Heart of a lionEthical Food & Drink News & Features
This article first appeared in our winter ’19 issue of MyGreenPod Magazine, The Love Revolution, distributed with the Guardian on 22 February 2018. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
The most obvious symbol associated with love is of course a red heart. So let’s have a little look at the heart: if it were a machine, it would far surpass the precision engineering achievable by humans.
In an average lifetime the heart beats somewhere in the region of 3 billion times, moving all of our 5.5 litres (1.5 gallons) of blood around our body every 23 seconds. Considering its major role in our health and wellbeing, our heart receives very little respect; it’s often only given any thought when it starts to falter, by which time it’s often too late.
In 1900 heart disease was only the fourth-biggest cause of death, yet by the 1960s it had stormed to number one, where it remains – with cancer not far behind and soon to take the lead. These two killers are head and shoulders above the rest, so it’s a good idea to give your heart a little thought.
The best way to look after the heart is through prevention, and the best prevention involves three areas: diet, exercise and stress – including lifestyle stresses such as work, relationships and mental health, pollutants and diet, as a poor diet is both a biological and a mental stress.
Feeding the heart
The most renowned herbs for the heart – or at least the cardiovascular system, which is the heart and its incredible 60,000 miles of blood vessels – include turmeric, garlic, ginger, rosemary and cinnamon. They are all well known and can easily be eaten in larger than current ingestion quantities.
Foraging certain foods benefits all three factors of heart disease prevention – diet, exercise and stress. Forageable plants include nettles, wild garlic (ramsons), hawthorn, hibiscus and motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). It’s no coincidence that motherwort’s Latin name means ‘heart of a lion’; adding two dried teaspoons of motherwort (‘the plant of the mother’) to a pint of really hot water once or twice a week could be the prevention required to benefit 50% of the population.
It might be too much of an ask to expect everyone to go and forage motherwort regularly, but any reputable health store should have some and, for just for a few quid a year, it’ll be worth it in conversational kudos alone! As for the others, it’s also quite easy to find some dried wild garlic, which is wonderful added at the end of whatever you are cooking. The same goes for dried nettles, which make surprisingly tasty garnishes as well as bringing health benefits to our heart and blood.
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Hawthorn and the heart
The heart also appears to thrive when fed high-potassium foods such as deep greens, avocados, bananas, squashes, beans, tomatoes and potatoes – though not crisps or chips! – and those high in fibre, which means all the vegetables. It definitely does not thrive on processed foods, stuffed full of the deadly whites of sugar, dairy, flour, fats and oils, salt, rice and lies. Ditch the white and go for wholegrain every time.
Science has confirmed that these plants are good for the heart; looking more microscopically, the best vitamins and minerals for the heart would be the triumvirate of magnesium, potassium and calcium (found in dark leafy greens – nettles would be ideal), folic acid (parsley and nettles) and CoQ10 (fish, broccoli and other brassicas, red fruit, legumes and organ meats).
Exponents of Traditional Chinese Medicine have known for millennia that hawthorn hugely benefits the heart – and recent results from numerous scientific studies show that future pharmaceutical drugs in the field of the heart could well rely heavily on hawthorn berries (haws). Hawthorn is also abundant, being a common hedge and boundary tree, so there’s no excuse not to eat the fresh leaves that bud from the tree in May, and the haws that appear from September.
Most heart attacks happen on a Monday and Christmas Day is the most common day of the year to suffer one – so take extra care at Christmas in 2023!
It’d be scandalous not to mention the best natural aphrodisiacs when discussing the heart. Almonds, apples, asparagus, avocados, bananas, cherries, chillies, chocolate, coffee, figs, ginseng, honey, oysters, pomegranates, red wine, saffron, salmon, strawberries, vanilla, walnuts and watermelon are all wonderful ingredients to incorporate into a meal with your loved one, so have fun experimenting!