Month: January 2014

The Chemicals In A Blueberry

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece highlighting the work of an Australian high school chemistry teacher (1).  The teacher, James Kennedy, created posters of different foods showcasing their chemical constituents by displaying them as a list of ingredients, much like what one would see on a processed food label (2).

For example, here is a poster illustrating the naturally occurring chemicals within a blueberry (click to enlarge).

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The goal, according to Kennedy, was to visually represent chemicals as an introduction to an organic chemistry course.  Further, he hoped to alleviate his students’ fears regarding chemicals by showing that nature is teeming with naturally occurring chemicals that are more complex than anything found in the lab.

As a former student of organic chemistry, I find his posters to be quite fascinating.  However, as a student of nutrition, wild food, and the natural processes of life, I can also see where his message has the potential to be misinterpreted by those who accept his work at face value.

Let me explain.

There are many more chemicals found within a blueberry, in addition to the ones listed.

True, the naturally occurring chemicals listed on the poster are probably found in a (cultivated) blueberry.  Kennedy derived his list from nutrition analyses, botany books, and peer-reviewed chemical analyses.  But does it represent all the chemicals found in a blueberry?  Most likely not.  Researchers are constantly discovering and isolating new chemicals to the extent that technology allows.

There is no such thing as a static list in nature.

In 50 years, perhaps the list of chemicals in a blueberry will be twice as comprehensive.  An improvement in technology might allow for this to happen, but so too can the ebb and flow of nature.  Nothing is static; everything is changing and evolving as time (from our perspective) moves forward.  Who’s to say that the list of chemicals in a blueberry today will be exactly the same 50 years from now?

As an organism is exposed to various conditions and stresses, its chemical composition will surely be altered, at least in quantity.  For example, organic grape juices have been shown to possess higher values of polyphenols and resveratrol (antioxidants) compared to conventional grape juices (3).  Can the quantity of certain chemicals in an organism be manipulated so much that they are reduced to zero?  Perhaps this is a hypothesis worth exploring.

Chemicals in nature are found in a proportion favorable to the organism.

They are not found in isolation.  Blueberries contain the flavor chemical, 3-methylbutyraldehyde, and it functions just fine in conjunction with all the other constituents within the fruit.  This doesn’t mean, however, that a synthetically created 3-methylbutyraldehyde, operating outside its natural matrix, acts the same way.

Now, I know Kennedy is not suggesting that an isolated chemical found within a blueberry is safe for human consumption outside its complex system, but this theory is well accepted elsewhere.

For example, the pharmaceutical industry derives many of its drugs from the isolation of plant chemicals.  The opium poppy has been used traditionally as food and medicine by various groups, including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.  Codeine, an opiate chemical found within the opium poppy, has been isolated and used conventionally to relieve coughs and pain.

It is not without its side effects, however, as codeine has been known to cause vomiting, memory loss, and depression.  Removed from its natural system within the opium poppy, it can be quite detrimental.

A more telling example would be the relationship between cocaine and the coca leaf.  Coca leaves, for thousands of years, have been chewed by various South American indigenous groups for stimulation and enhanced cognition.  Cocaine, an alkaloid isolated from the plant, is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that can cause life-threatening hyperthermia, arrhythmias, and death.

Bottom line:  a chemical within a complex system is vastly different than its isolated counterpart.

Food is more than the sum total of its chemicals.

The list of ingredients in a blueberry hints at reductionist philosophy, implying that a complex system can be understood completely in terms of its individual parts.  Surely we cannot believe that a blueberry is solely Kennedy’s list of chemical ingredients.  If this were to be true, then we should be able to recreate the blueberry simply by blending those ingredients together.

Obviously, this isn’t likely to happen.  There is much more to a blueberry (or to any organism for that matter) than its chemical composition alone.  Conventional science is useful in isolating some components within a living system, but lacks the ability to fully describe the essence that brings it to life.

Overall, Kennedy’s work to introduce his students to the world of organic chemistry is compelling, and he makes a great point:  chemicals are not simply the products of science experiments performed in the lab.  They are found in the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat.

His posters do a good job of highlighting this.  Remember, however, that chemical composition is only a fraction of what is known about an organism.

Nature is full of naturally occurring compounds that work synergistically to assist, in part, in creating complex arrangements.  In turn, these structures work to create even larger systems ad infinitum.

Such is the holographic nature of our universe, a beautiful and intricate system that cannot be reduced to a single list of ingredients.


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Adam Haritan

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Are vegetarians at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency? Wild foods offer help

blacktrumpetwildfoodismIt’s not hard to imagine that eliminating an entire kingdom of life (Animalia) could result in a deficiency somewhere down the line, if – let’s say – that kingdom was a phenomenal source of a particular nutrient.

Such is the case with vitamin B12, an important nutrient concentrated in foods derived from animals, like meat, milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish.

What makes sense intuitively has been confirmed by research: those practicing vegetarian or vegan diets are at greater risk for vitamin B12 deficiency than omnivores (1).

Now, this isn’t to say that only vegetarians and vegans are at risk, as other groups prone to deficiency include the elderly, those who lack intrinsic factor (a substance produced by stomach cells necessary for absorption of B12), and those who do not produce enough stomach acid.  Generally speaking, however, individuals who abstain from animal foods, without securing and consuming alternative B12 sources, may find themselves deficient.

Why is this important?  Vitamin B12 is necessary for the metabolism of cells in the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, and nervous tissue.  Additionally, it works with folate in the synthesis and regulation of DNA.  Deficiencies can lead to impaired cell division, permanent nerve damage, and pernicious anemia.  The current RDA for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg (μg) in individuals 14 years and older.

It’s not always easy to discern which foods contain a form of B12 usable by the human body.  A quick look at some nutrition labels may reveal the presence of vitamin B12 – for example, in the cyanobacterium sprirulina – however, what some foods actually contain is a biologically inactive form of B12, known as pseudo-B12.

Vitamin B12 and pseudo-B12 are not the same; only the former is biologically active in the human body and therefore able to correct deficiencies.

How are we to know which foods contain active vitamin B12, especially when some plant food nutrition labels make this claim?

New research has fortunately uncovered important information regarding this particular subject, and it looks like certain wild foods may offer assistance to those experiencing deficiencies (2).

Algae

Various wild algae are consumed by humans all over the world.  Algae are rich in certain nutrients like iron, iodine, vitamin C, manganese, and folate.

Two of the most widely consumed algae – green (Enteromorpha sp.) and purple (Porphyra sp.) lavers – are also great sources of biologically active vitamin B12, containing approximately 133 μg per 100 g dry weight.  Research has shown that consumption of dried laver, also known as nori, can prevent vitamin B12 deficiency in vegans.

Mushrooms

The fungal kingdom is often overlooked when it comes to diet and nutrition, yet research has been continuously unraveling important nutritional and medicinal properties of certain fungi.  While many common mushrooms contain little to no vitamin B12, two species in particular contain adequate amounts.

Black trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides) and golden chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) mushrooms contain considerable amounts of biologically active vitamin B12 (1.09−2.65 μg/100 g dry weight), and may improve vitamin levels in those experiencing deficiencies.

In addition to the aforementioned organisms, most wild animals contain biologically active vitamin B12, concentrated especially in the liver and kidneys.  Popular shellfish, such as wild oysters, mussels, and short-necked clams are good sources of active B12.  Other shellfish, such as abalones, ark shells, and whelks contain substantial amounts of pseudo-B12, and are not recommended to correct deficiencies.

In general, consuming quality whole foods is the best way to ensure optimal levels of any nutrient, as no vitamin or mineral exists independently in nature.  For those who do not ingest adequate amounts of B12-containing foods (wild or cultivated), supplements are effective in increasing circulating levels.

If supplementing, consider ingesting a B12 supplement independent of your full-spectrum multivitamin. Vitamin B12 in the presence of vitamin C and copper can become degraded as a result of oxidation.  These degradation products can also further block the absorption of active B12 (3).

If you suspect a vitamin B12 deficiency, consider having your levels checked.  Develop a strategy that ensures optimal intake through possible routes of food and supplementation.

And remember – animals tend to be the most concentrated food sources of active B12, though there is indeed hope, provided by our wild algal, fungal, and bacterial friends, in correcting deficiencies.

Are Acorns, Wild Foods, And The Paleo Diet Bad For Teeth? Here’s What The Research Really Says

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Source: PNAS

NPR recently published an article entitled “Looks Like The Paleo Diet Wasn’t Always So Hot For Ancient Teeth” (1). In it, author Christopher Joyce summarized the results of a new study regarding hunter-gatherers and dental caries (cavities).

Up until now, it has been hypothesized that the shift from hunting and gathering to a life based on farming and agriculture correlated with an increase in dental decay.  This new research, published in the journal PNAS, challenges the notion that hunter-gatherers were largely free from dental problems and instead suggests that a particular diet of wild foods can in fact lead to poor oral health (2).

If you haven’t read the NPR piece, no problem.  Here’s the gist:  Archaeological evidence from a Moroccan cave revealed the remains of a hunter-gatherer population that existed between 12,000 – 15,000 years ago.  Archaeologists were astonished to discover a very high rate of dental caries among the bodies, claiming that acorns may have been the culprits.  Acorns, according the study’s author, are very high in carbohydrates, and with their sticky texture can adhere to teeth.  Dental decay is the ultimate result.  This is the earliest discovery of dental caries in a population, challenging the belief that the paleo diet is inherently healthy.

End summary.

Now, it would be easy to address the points Joyce makes regarding the paleolithic diet and
lifestyle – that Stone Age life was “certainly” brutal and short, that there is one single paleo diet, and that saber-toothed cats were maniacally running around everywhere – but it’s not my intention to rebut these particular issues.

Fortunately, I was able to access the original study published in PNAS, and would like to reveal what the researchers actually discovered.

As it turns out, acorns weren’t the only botanical remains found.  Twenty-two different plants were discovered, including juniper, pine nuts, pistachio, wild pulses, wild oats, goosefoot, ephedra, rose, and elderberry.  Sure, acorns outnumbered the other plants, but nowhere in the NPR article is another species mentioned.  The researchers even specifically stated that carbohydrates found in wild pulses and wild oats may have contributed to the high prevalence of dental decay.

But let’s just assume, for the time being, that acorns were the major cause of the dental caries.  The holm oak acorns discovered (Quercus ilex) are reported to be low in tannin content.  Tannins are astringent compounds that can interfere with protein and mineral absorption and, unless action is taken to mitigate their effects, can be detrimental to the human body.  A major finding, mentioned nowhere in the NPR article, is that the acorns were thought to have been eaten raw.  According to the study:

“The rarity of charred seeds indicates that acorns were consumed raw or underwent an initial processing stage that did not involve the use of fire.”

Yes, the individuals may have used fire later on in their preparation of acorns, but the possibility exists that they were eaten raw.

Why does this matter?  Acorns are almost always processed in a particular way to increase edibility.  Ethnobotanical research reveals that clay, lye, lime, and water have all been used to decrease the tannin content of acorns, followed by the addition of heat.  Even though holm oak acorns are low in tannic acids, wild food experts still recommend that all acorns be leached prior to consumption.  Arthur Haines, a botanist who runs the Delta Institute of Natural History in Maine, writes (3):

“Despite what you may have been told, all acorns should be leached prior to consuming them in any quantity.”

There isn’t much evidence to support raw acorn consumption by healthy, indigenous populations.  Rather, what we do find is that those who process acorns through proper leaching and cooking often exude the qualities of superb health, with healthy teeth and bone structures.  Tannic acids affect protein and mineral absorption, and may alter the availability of certain compounds necessary for healthy teeth and bone formation, thus leading to dental caries.

The study isn’t saying that leaching was always omitted.  It is possible that the North African hunter-gatherers leached the acorns and reduced the tannin content.  But heat could have reduced the content even further, as shown in studies using clay to reduce the tannic acids of acorns.  However, as stated above, the researchers suggested that the acorns were eaten raw, with no evidence of leaching.

There’s another issue involved with the consumption of unprocessed acorns, that being the presence of excesssive phytic acid in the diet.  Phytic acid is the primary storage form of phosphorous in plants (including acorns), and when ingested, decreases the availability of certain minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium.  Some oaks contain as much as 2.67% phytic acid by weight, similar to linseed, pinto beans, and tofu (4).

Phytic acid, unless properly dealt with, may affect mineralization involved in enamel building (5).  If this population of hunter-gatherers took the necessary precautions of leaching and cooking the acorns (which they could have, but the evidence is lacking), the phytic and tannic acids would be minimized.  The researchers place most of the blame on acorns as the reason for rampant tooth decay, but perhaps the issue has more to do with the processing methods (raw/leached/cooked), and less to do with the species.

The researchers also revealed other possible explanations for the oral wear and tear experienced by these hunter-gatherers.  For example, land snails were part of their diet, and consumption of abrasive particles could have contributed to tooth wear.  This specific population was known to use stones to pound and grind their food, and abrasive particles from the stones may have led to further tooth wear.  The individuals may have also harbored virulent bacterial strains specific to dental decay that spread rapidly within the population.  Without adequate oral hygiene, this could have greatly influenced the prevalence of dental caries.

It’s difficult to know exactly what led to the high prevalence of tooth decay within this Moroccan hunter-gatherer population.  The NPR article focuses almost entirely on the consumption of acorns as the leading cause, however based on the evidence, only a correlation can be made (and even that is tenuous).

There is limited evidence to suggest that acorns, at least from the holm oak species, are cariogenic.  If they were, we might also find a higher prevalence of dental decay among indigenous groups that relied on acorns as dietary staples.  This isn’t the case, however, and instead we see acorn-eating populations throughout history who experienced great health.

Many more points could be addressed – for example, generalizing this particular diet of wild foods to all paleo diets.  However, no single paleo diet exists.  The real paleo diet of the past, which was a hunting and gathering wild food diet, varied greatly between different areas of the world, and was based on the biodiversity within particular ecosystems.  To say that the paleo diet wasn’t always conducive to good oral health, therefore, is inaccurate.  The North African hunter-gatherer diet of the Later Stone Age?  Maybe.  But not all.

Fear not, for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle has indeed been shown to be a bit more favorable for oral health, though this point was somehow left out of the NPR article.  The researchers from this study stated:

“Frequencies of carious lesions in archaeological populations range from 2.2–48.1% of teeth for agricultural populations, but only 0–14.3% for hunter-gatherers.”

I’ll keep eating my acorns, properly processed of course.  I hope you will too.


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Thank you!
Adam Haritan

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Inflammation? Try lemon balm

lemonbalmwildfoodismPerhaps in the not-too-distant past, Homo sapiens were much more intuitive with the natural world.  Plants spoke, and we listened.  They offered their assistance, and we accepted.

Domestication seems to have bred out this innate perception our ancestors once possessed, to the point where, to many, a glance out of today’s window offers barely more than an inanimate, indistinguishable wall of green.

Fortunately, what we fail to glean firsthand from the natural world can be teased apart by conventional science.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) is a plant in the mint family that has traditional usage amongst different cultures around the world, as well as modern scientific research to support its claims.  Native to the eastern Mediterranean region, southern Europe, and western Asia, lemon balm’s targets include the nervous system, as well as the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts.

Brand new research has just revealed another property of lemon balm, one that has been known by indigenous peoples for centuries, yet never fully recognized by scientific analyses.

Lemon balm, according to recent research, is anti-inflammatory.

A study from 2013 in Advances in Pharmacological Sciences examined the role of lemon balm in the reduction and inhibition of edema in rats (1).  The researchers performed two experiments to induce edema in the study’s rats: injection of carrageenan (extract of seaweed) into the left hind paw, and dropping a 50 gram weight on the left hind paw, of each rat.

(Note: I’m not condoning the use of animals in scientific research; I am simply presenting the information found in the study.)

Prior to these events, an essential oil extract from lemon balm was orally administered in two doses, 200 grams and 400 grams.  A control group, which received a distilled water solution, and another experimental group, which received a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (Indomethacin), were also evaluated.

The results?  Lemon balm essential oil, in doses of 200 grams and 400 grams, significantly reduced and inhibited edema in early stage and late stage inflammation.  This was shown to occur for both the carrageenan- and trauma-induced edema.

There were two other notable findings from this study:

  1. No toxicity or changes in body weight were observed after oral administration of lemon balm at 200 grams and 400 grams, showcasing its safety.
  2. Lemon balm essential oil was more effective at inhibiting edema long-term than the NSAID (Indomethacin), especially at 400 grams in the carrageenan-injected rats.

Here we have a plant that mitigates acute inflammation – a condition that has no doubt been experienced by all.  Although necessary, acute inflmmation can be irritating and overwhelming (think wounds or surgery) and can affect quality of life.  When natural treatments like lemon balm exist, it may be wise to seek them out and implement them into our healing strategies.

Yes, this study was performed on animals, and human beings are not of the murid family.  Keep in mind that Melissa officinalis has been used for the treatment of pain and other inflammatory processes by native peoples, and isolated anti-inflammatory compounds found within lemon balm have been scientifically studied.

Lemon balm is an excellent plant to keep on hand and can be found all over the world.  If you are suffering from an acute injury, irritation, swelling, edema, or wound, consider ingesting lemon balm as a way to combat the inflammation.

And to discover what else lemon balm may assist you with, open your senses and listen closely.  Intuition is a powerful tool.

49 Plants That Treat High Blood Pressure

garlic-and-gingerA middle-aged man approached me the other day, asking if I could provide advice on treating high blood pressure.  “I tried everything,” he said, as I ran through all the standard recommendations.  From our brief interaction, it was clear that diet and lifestyle were the likely culprits, evidenced by his higher-than-average body mass index (BMI), his stressful 70-hour work weeks, and the apparent halitosis (bad breath) he experienced.

In the United States, 67 million American adults (31%) have hypertension, defined as persistently high arterial blood pressure (1).  It is quantified by having a systolic blood pressure (pressure during the contraction phase of the cardiac cycle) of 120 mm Hg or higher, or a diastolic blood pressure (pressure during the relaxation phase of the cardiac cycle) of 80 mm Hg or higher.  Common FDA-approved medications for hypertension include diuretics (water pills), angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and beta blockers.

Of course, a problem is never presented without a solution, and in the case of hypertension, many natural solutions exist.  A recent review in the journal Pharmacognosy Review examined the scientific research regarding natural herbs in the treatment of hypertension, and provided a list of 49 potentially effective plants along with their medicinal actions (2).

In this post, I will relay what the authors discovered.  Most of these plants are wild, while some are cultivated.  Regardless, if you experience hypertension and think that you have tried every treatment, confirm your belief with this list.

1. Round leaf buchu (Agathosma betulina)
Round leaf buchu is a South African plant used as an effective diuretic.

2. Garlic (Allium sativum)
In individuals with increased systolic pressure, garlic may decrease blood pressure through the increase of nitric oxide production.

3. Prickly custard apple (Annona muricata)
A leaf extract of this Central American/Caribbean tree may lower elevated blood pressure by decreasing peripheral vascular resistance.

4. Celery (Apium graveolens)
Studies show that the juice and seeds of the celery plant are safe and effective treatments for high blood pressure.

5. Manchurian pipevine (Aristolochia manshuriensis)
This Chinese plant has been studied for its use as a diuretic; magnoflorine, a compound isolated from the plant, displays hypotensive properties.

6. Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)
A leaf extract from this species of flowering tree in the mulberry family has been shown to reduce tension in aortic rings in animal studies.

7. Oats (Avena sativa)
The common oat is a soluble fiber-rich cereal grain that has been found to significantly reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with hypertension.

8. Psyllium (Plantago ovata)
Preliminary research shows that a daily 15 gram psyllium supplement can moderately lower systolic blood pressure by about 8 mm Hg, and diastolic by about 2 mm Hg.

9. Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Research on the population level shows that consumption of green tea and oolong tea (different fermentation levels, same plant) is associated with a decreased risk of developing hypertension.

10. Lasaf (Capparis cartilaginea)
This scrambling perennial shrub has been reported to produce a dose-dependent decrease in blood pressure in rats.

11. Ajwain (Trachyspermum ammi)
Ajwain is a parsley-like plant whose extract produces a drop in blood pressure and heart rate in rats.

12. Chaksu (Cassia absus)
A crude extract of this tropical plant produces a dose-related decrease in blood pressure, as well as a decrease in heart rate at higher doses.

13. Coffeeweed (Senna occidentalis)
A small pantropical tree, coffeeweed has traditional use as an antihypertensive agent.  Research has confirmed a relaxant effect on aortic rings from the leaf extract, as well as the ability of the plant to relax smooth muscle and reduce blood pressure.

14. Moreton Bay chestnut (Castanospermum australe)
A crude extract from this South Pacific plant has been shown to reduce blood pressure in a dose-dependent manner.  Note:  the seeds are poisonous, and rendered edible when prepared properly.

15. Coleus forskohlii (Plectranthus barbatus)
Forskolin, a vasodilating compound isolated from this tropical perennial plant, has been shown to reduce blood pressure in animal studies.

16. Virginia dayflower (Commelina virginica)
This perennial herbaceous plant, native to the mideastern and southeastern United States, has been shown to reduce tension of aortic rings in animal studies.

17. Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida)
Chinese hawthorn is a small to medium sized tree that has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.  Scientific research has elucidated its effects in lowering blood pressure.

18. River lily (Crinum glaucum)
An aqueous extract of this West Nigerian plant has been shown to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

19. Giant dodder (Cuscuta reflexa)
A crude extract from this parasitic plant in the morning glory family has been shown to reduce blood pressure in animal studies.

20. Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
Also known as Queen Anne’s lace, Daucus carota may lower blood pressure through the blockade of calcium channels.  Caution should be taken when harvesting this plant, as it resembles the deadly poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).

21. Coin-leaf desmodium (Desmodium styracifolium)
Dried leaves and stems from this leguminous plant have been shown to lower arterial blood pressure in animal studies.

22. Hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica)
Native to South America, hardy fuchsia is a dwarf shrub in the evening primrose family.  An infusion of the leaf extract acts as a diuretic and lowers blood pressure.

23. Soybean (Glycine max)
Soybean may provide a modest reduction in blood pressure.

24. Pima cotton (Gossypium barbadense)
Traditional medicine in Suriname utilizes the leaves of this plant as an antihypertensive agent.  Research has shown Pima cotton to decrease the tension in aortic rings in animal studies.

25. Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
The roselle is one of the most well-studied plants for the treatment of hypertension.  In human studies, the roselle has been shown to act very similarly to captopril, an ACE inhibitor, in its antihypertensive effects, effectiveness, and tolerance.

26. French lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Crude extracts of this Mediterranean plant have been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate in animal studies.

27. Broadleaved pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium)
This edible plant in the mustard family displays diuretic and blood pressure lowering effects in animal studies.

28. Flax (Linum usitatissimum)
Flaxseed is a good source of alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), a parent fatty acid of the omega-3 fats.  ALA has been shown to possess antihypertensive effects in individuals with high-normal blood pressure and mild hypertension.

29. Black mangrove (Lumnitzera racemosa)
Amongst the mangrove plants, the black mangrove is the most salt tolerant species.  An aqueous acetone extract of this small tree has been shown to display antihypertensive activity.

30. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
An extract of the tomato has been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with mild, untreated hypertension.  Additionally, a significant correlation has been discovered between systolic blood pressure and lycopene, a carotenoid pigment in the tomato.

31. Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
A crude extract from Moringa oleifera, the most cultivated plant in its genus, caused a fall in systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial blood pressure in animal studies.

32. African corkwood tree (Musanga cecropioides)
Native to Africa, this straight-stemmed evergreen tree has been studied for its dose-dependent effects on lowering blood pressure.

33. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This South East Asian culinary herb exhibits antihypertensive effects through its chemical compound, eugenol.  Also found in spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, eugenol works by blocking calcium channels.

34. Harmal (Peganum harmala)
Harmal is a perennial plant that has traditional usage in Turkey and Syria.  A crude extract from harmal exhibits antihypertensive effects in animal studies.  In addition to its blood pressure lowering properties, harmal may have also been an important entheogen in ancient Middle East.

35. Nela nelli (Phyllanthus amarus)
Closely related to chanca piedra (“stone breaker”), this species of Phyllanthus has traditionally been used as a diuretic to lower blood pressure.

36. Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster)
Pycnogenol, an extract isolated from the bark of maritime pine, has been shown to be effective for venous insufficiency.  Research has also shown that 200 mg/day of pycnogenol may modestly lower blood pressure in individuals with mild hypertension.

37. Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)
A member of the pea family, kudzu root is officially recognized in China as a muscle relaxant, fever reducer, and a treatment for hypertension.  An isoflavone extracted from kudzu has been shown clinically to reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

38. Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Research, although with conflicting results, suggests that pomegranate juice may be effective in reducing blood pressure.

39. Radish (Raphanus sativus)
The edible root of this mustard family plant has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate in animal studies.

40. Snakeroot (Rauvolfia serpentina)
Snakeroot is considered to be one of the most antihypertensive plants.  A purified alkaloid from snakeroot, reserpine, was the first effective drug used in the long term treatment of hypertension, though it is rarely used today.

41. Rhaptopetalum coriaceum Oliver
The bark from this woody, tropical South American plant has been used traditionally as a treatment for hypertension.  Research has revealed that its mechanism of action may be through calcium channel blocking.

42. Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
Sesame is one of the oldest oil-seed crops known.  In patients with hypertension, consumption of sesame oil has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and increase endogenous antioxidant production.  Sesamin, a lignan found in sesame oil, may be useful as a preventative for hypertension.  Alcoholic extraction of the seeds has also been shown to lower blood pressure in animal studies.

43. Sticky nightshade (Solanum sisymbriifolium)
Sticky nightshade has been used in traditional Paraguayan medicine as a diruetic and antihypertensive agent.  Studies in animals have elucidated its role in reducing blood pressure.

44. Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
Studies have shown that consumption of polyphenolic-rich chocolate (dark or milk) can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.  Compounds in chocolate also enhance vasodilation within the cardiovascular system.

45. Wheat bran (Triticum aestivum)
Increasing wheat bran intake by 3-6 grams daily may modestly reduce blood pressure.

46. Cat’s claw herb (Uncaria rhynchophylla)
This flowering plant in the coffee family has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to lower blood pressure.  Its hypotensive effects may be attributed to the alkaloid, hirsutine, which acts on calcium channels.

47. Mistletoe (Viscum album)
Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant in the sandalwood family.  Aqueous extracts of its leaves display blood pressure lowering effects in animal studies.

48. Wild African black plum (Vitex doniana)
An extract from this flowering plant in the mint family has significantly lowered blood pressure in animal studies.

49. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Frequently used for digestive issues, ginger also has been shown to improve blood circulation and relax muscles surrounding blood vessels.  Studies performed on animals have revealed its ability to reduce blood pressure through calcium channel blocking.

There we have it.  Forty-nine plants that may aid in the reduction of blood pressure.  If you (or someone you know) have hypertension, and believe that every treatment has been tried, study this list and see if one or more of these plants can provide assistance.

It should be understood that there is hardly a replacement for optimal diet and lifestyle practices.  A single plant is not the cause of hypertension, therefore a single plant cannot be the cure for it either.

Only with alterations in the way we live our lives – through the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the sunshine we receive, our thoughts, actions, relationships, etc. –  can we begin to radically transform our bodies, reclaiming the health and robustness that once defined our species, Homo sapiens.

Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!


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Thank you!
Adam Haritan

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