When mainstream medicine talks about “heart disease,” they almost exclusively focus on the “mechanical” workings of the heart and coronary arteries. But the heart also functions as your energetic and emotional center, as I’ll explain in a moment.
Indeed, the coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with blood, oxygen and fuel. They originate in the base of the aorta, the main artery leading out of the heart, which supplies the body with blood. These small arteries course along the surface of the heart, supplying blood to the outer two-thirds of the heart muscle.
The coronary arteries are small — about the diameter of the eraser at the end of your pencil. They are also subjected to the full pressure of every heartbeat, so atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can seriously affect them. Indeed, any blockage of the coronary arteries can lead to angina pectoris (chest pain) and myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Of course, the majority of medical and surgical procedures focus on keeping this mechanical pump going. And cardiology and heart surgery are now huge medical industries. But the science remains questionable as to the real benefits of all these medical procedures.
Plus, and perhaps more importantly, all these interventions fail to recognize the heart’s functions as an energetic and emotional center, originating from the all-important mind-body connection.
Heart break is a real experience
When you experience emotional disturbances and energetic imbalances, you also experience another kind of heart pain, the proverbial “heartbreak.” When we are young, it typically occurs over a romantic entanglement. As we age, it may be more subtle, and existential, over the state of human affairs and global conditions.
Make no mistake, emotional heartbreak directly affects the mind and body. The body may react with insomnia, lack of concentration, loss of appetite, and even physical pain. It may also manifest emotionally as despair, sadness, anger, or numbness.
In the 17th century, the English author-philosopher Robert Burton published a multi-volume treatise called The Anatomy of Melancholy. It reflects the turbulence of that period in English history.
He addressed melancholy not only as grief, but anger, envy, fear, sorrow, shame, revenge, and retribution. (Jonathan Swift would later use this list of feelings in Gulliver’s Travels to characterize the 17th century in English history. And Thomas Hobbes — who famously posited that human life was “nasty, brutish and short” — published Leviathan, another major literary-philosophical work at about the same time. He inscribed his book: “born in 1588; Armada Year; Twins came forth; Myself and fear.” That year the Spanish Armada attempted to invade England, and would have succeeded but for a violent storm at sea.)
As a (post) Renaissance man, Burton covered many different disciplines, including medicine and botany. So Burton also knew about the herbal remedies that one could effectively use for melancholy and heartbreak. The theme of sweetness (honey) shows up consistently. (Remember, this was before the sugar industry took over.)
Honey appeared in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy as an ingredient in lots of natural cordials, elixirs, preserves and syrups. Of course, as I explained last month in my Daily Dispatch, honey has anti-microbial and medicinal properties in addition to its natural sweetness, helping to counter-act life’s bitter and sour experiences.
But herbal remedies for heartbreak and melancholy appear in far more literary works than just Burton’s.
The ancient natural philosophers, Dioscorides and Pliny affirmed that flowers and leaves placed into wine make men merry and drive away all dullness, melancholy and sadness. Roman soldiers consumed borage wine before going into battle, chanting: Ego borago/Gaudia semper ago (translation: I, borage, always brings courage).
In 1633, herbalist John Gerard wrote that borage (Borago officinalis) was used “everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind.”
In 1858, Caroline Catharine Wilkinson wrote, “syrup made of the flowers of borage comforts the heart, purges melancholy and quiets the frantic and lunatic person.” Traditionally, the lavender blue flowers were preserved in honey as a remedy for heart and spirit. Leaves and seeds were said to strengthen the heart muscle as well.
Hawthorn, lavender (Lavandula augustifolia), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), rose, and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) are also traditional heartbreak remedies, going back to the writings of medieval physician Paracelsus in the 15th and 16th centuries and English herbalist and physician Culpepper in the 17th century. All these remedies help you get over heartbreak, which is ultimately cured by the “tincture of time.”
You can use these ingredients to make your own aromatherapy at home. Simply fill a mason jar halfway with equal parts of these fresh plant ingredients, then cover with honey to fill the jar. Stir with a wooden spoon and close. Keep in a warm place and turn over once per day for a week or longer. After the mixture has infused for at least a week, you can keep it open on your countertop or desk, for a pleasing, uplifting scent.
- How to support a broken heart with herbs,” Herbal Academy (www.notey.com) 2/15/2017