Nourish and captivate the heart with time-tested plant-based remedies
Professed romantics will claim February as the month of hearts, and Valentine’s Day as the most opportune time to make their intentions clear with dates, gifts, flowers, and sweets. And who wouldn’t be swayed into the right mood, as gallant and impressive as some of these gestures could be?
But for once, give pause to the trappings of romance as advertised. Mush aside, perhaps a better way to go about showing love is to relay the affection through genuine care that doesn’t stop at one day, or with fun but fleeting treats. Instead, the expression encompasses the everyday kind, and gently nurtures the happiness and wellbeing of those we love the most. Not that we would ever say no to a nice dinner and a box of chocolates, but substance will be even more greatly appreciated.
On that note, perhaps a better way to show one’s affections is to look for ways to care for your loved one’s heart health. As cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause for mortality worldwide, heart health is a real concern that must be taken as seriously and as early as possible. Approaching this through some time-tested plant and herb remedies provides a nurturing touch that is gentle enough to use every day. And with our recommendations below, there’s always a way of using these to make someone feel extra special.
A super food way before those became a catch phrase, the tradition and the scientific facts behind the goodness of green tea is undisputable. This is due to the particular way that green tea is processed, where the leaves are rolled and steamed quickly after being harvested so its vivid colour and vital components are locked in. Tea’s benefits are attested by its long history of consumption in China and Japan, where it has been credited as a factor in the longevity of its avid consumers.
The presence of antioxidants in the form of catechins and Vitamin C give the brew much of its potency. For the heart, these components work by lowering cholesterol, high blood pressure, and in fighting off the cell damage caused by oxidation. It also helps in regulating high sugar levels and promoting relaxation, explaining how a cup of green tea can be so comforting at any time of the day.
To note, whether it’s a mugful with a teabag dunked in haste or ceremoniously prepared with loose leaves, the amount of green tea recommended in order to reap its benefits is around 5 cups every day. But the powdered form of Japanese green tea, matcha, has attained cult status in recent years because of its striking visuals and its versatile use for food and beverages.
Special treat: Use a pure, culinary grade matcha such as Now Foods Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder for a café-style Matcha Latte. Simply heat up a cup of milk, then whisk 1 ½ tsp. of matcha powder and 1 tbsp. hot water in a heat-proof glass until a loose paste forms. Pour the hot milk and over the mixture and carefully whisk until well combined, adding honey to taste. Optionally, you can froth a bit of milk to get a foam that you can use as a topping for the drink. Impressive enough to make someone’s morning!
Folklore from Greece all the way to China has garlic warding off evil spirits but its traditional use also encompassed multiple medicinal purposes. Also known as “the stinking rose,” these pungent bulbs fortify the heart better than any flower.
Garlic’s compounds that contribute to its eye-watering smell—allicin and several sulfide compounds—help combat heart disease through its anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects. This is significant as the hardening of the arteries brought on by inflammation and plaque build-up figure in many conditions like aneurysms and stroke.
Fortunately, garlic is a delight when used in cooking. As an allium cousin to onions, shallots, and leeks, garlic gives dishes a distinctive depth and savouriness. Garlic pairs well with another heart-friendly ingredient, olive oil, as the latter brings out its nutty qualities well when heated.
Special treat: Garlic and olive oil form the base flavour of many dishes. Use it in a simple but elegant meal of cooked spaghetti tossed in sautéed garlic, spinach, and shrimp. With just a sprinkle of parmesan on top and a squeeze of lemon, it’s a guaranteed date-night dinner winner.
But if eating garlic is not a preference or is inconvenient, garlic oil in softgel format, as with Now Foods Garlic Oil packs the garlic’s punch without smelling like it.
Hawthorn (Hawberry; Chinese hawberry)
A member of the rose family and kin to apples and plums, the hawthorn is a shrub that thrives in temperate regions, with pale blooms and attractive red berries. Though it might be a little uncommon, Western and Chinese medicine has long utilised hawthorn to address digestive issues, control blood pressure, and help with heart conditions.
Hawthorn, through eating its berries or taking tonics from its leaves and flowers, delivers flavonoids and proanthocyanidin to the heart, which helps the heart beat stronger and dilate the blood vessels respectively.  Studies also point out that it triggers bile secretion, which helps reduce the formation of cholesterol in the body.
The tart taste of the fruit might be nostalgic for some as it is the main ingredient for candies like Haw flakes and fruit strips but taking it as such for the health benefits is not recommended because of their high sugar content. The dried fruit is more accessible and can be made into a uniquely refreshing drink. The resulting liquid can also be used to make a sorbet or jelly. But to ensure potency, its extract can be found in supplement form, as with NOW Foods CoQ10 with Hawthorn Berry.
Special treat: Dried hawthorn berries make for a tangy tea, served with plenty of ice. Add 70g of the dried fruit into 6 cups of water, let it boil then turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, add honey or stevia extract to taste, and let it cool completely before straining and storing. When serving, pour the tea over a glass filled with ice.
The flamboyance of a bouquet makes for a sweeping gesture. However, the real benefits behind those flowers lie in their scent, and maybe there is some logic as to why roses are ubiquitous around Valentine’s Day.
Essential oils are basically the extracted volatile components of plants, which includes the aroma and other bioactive compounds. Aromatherapy employs chosen essential oils to address certain health problems through the way the scent interacts primarily with our nervous and limbic systems. These in turn are in charge of regulating processes like our blood pressure, heart rate, emotional states, and the release of hormones.  Applying oils directly on the skin releases the scent and also allows for the compounds to work on the area, with effects that range from a temperature sensation (warming or cooling) to anti-inflammatory and antiseptic results.
So in a way, roses do add to the magic of special occasions. The aroma relieves mild symptoms of anxiety and depression and stimulates blood circulation. Although for heart concerns, there are other herbs in aromatherapy that promote better cardiovascular health through the following pathways.
Lowering blood pressure
- Sweet Marjoram
- Ylang Ylang
Inhibiting LDL (through inhalation and/or ingestion) 
Controlling stress & cortisol levels
- Clary Sage
- Lemon Balm
Some advice that individuals must heed before using essential oils is to use the scent they prefer and to test a DIY essential oil recipe a small patch of skin first to check for allergic reactions. As these are very powerful extracts, they are not recommended to be applied pure on the skin but necessitate some carrier oil / dilution for topical use. Additionally, oils must marked food-grade on their label if you are planning to add one to a recipe.
Special Treat: Essential oils are adaptable to multiple applications, but for a practical but thoughtful gift for someone who needs major de-stressing every week are Deluxe Bath Soaking Salts. To make this, combine 1 ½ c of Magnesium Bath Flakes, ½ c baking soda, ½ c Himalayan Salt, 1 Tbsp. Shea Butter, and 10 drops of essential oil (we like combining NOW Foods Lavender and Cedarwood EOs but you may change this according to preference). Mix and store in a glass bottle for use during a hot bath.
When it comes to Valentine’s, flashier gifts might catch someone’s eye and could be a fun occasional treat. Yet, more than that, genuine affection also means caring for people in the ways that matter the most.