Herbal Help for Hypertension

Introducing herbs into your diet is a great way to add flavor into your meals as well as impact your health in a positive way.

There are a variety of ways you can use herbs with each method being used for a different purpose.

For example, garlic oil is great for cooking and if the garlic bulbs have been steeped in warm olive oil, great for external ear infections too.

Please note that this is not designed to be a comprehensive course on herbal medicine, nor is it designed to replace the advice of your health professional.

Let’s have a quick look at the different ways you can use herbs:

1.      Fresh

Everyone is familiar with sprinkling mint leaves through a salad and this is a great example of ingesting a herb when it is in it’s fresh raw state.  In this form, the herb still contains all its volatile oils as well as phytochemical properties – nothing has been degraded.  Energetic practitioners also believe this allows us to take in the vital life force of the plant as the enzymes of the plant are still active.

2.      Dried

Similar to fresh herbs, dried herbs are commonly found in glass jars in supermarkets.  Great for when herbs are not in season, they still pack a flavor punch but lack some of the more delicate phytochemicals and volatile oils due to evaporation.

3.      Infusions

Infusions are the result of steeping herbs inside a solvent (usually non-alcoholic) liquid carrier such as water, vinegar, honey, juice or glycerin.  This allows the phytochemicals and volatile oils to still be captured.  For herbal beginners, a cold water infusion (or cold tea) is definitely the easiest and safest way to start off.  A gentle form of healing, cold teas are effective without being too strong.

When making an infusion, it’s important to understand the physical character of the herb as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the solvent:

  • Mucilaginous herbs may turn to sludge
  • Bulky or barks do not extract well with infusions
  • Some volatile oils will vaporize in a hot decoction
  • Water is cheap, non-toxic, safe for all ages and has a wide solvent action however it does allow growth of bacteria and moulds and requires heat for stronger concentrations (decoction)
  • Glycerin belongs to the alcohol family and is naturally sweet (though it is processed as a fat not a sugar by the liver), it is safe for all ages and a natural emollient however it can be difficult to work with and requires a great deal more to act as a preservative in an infusion

Cold water infusions are the easiest to prepare as they are the same to make as a tea.
Cold water will dissolve most gums, sugars, bitters, colouring matter and mineral salts first turning it into a solvent for other matter such as proteins and tannins.  Infusions should be used within 12 hours, although if refrigerated can last for 48 hours.

A typical dry plant infusion requires 1 part herb to 20 parts of water (1:20) before being covered and left for 10 minutes (you can stir occasionally) before straining.  A typical dose may be 60ml 3 times daily.

In contrast, a fresh plant infusion is usually 1:10 being set aside for 15 minutes and stirred occasionally before being strained.  Larger pieces of plant material may be left for longer periods of time.  A typical dose may be 60 ml 3 times daily.

For a stronger infusion, you can use freshly boiled water.

4.      Decoction

Decoctions refer to plant material being extracted by boiling the plant in water.  Typically, a decoction is used for plants which do not immediately break down in water such as roots, bark, twigs or some pods.

Dry plant decoction is made using a ratio of 1:30 and then simmering on low heat for up to 20 minutes until the ratio is 1:20.  A typical dose may be 60 ml up to 3 times daily.

A fresh plant decoction is made from 1:15 and then simmering on low heat for up to 20 minutes until the ratio is 1:10 with to dosage also being 60ml up to 3 times daily.

If refrigerated, a decoction may last for up to 3 days although should be consumed within the first day if possible.  For this reason, it is usually best to make the herbal decoctions as needed daily.

5.      Syrups

Traditionally syrups were only used for children or where the taste of the herb was truly unpalatable.

To make a syrup:

  1. First make a decoction and then strain off the liquid from the herb
  2. Measure the liquid
  3. Add an equal amount of sugar (so for 100ml of liquid, add 100gm of sugar)
  4. Over a low heat, gently stir until dissolved
  5. Keep in the fridge where it can last up to 3 months

Dose is usually lower as this is aimed at children – 5ml three times daily and please dilute with water where possible as the sugar content is quite high!

6.      Tinctures

Most professional herbalists use commercially produced herbal tinctures that are in ratios of 1:1, 1:2, or 1:5 as per their needs and personal taste. As you can see, these are much stronger than the above infusions and decoctions and as a result a much lower dose is required.  Moreover, as these are extracted in alcohol, they have a much longer shelf life.

If you’d like to try making your own tincture at home you can use good quality vodka or brandy (80 proof at least). A good way to start is to use 1 part herb to 4 parts alcohol making sure the herb is completely covered by the alcohol in a jar that is then sealed and left for 6 weeks. If you like, you can shake the jar daily.

Dose is usually 2- 3 mls up to 3 times daily with the shelf life of the tincture being up to 5 years.

If you have hypertension you may want to start your herbal journey to health by:

  • Eating more garlic, if possible, fresh or in foods
    Garlic is fairly easy to grow, simply break apart one bulb and place a pod into the soil, fairly soon you’ll see green shoots forming and you’ll know your garlic is growing underneath!
  • Eating more fresh basil in pasta, salads, stews, soups and casseroles
    Another herb that is easy to grow and even better attracts bees and butterflies with their beautiful flowers.
  • Sprinkling more ground cinnamon in your breakfast smoothies, shakes and in yoghurt
  • Increase your intake of vegetable curries high in celery seeds, cardamom, turmeric and saffron.
    Not only anti-inflammatory, they have been shown to individually reduce blood pressure, together, they pack a nutrient-high power punch!
  • End each night with freshly made ginger tea
    Ginger is easy to grow – just pop some into the ground and watch the rhizome grow. Come harvest season, you can wash it and slice it before keeping it in the freezer forever.  To make the tea, simply grate ½ tsp into a cup and top with boiling water and add a little honey to taste.  If you suffer from heartburn you can also add in 1 tsp of fresh peppermint leaves for instant soothing relief.  This is also great for morning sickness!
  • Inhaling French or Australian Lavender or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try crushing up a dried flower and stirring it through plain yoghurt or your next cake. You can use the leaves of the plant in roasts as well although most people associate the smell of lavender with desserts rather than savoury dishes
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