Chronic venous insufficiency, or CVI, occurs when the veins in your legs become blocked or damaged due to faulty valves and cannot pump blood back to your heart. The blood pools in your veins or leaks out around the valves, damaging the surrounding tissue. You may experience symptoms like swollen legs, itching, varicose veins, leg ulcers and pain in your legs and feet. Herbs that strengthen veins and reduce swelling may be helpful remedies for venous insufficiency. Consult your health-care provider before starting herbal therapy.

Butcher’s Broom

Butcher’s broom, or Ruscus aculeatus, is a perennial evergreen native to Europe and western Asia. In Europe, herbalists use the roots and rhizomes to treat CVI, hemorrhoids and constipation. The active ingredients are the steroidal saponins ruscogenin, ruscin, neoruscogenin and ruscoside, which are potent anti-inflammatory agents. A study by W. Vanscheidt and colleagues published in the 2002 issue of the German drug research journal “Arzneimittel Forschung” tested a rhizome extract and a placebo on women with CVI. The study found that the extract was more effective than the placebo for relieving swelling and other symptoms, like leg heaviness, tension and tingling. The action maybe due to the saponins, which stimulate the smooth muscles of blood vessel walls, producing vasoconstriction. This study supports the traditional use of butcher’s broom extract for treating CVI. Consult your doctor before using if you are taking MAO inhibitors or anticoagulants.

Horse Chestnut

Horse chestnut, or Aesculus hippocastanum, is a tall deciduous tree native to Europe and Asia. The large, nut-like seeds are a traditional remedy for varicose veins, CVI, ulcers, hemorrhoids, rheumatism and fever. The main constituents are saponins, flavonoids, tannins, sterols, coumarin and fatty acids, and the seeds are strongly anti-inflammatory. Clinical herbalist David Hoffmann says that horse chestnut tones and increases the elasticity of the veins and reduces their fragility and permeability. He recommends tinctures and teas for internal use and lotions for external symptoms like leg ulcers. A report by U. Siebert and colleagues published in the December 2002 issue of “International Angiology” found that, compared to placebo, horse chestnut seed extract improved swelling, edema, pain and itching in treated patients suffering from CVI. Do not combine this herb with anticoagulants.

Maritime Pine

Maritime pine, or Pinus pinaster, is an evergreen native to the Mediterranean. Traditional healers use the essential oil for bronchitis, rheumatism and neuralgia. The bark is a rich source of procyanidins, phenolic acids, cinnamic acid and benzoic acid and is used to treat CVI, varicose veins and venous ulcers. A study by M.R. Cesarone and associates published in the September 2010 issue of “Phytomedicine” tested a standardized maritime pine bark extract on patients with severe, long-term CVI. The study found that the extract was more effective in reducing symptoms and leaking capillaries than compression stockings, a conventional treatment for CVI. The researchers also found a combination of the extract and compression stockings was more effective than either of their use alone. The researchers note that the extract prevents edema and muscle cramps, and speeds healing of leg ulcers, all symptoms of CVI. This study supports the use of maritime pine bark extract for CVI. Avoid combining it with blood-thinning medicine.