By Brian Puterman
Herbs are the oldest form of medicine on earth. In manís
earliest recorded history herbs were already being used for healing. By 300 B.C.
herbal medicine was a highly respected and practiced study at the medical
cultural center in Alexandria Egypt. By 77 A.D. Pliny the Elder wrote the
Historia Naturalis, a documentation of well over 1000 herbs. During the
renaissance herbalism was refined into a true healing art. Unfortunately it was
treated as a clandestine almost mystic practice wherein women and novices who
were caught performing it were pronounced heretics and burned at the stake. This
may be why it still has a connotation of being a more esoteric modality today.
If we observe animals in their natural habitat weíll see that
they are instinctually drawn to specific herbs. The field of Zoopharmacognosy
has demonstrated this to be true. From our kitchen to our back yards nature has
provided us with a constant reminder that all we need to heal and soothe our
pets and ourselves is well within reach. After all, 25% of conventional
pharmaceuticals are derivatives of plants. The world health organization says
that 74% of plant-derived medicines have current uses that draw a parallel to
their historical applications. Pharmaceutical companies and the FDA continue to
look closely at herbs and their effects. Most recently herbalism has been
experiencing a renaissance of its own. As herbs become more widely available to
the general public it is not surprising that people are applying this form of
alternative medicine to their companion animals.
Like any form of medicine the strength and type of herb used
is something to be approached knowledgably and with some care. The fact is that
some herbs are harmless while others can have serious side effects if not used
The Chinese divide herbs into three simple categories. This is
a good starting point for identifying specific characteristics for individual
herbs. Of course some herbs will work differently on a dog or cat. For instance
Catnip is a stimulant and aphrodisiac for a cat as opposed to a sedative when
given to humans in the form of tea.
1. Poison herbs. These are extremely powerful herbs
that have very specific benefits. They are only to be used for short periods
of time and have very strict rules for application and quantity.
2. Medicinal herbs. These are also quite strong and are used for a
specific medicinal purpose, but here there is a wider margin for error.
3. Food herbs. These are the gentlest of the three and can be used
indefinitely without any harmful effects.
Using combinations of herbs can increase their effectiveness
by working together or reacting with each other in synthesis. Sometimes one herb
can act to stabilize the toxic effects of another particular herb or plant.
There are properties in plants and herbs that modern science has been unable to
reproduce or explain in its interaction with disease. For instance conventional
medicine only has a few immune boosting drugs while there is a large resource of
herbs that work to good effect.
Herbs and plants can be antimicrobial, anti-cancer or boost
the immune system. Some plants can help strengthen the body and relax the mind.
Herbs can be brewed into tonics and teas that have a variety of fortifying
effects on the body as a whole. Herbs can be integrated into conventional
medical treatments with the help of an enlightened veterinarian. Pet owners can
educate themselves as much as possible about herbalism so that they know what
particular herbs may be useful in treating the condition or illness their pet
may be experiencing.
A BRIEF SELECTION OF HERB REMEDIES AND
Aloe vera: A valuable soothing
agent for burns, rashes and stings for both you and your pets. It can be taken
for constipation or stopping chronic diarrhea.
Apple cider vinegar: Enhances
bowel function. Itís also good for chronic yeast infection of the ear.
Astragalus: A Chinese herb that
is effective in supporting the immune system and as an anti-cancer agent.
Burdock root: Used for alkalizing
and soothing the stomach and intestines.
Calendula: Good for speeding up
the healing of cuts, abrasions and burns.
Caraway: Aids in digestion and
helps stop flatulence.
Carrot: Good for the intestines
-- itís high in potassium and great for arthritis, heart disease and low salt
Celery seed: Has an alkalizing
effect on the stomach, is soothing to the intestines, increases appetite and
Chamomile: A great calming agent
for irritable or anxious pets. Itís also effective in helping both you and your
Echinacea: Promotes healing of
cuts and skin irritations. It also boosts the immune system.
Ephedra: Great for breathing
problems like bronchitis and asthma. It also has a stimulant effect that should
be considered when using it.
Eyebright: It can be used as
eyewash to soothe red and irritated eyes.
Garlic: A natural antibiotic,
antibacterial and antioxidant that also helps digestion. Itís also believed to
boost liver function and prevent heart disease, cancer and other degenerative
Ginseng: An appetite stimulant.
Goldenseal: Helps fight infection
both topically and orally. In diabetic pets it enhances their insulin.
Kelp: It supports thyroid
function, which controls metabolism.
Milk thistle: Great for liver
disease. It also contains flavonoids, which are believed to capture free
radicals making it potentially an anti-aging agent.
Red raspberry leaf tea: Used to
aid in the birthing process. Itís used for uterine problems.
Valerian: Excellent calming agent
for hyper pets.
Yunnan Paiyao: Great for stopping
bleeding both internally and externally.
anti-inflammatory thatís great for arthritis.
BLDR-K: Used for bladder and
Essiac: A combination of burdock
root, Indian rhubarb root, sheep sorrel, and slippery elm bark. Itís good for
supporting the immune system and to diminish the toxic effects of conventional
Hawthore caps: Contains hawthorn,
heartsease, Siberian ginseng and motherwort. Good for supporting the heart.
Night Caps: A combination of
valerian root, skullcap, passionflowers, kava root and GABA. It good for
relaxing a pet and can be helpful in epileptic seizures.
The understanding and practice of medical herbalism is often
convoluted by the numerous properties attributed to the remedies. It can be a
challenge to find the particular plants or herbs that will prove most effective
for your petís particular health needs. It is not just advisable to consult a
veterinarian when using herbs and plant extracts, itís essential that you get
advice from an expert in veterinary herbalism in order to assure the safety and
well-being of your companion animal.