I knew I had hit that “middle age” milestone pretty squarely when I had to think about this issue at all. Through my younger years, my blood pressure was an enviable 105/65. Of course, a number of demographic factors have lined up against me since, namely advancing age and weight. Those demographic factors were lined up against me and then gas was poured on the flickering flame over Labor Day weekend. We woke to a forest fire licking the southern edge of our property and learned first hand the “flight” part of “fight or flight” as we flew off the property with shoe-less kids not buckled in their seats. The house survived but a neighbor/vacationer was burned out. It really was a big deal and took some weeks to realize why we were completely exhausted, couldn’t sleep at night, and had blood pressure levels competing with 80-year-old fat men.
There’s more on the fire below because, well, who can resist fire photos?
In any case, I found myself lately with very high blood pressure and decided to take one week to determine if I could get it under better control. Before everyone decides to avoid medication and take a week to improve their blood pressure, I should add this: Don’t run around with high blood pressure numbers. You could drop dead or have a debilitating stroke. Taking medication is far better than dropping dead. In my case, I was able to stay home, not drive anywhere, and make dramatic lifestyle changes. Work with your doctor to get your blood pressure under control. My approach will complement your work.
(My numbers were very high and I considered posting them but I don’t want to imply that my numbers only required tea. You’ll see that I did quite a bit more. I want to re-emphasize that dropping dead point above.)
Herbs to Help Manage High Blood Pressure
Nature provides many complementary ways to give our bodies the tools to operate the way they are supposed to, including herbs high in healthy components like coumaric, rosmarinic acid, and resveratrol to support our heart health. Herbs have some of the highest levels of antioxidants in general, supporting our heart health in many ways.
My first approach is simply to consume more of these herbs in general and tea is one of the most straight-forward ways to do that in quantity. You can buy each of these herbs in powdered tablets or extracts but the whole herb in a cup of tea in my kitchen has been my approach.
Hibiscus gets top billing because there is fairly extensive research on the topic, enough to help us even figure out how much to drink. I wrote about it in detail here. It’s a tasty drink and a tool we should all keep close by.
I will say that after drinking it three times a day (as per the instructions in the post above), you will get tired of it. Change it up: It is great in a base of ginger tea. It actually works with oregano too. I am not sure why.
Lemon balm is a powerful herb with a delicate flavor. I mentioned that it can help temper anxiety so much so that I rescued 90 volunteer seedlings (and counting) from our property, potted them, and put them in the greenhouse for the winter. They are destined to cover a hillside on our property. (You’ll notice a lingering theme here of me covering hillsides with my latest favorite herb. I have five acres and I have a year or two before I run out of space….)
I digress. Lemon balm is loaded with heart-protective nutrients and makes a great addition to your tea arsenal. One problem with lemon balm is that when the leaf is dried, its delicate lemon flavor all but disappears leaving you with a lack-luster tea in terms of flavor. This is a plant to grow yourself if you have any space at all. It is a prolific re-seeder and may top-kill in colder climates but has hardy roots. In both extremely cold winter climates and in extremely warm climates without much water, you may end up growing it as an annual. Winter cold may kill its roots in the case of the former. Summer heat may burn up your plant in the case of the latter.
How much to drink for the galloping blood pressure? Really, I have no idea. We know it’s good for our hearts. (Read a bit of research here.)
I consider ginger tea to be a go-to work horse tea and use it as a base in many teas. It is great all by itself or combined with hibiscus, rosemary, oregano, pepper, and turmeric. (Turmeric is heart-healthy as well.) I keep fresh ginger root stock for cooking and for tea and chop it up and create a strong infusion as I describe in a more specific article on ginger tea here.
Combine it with any of the other teas here to vary the flavor a bit. There is a bit of research on ginger and hypertension here.
Don’t laugh or shake your head: “I am NOT drinking oregano tea.”
I had never considered it before myself until my mother mentioned some oregano we had dried two years before. She gushed about its lingering flavor after all that time. I could have sprinkled it into a pasta sauce but I am a “go big or go home” sort of person and chose instead to make an extremely strong oregano tea, thinking I was all bad-ass. I was completely shocked that THE TEA WAS GOOD. Granted, we think we have a special oregano here, a variety prized by the Italian grandma of one of our friends, a variety my mom planted from cuttings about 25 years ago that have just sat on our property as landscape plants adorning the occasional plate of spaghetti.
I tasted the tea and then I made more. I drank that. Within hours I had clippers and was putting cuttings of the plant in our greenhouse. It’s that good.
Not all oregano varieties are as special as this one in term of flavor but they have good heart-protective activity and you should try it in your tea. The oregano most known for its health benefits is actually “Greek oregano,” Origanum vulgaris hirtum. It is quite bitter eaten raw. The tea cuts some of the bitterness but it still is not a pleasant tea. It is a very healthy tea and, thus, a great option, but if you don’t want to drink it, you likely won’t make it a routine. When you’re at a nursery, check out their oregano and look for unusual varieties. Nibble a leaf. You may land a variety prized by Italian grandmas and you too may have a choice cup of tea. The key with oregano is to find a flavor you like so that you can actually palate the tea.
There is a bit of research on oregano and hypertension and blood glucose here.
I had not considered drinking rosemary tea until on whim one year my son and I decided to add rosemary to some fruity drinks. Whoa. It’s a great way to change things up. Here in California many of us can simply walk outside our door and pick a sprig, making it particularly convenient. (There is a bit of research on rosemary and high blood pressure here.)
One thing about rosemary is that the stem itself will impart a bit of bitter flavor to your tea. This is only noticeable if you are reusing the rosemary in subsequent batches (a strategy I use often with tea) or let it steep a long time. You might find you like the tea better if you remove the leaves from the stem. To remove the leaves you can hold the stem at one end and use the fingers from your other hand to run along the stem, popping the leaves off. This technique works well but only in one direction — starting from the new growth end of the stem. If your leaves don’t pop off, you may be holding the wrong end of the stem.
Teas not known for their flavor but that support your heart nonetheless include dandelion, cilantro, dill, and garlic. Actually, each of these will be palatable with honey. The garlic works well in a coconut milk base. Experiment and enjoy.
What else we need to do to manage the galloping blood pressure
For as much as I love herbs and tea, they are not going to save us if we just throw gas on the flame and think a cup of tea is going to douse it. A cup of tea would have been as much use on the night of our big forest fire, throwing it on the fire and thinking it would matter.
You already know what you need to do and I moan and groan about what I need to do:
In my case, I cut down on my work hours and I went on a medical leave for a local board I sit on. (I mention the board here in a Grand Jury name-drop here.)
What else fans the flame? I hesitate to type it because that’s just how bad the news is and so I will just whisper it:
Coffee and alcohol
When you’re young and fit, these drinks may not affect your blood pressure at all. When you’re middle aged and running from forest fires, apparently they do.
That extra 30, 40, or 50 pounds matters a lot too.
Yep, the idea of a diet is far worse than giving up coffee to me and yet here I am. Look for “after” pictures. “I am sure they will be coming,” I grumble….
In the week I took off to “live differently” and get my blood pressure out of that approaching-stroke range, I gardened all week. Gardening may be a miracle cure for me and I need to do more of it. (It helps that 30 pound problem as well.) It is actually one reason why I am planting herbs all over the property — eating, drinking, and breathing the herbs is helpful to me. While gardening, I take in their aromas and get exercise at the same time. It’s post-forest fire therapy.
And guess what the forest fire left behind besides blood pressure problems? At least one acre of cleared land, ready for herbs. Some of my plantings are replacing landscape areas that actually burned, some are “in the wild” as I describe to friends visiting. I am planting our previously undeveloped hillsides. We may have a color show on this hill when the sage and lavender bloom. That would be cool.
The Promised Forest Fire Pictures: That Night — A Few Pictures
Here is a picture from the main road below the fire’s origin, at about 2:30 a.m. It was at this point I said to my dad, “We may have a house tomorrow but I really wouldn’t put money on it either way.”
I shared some of the pictures from the morning after on Facebook — you can explore them below.
The Aftermath in 3D
These 3D pictures are “living pictures” created by the new Lytro Illum camera (available through our Amazon partner here).
The fire began at the site of discarded briquettes between two neighboring properties, both owned by weekenders who live in the Los Angeles area during the week. Both sets of neighbors seemed to share the area of the fire origin and so it is not clear in official reports who started the fire. A neighbor who spotted the fire fought it with a garden hose on its east side. On the west (our side), the fire caught wild grasses and those grasses grew right up under the redwood deck of this mobile home — a fire ladder right into the home. Fire response doused the deck but once the home caught, they focused their limited water on other structures (e.g. the nearby gas tank). In any case, the neighborhood lost a house that night. These pictures are of the burn site.
The pictures are pretty cool — you can click on different parts of the picture to reorient its focus. Give it a try.
Our property has an old cattle fence along its south side or, perhaps I should say, “we had an old cattle fence…”
We had plastic hanging on the garden fence, left over from warming up some of the garden soil. I suppose we’ll need some new plastic next season.
This picture will mean absolutely nothing without some explanation. In the foreground, I offer you Yerba Santa, “holy herb,” a favorite of the Spanish explorers in California. It is a native plant. I transplanted a whole stand in the spring and babied it through the summer. It is a strong, hardy plant that withstands just about everything except, apparently, forest fires.
Ironically, yerba santa does help with lung health. We may need some of that…
Oh, and there’s so much more! We had signs that popped up after the fire (some made by me). We’ve had threats of lawsuits (some for the aforementioned signs.
It’s no wonder we’re struggling with our blood pressure.
Anyhoo, be sure to discard your BBQ briquettes properly and drink plenty of beneficial herbal teas.
The Rebuilding Project
We had about $3,000 in property damage from the fire — retaining walls, fences, and irrigation lines. We are not filing a claim for various reasons and so I’ll mention the only up side we have found: about one acre of our land is clear for planting that was previously covered in native shrubs.
Part therapy and part mania, I have a green house bursting with 100+ seedlings to plant this spring and 100+ more cuttings that ought to be ready to plant by fall. As I mentioned above, perhaps gardening on extreme mountain slopes will help with the 30 pound weight loss goal. The best place to follow our rebuilding projects and ridiculous herb planting projects is on Instagram: