienced herbalists. It is a very powerful herb, but also poisonous. If you live where it grows, as I do... and if you wish to use this herb, you will need to do a lot of research and study to use it properly.
Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) What an amazing herb and useful plant for both human and animal food this is! Kudzu though, is perhaps the most maligned plant in America. Yes, it is an invasive weed and it grows like crazy. It is known as the "vine that ate the south" because, almost a century ago, a man named Channing Cope pioneered its use as a cattlefeed that could also help stop erosion an grazing land. The agricultural South was literally washing away at this point, much like the Dust Bowl in the Midwest. Cope was a brilliant man and a true Southern character, who was popular on radio and as a newspaper columnist. Unfortunately, our government only picked up on half of his message. The Army Corps of Engineers began planting kudzu along roadsides and riverbanks - anywhere to fight erosion... without the cattle to eat it! Soon, the erosion was arrested but millions of acres were covered in kudzu and useless to owners. I discussed kudzu's many uses for food (the leaves may be cooked as a green/potherb and are a good source of plant based protein) and medicine (the root is used to treat alcoholism in Asia), but I forgot to mention that Kudzu root also both lowers blood pressure and increases oxygen to the brain.... the vines can also be processed through fermentation and soaking to make a very strong fiber for cloth and fly-fishing lines! Honestly, I doubt a more useful plant grows other than the potato.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) that herb I mentioned in beer brewing, that is good for lessening the importance of bad memories and heart-breaks, is also a useful herb for lowering blood pressure. Moreover, it is said that burning Mugwort in the bedroom yields more restful sleep and wonderful dreams... that would likely help your blood pressure, too!
Motherwort (Leonurus Cardiaca) - This herb has a calming effect on the emotions as well as lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is a good diuretic. The Wintergreen that grows more prevalently in the South is closely related and may be used interchangeably - good for cough, colds, urinary infections, arthritis, etc, as well.
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaf tea is usually recommended to pregnant women as a uterine tonic. But, it is also a diuretic and helps lower blood pressure.
Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum) is regarded as just a common wildflower where I live. Few people realize that Solomon's Seal also has cardio-tonic properties and may be very effective in regulating heart rate and normalizing blood pressure.
Basswood or American Linden (Tilia americana) This one seems to be mentioned in most every category. A tincture or tea of the flowers and leaves is considered to be sedative. Maybe I should have titled this book, "Why You Should Eat Onions And Plant Basswood Trees"...
Bilberries and Blueberries are good for the heart and veins...the entire circulatory and respiratory system, really. They are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. They are also good for blood pressure.
The Hardy Kiwi is not the fuzzy one you find at the grocery store, although both are good... the Hardy Kiwi is much stronger medicinally. This one is usually just grown by Permaculture folks. It is a good fruit, that can grow even in very cold climates. It is good for the heart and may help lower blood pressure.
Hawthorn is truly the king of the heart protective herbs. Hawthorn has been used for centuries for all manner of heart conditions. It soothes and strengthens the heart, and is also helps regulate blood pressure. It has also been a symbol of Christianity, representing both the Crown of Thorns, Saint Joseph's staff and was used as an early Christian Christmas Tree - a Hawthorn was once almost as much a sign of Christianity as a Cross. The fruit is nutritious, the plant is medicinal. You should be growing Hawthorn.
Reishi Mushroom(Ganoderma) is a remarkable mushroom so esteemed that In Traditional Chinese Medicine is referred to as the "herb of immortality" or "spiritual potency". It has been as expensive and as sought after as Ginseng. It actually grows most everywhere in the Appalachian Mountains! Well, maybe not everywhere, but you will likely find some in most any stand of hardwood trees. It is a tough mushroom, a polypore- you will need to make a double or triple extract (see The Preps). Reishi is particularly good for the heart, circulatory system and for blood pressure. It increases oxygen in the blood. It is also an adaptogen. Likewise, Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor) may be used similarly... and literally IS everywhere in the mountains, on almost every log!
Water Plantain (Alisma subcordatum) is not a true plantain, but it has some similar uses. It is very useful for high blood pressure, and not just as a diuretic (which it is).
Cinnamon - Yep, the sweet/hot spice in your cabinet is useful for lowering blood pressure. For added benefits, combine Cinnamon with honey instead of sugar.
Turmeric (Curcumin) is anti-inflammatory and improves the function of blood vessels. It may help with blood pressure. Turmeric is best processed and absorbed in the body when taken with black pepper and natural fats.
Cleavers (Gallium) extract may lower blood pressure.
Asparagus - the vegetable, is diuretic.
Purslane (Portulaca) is usually considered a weed, but it is a very good vegetable, if you like okra... which I do. It is diuretic.
Rattlesnake Master (Mandfreda virginica) Root tea is diuretic. Also called False Aloe.
The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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