Horsetail

c.2018 Greg Tilford

Equisetum arvense                    Horsetail family

Appearance:  The horsetail family is generally divided into three segments:  1) Annual varieties which produce separate, and distinctly different fertile and sterile stems;  2) those which produce sterile and fertile stems which are similar in appearance; 3) evergreen perennials which produce fertile and sterile stems which are alike.   Despite variances, the entire family shares fundamentally similar characteristics— hollow, distinctively grooved and jointed stems, and leaves which are scale-like and dark in color— appearing as sheaths which surround the stems at the joints.   In early spring Equisetum arvense produces a small (3-12″), fertile stem that lacks chlorophyll (the constituent which makes plants green).  This dies back as its larger, green, sterile counterpart matures.  The subsequent, 6″ to 2′ tall sterile stems have whorled branches which give the overall appearance of a green bottle brush.   Equisetum hyemale is much larger (up to 5′),  and lacks any branching characteristics.  It looks like a prehistoric cross between miniature bamboo and an asparagus spear.  Both species are often seen growing side-by-side.  

Habitat & Range:  Lake shores, stream banks, and other wet areas; up into alpine elevations throughout North America.  Horsetails often represent the primary ground cover in shady, wet thickets.

Cycle & Bloom Season:  The green, sterile plants emerge in spring. Perennial varieties remain green and usable throughout the year, annual varieties die back in late fall.

Parts Used:  All aerial parts.

Actions:  Diuretic, astringent, hemostatic, tonic.

Affinities:  Muscloskeletal, skin and hair.

Preparation:  Tincture or decoction for internal uses;  a poultice for external compresses.

Specific Uses:  Horsetail contains a vast array of synergistic chemical compounds which all contribute to myriad medicinal uses, but most notable is its usefulness in healing bone and connective tissue injuries.

Most of horsetail’s regenerative actions in the Muscloskeletal system can be attributed to its remarkable content of bioactive silicon.   In the body, silicon is a fundamental starting point, or matrix, for the formation of bone, cartilage, skin, and other connective tissues, including those of the aorta and trachea.  Silicon is perhaps the most common element on earth.  In fact, most of the sand on our planet is comprised largely of silicon— but not in a form that can be absorbed and used by the body.  The silicon contained in horsetail is unique in that it is in a form that can be metabolized  for tissue repair and development1.

For you and your companion, horsetail is useful for speeding recovery from joint and bone injuries, including post-surgical trauma.  To use horsetail internally, a decoction or tincture preparation is needed.  Horsetail is poorly water soluble and is very abrasive— unless it is put into a form that can be easily absorbed by the body, it may cause irritation to the urinary tract and kidneys.  To make a decoction, take a heaping handful of the dried herb and place it into a non-metallic cooking vessel (to avoid picking up metallic residues).  Add a half teaspoon of sugar and enough water to barely cover the herb.  The sugar will help extract the silicon constituents and will make a more palatable finished product2.  Simmer the mixture over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the water has turned dark green.  Strain through a fine cloth and allow to cool.  The clarified decoction can be added directly to your companion’s food— one tablespoon per 20 pounds of the animal’s body weight daily, five days a week.  Horsetail tincture can be used the same way, but at a smaller dosage of one milliliter (1/4 tsp.) per 20 pounds of body weight.

Horsetail is also useful for a variety of urinary tract problems, particularly those that involve bleeding or an accumulation of superfluous tissue in the urinary tract.  The hemolytic and antimicrobial properties of horsetail make it very useful for urinary tract infections that involve minor bleeding from the bladder or urethra.  To help avoid urinary tract irritattion during long term use (more than 10 days), it’s a good idea to use horsetail in conjunction with soothing, protecting, and lubricating herbs such as marshmallow, plantain, or chickweed.  Marshmallow is our first choice, because it adds excellent antimicrobial properties to the therapeutic effort.

There is evidence to support claims that horsetail may help prevent bone degeneration, skin and coat disorders, and even senility in older animals.  Scientific studies have concluded that as a body ages, silicon levels in the circulatory system and skin decrease, which in turn leads to tissue degeneration and a diminished capacity to form new tissue4.  Other studies point to the possibility that horsetail may be useful in preventing certain forms of senility and degenerative bone disease— namely, those directly related to the balance between silicon and aluminum in the body.  In theory, these ailments may result from a toxic excess of aluminum, a condition normally counteracted by the presence of silicic acid, silicon and other vital compounds that are contained in horsetail5.  In other words, dietary supplementation with horsetail may help maintain a healthful balance of silicon in the bodies of aging animals.  See your holistic veterinarian to ascertain if and how much horsetail is suitable for your companion.

Echinacea

c.2018 Greg Tilford

Echinacea species                    Sunflower family

Appearance:     Echinacea (also known as “Purple Coneflower;”) is a taprooted perennial which may grow as high as 40″ .  Nine species of Echinacea  are native to North America; all have flowers with distinctive, cone-like central disks.  The rays of most species droop away from the disk when mature; with the most common species ranging in color from pale to dark purple.     Echinacea purpurea (illus.) is by far the most widely distributed species in North America.  For several decades this species has become very popular as a medicinal herb and garden flower. Dozens of cultivars of E. purpurea have been developed;  and it is estimated that the entire world market supply of this species comes from cultivated plants.   However, several other species, such as E. angustifolia and E. pallida  are quickly succumbing to commercial and environmental pressures.

Habitat & Range: In the West, Echinacea is largely an introduced plant.   Partial to open plains and wood lands, it’s natural range once extended from Eastern Canada, south into the Ozarks, and west throughout the corn belt states, to the east slopes of the Rockies.  Market pressures and continuing loss of habitat have eliminated most of the wild stands of Echinacea.  Its range continues to shrink… and today only small, isolated populations of wild Echinacea survive west of the Missouri River.

Cycle & Bloom Season:  A perennial which blooms early to late summer (depending on climate)

Parts Used:  Roots, leaves, stems, and flowers..

Actions:  Immunostimulant, antimicrobial.

Affinities:  Immune system, lymph system, urinary tract.

Preparation:  Tincture, decoction, dried and powdered root, or direct feeding of the fresh leaves, stems and flowers.

Specific Uses:  First and foremost, echinacea is an immune-supporting herb — it  serves to support intact immune functions through stimulatory and strengthening actions at various levels within the body.

No single constituent contained in the root or flowering upper parts of echinacea can be attributed to the immune-tonifying functions of this plant.  Instead, most herbalists  agree that the complex structure of this plant should be viewed as a therapeutic synergy of dozens of biochemical influences.  However, a few key constituents stand out as strong clues into exactly how echinacea works.

A great deal of scientific research has identified echinacea’s most influential immunostimulatory components as an extensive array of caffeic acids, volatile oils, polysaccharides, polyenes, polyines, and isobutylamides.   In simpler terms: echinacea’s immunostimulatory qualities are derived from a wide array of chemical compounds that allow the plant to be used in a variety of forms without sacrificing its effectiveness.  For instance, while many of the acid constituents in echinacea are poorly water soluble and require a strong alcohol base to extract them into a tincture form, the plant’s polysaccharide constituents are  exactly the opposite — they are easily extracted into water — and in fact are largely destroyed by alcohol.  Since both of these  chemical groups have been shown to possess strong immunostimulatory qualities, it seems that the plant is naturally designed  to accommodate a wide variety of metabolic needs.

Echinacea serves to support disease resistance several ways.  At blood level,  it accelerates phagocytosis; the means by which macrophages and other antibodies attack and remove bacteria.  At cellular levels, echinacea helps to reduce the production of an enzyme that breaks down hyaluronic acid; the compound which occurs between cells to bind them together.  By helping to eliminate this enzyme at the onset of an infection, it is believed that body tissues are less pervious to invading microbes, and in turn the invaders are more vulnerable to scavenging antibodies that have already been stimulated into action.  Echinacea has also been shown to stimulate the lymph system, thus helping the body in eliminating waste materials from the tissues, and it possesses measurable antimicrobial qualities which serve to assist the body’s fight against infection by intervening with invading bacteria at the point of invasion.

            Echinacea’s multi-directional means of immune system support , its primary usefulness depends on a healthy immune system.   Without a healthy population of unencumbered antibodies to work with, echinacea’s capacity to fight infection is limited to its simple, and less-than-impressive, antiseptic actions.  This means that timing is critical to echinacea’s effectiveness — this herb should be employed at the first onset of infectious symptoms, otherwise its activity will amount to a losing battle against microbiotic opponents that have already fortified their positions in the body.

Learn to recognize minute variances in your animal’s behavior and feeding habits.  Take extra time to give your pet a cursory examination during your daily grooming session or play times, and look for anything which may point to the introduction of an infection — an inflamed gum, a swollen flea bite, or a slightly runny nose may be indicators for the proactive use of echinacea.  If you are too late, and an infection has set in,  a great deal of echinacea’s potential effectiveness has been lost, and it’s time to consider calling in some other troops from the herbal army.   Don’t despair… try boosting echinacea with a small percentage of an antiseptic herb such as oregon grape, usnea , or organically grown goldenseal.  By combining echinacea with about 10% of one of these herbs, you will be offering a small measure of direct antiseptic intervention, without compromising populations of the beneficial microbes the body needs to help with its fight.  Topical application of antiseptics, directly onto the point of infection, will also aid in the healing effort.

So how much echinacea should you give?… For how long?… In what form?

Many people think that the potency of an echinacea preparation can be determined by the intensity of the tingling sensation it causes when placed on the tongue.  If this is your current method of judging echinacea preparations, please abandon it — a great deal of recent and continuing research has shown that the isobutylmides that are responsible for this sensation represent only a fragment of echinacea’s active constituents, and that their absence may not effect the overall effectiveness of echinacea3,.  In fact, the more we learn about echinacea, the more complex and diverse its medicinal actions become.

There is no  best kind of echinacea  preparation per se —  as long as care and quality has gone into propagation, harvest, and manufacture of the end product, all forms of echinacea preparations will contain adequate medicinal constituents to get the job done.  The question of what form of preparation to use internally in your animal hinges on what it takes to get a therapeutic quantity into the animal.  Echinacea is by no means a pleasant -tasting herb, and its administration  is compounded when we  consider the short digestive tracts and faster metabolisms of dogs and cats.   In these animals, the problem isn’t finding a preparation that contains high enough concentrations of active constituents, but finding one that is both palatable and fully assimilable by their short digestive tracts.  Cats in particular, don’t like alcohol and the sour-tingle that these extracts impart on the tongue (they typically foam at the mouth and sometimes act like you are force-feeding them a vial, poisonous fluid from the bowels of hell).   Dogs typically drink from toilets without complaint, and are somewhat less picky — but gel caps will often pass directly through them, undigested. Therefore, I prefer to use a low-alcohol, glycerin extract for the carnivores.  Glycerin-based preparations are low in tongue-tingling isobutylmides, but rich in readily-available polysaccharide constituents, and the sweet taste of the vegetable glycerin helps mask the unpleasant flavor of the herb.   Herbivores are  naturally designed to efficiently metabolize plant materials, and horses, goats, llamas and other large animals can be fed the flowering plants — or dried root can be added to their feed.

Dosage and duration of use is variable upon the needs and individual nuances of the animal, but a conservative rule for dogs and cats is to give 12 – 25 drops of the tincture, three times daily.  Horses, cattle, sheep, and other large animals can be fed a couple of handsfull of the dried, whole flowering herb per day.   Several high quality, powdered echinacea preparations are now available for equines and other large animals as well… use them as directed by your veterinarian or as suggested on the label.

In recent years, a rather heated controversy has arisen within the herbalist community concerning how long echinacea can be used before the body builds a tolerance to its immune stimulating actions.  In a  German study conducted  in 1989, a diminished response to echinacea was recorded in human subjects,  after five to ten days of normal dose administration4.   This raised questions of whether or not echinacea is effective when used over a long term.  However, closer scrutiny of this study has since concluded that while echinacea’s activity does fall off sharply after about five days of use, its long term use still maintains a higher level of immune system activity than that observed prior to its initial administration.   However, many herbalists believe that breaking the continuity of echinacea use every 5 to 10 days will allow for a greater immune boost, each time the therapy is reestablished after a two or three day break.  I agree, and believe that a break is necessary in any case, to monitor the unassisted recovery of the  animal.  Five days on; two or three days off is a good guideline to follow.

Aside from its immune-stimulating qualities, echinacea is a very good antimicrobial for the mouth and urinary tract.  It is very useful for treating bacterial or fungal infections of the bladder or urethra, especially when added to a demulcent and anti-inflammatory combination of herbs (see “Genitourinary Problems”).  Echinacea also has a long-standing reputation as a snake bite remedy.  Used internally and externally simultaneously, the herb is said to antidote the venom.  Although little scientific evidence exists to support such claims, hundreds of years worth of use amounts to more than folkloric trivia.  Knowing that about 85% of rattlesnake bites  involve only a partial injection of venom (or no injection at all), its is likely that echinacea serves to more to ward off infection and prevent tissue damage than to actually nullify the venom.  Echinacea works very well at releiving the pain and swelling of most insect bites and stings, especially when applied as a clay poultice.  See “Bites and Stings”, and the chapter on making herbal preparations for more information and recipes.

Dandelion

c.2018 Greg Tilford

Taraxacum officinale                  Sunflower family

Appearance:  Its time for all good herbalists to put their egos aside…  Dandelion is actually confused with several other species of the Sunflower Family.  And although we may hate to admit it, many of us have been fooled into using one of the look-alikes.  The primary consideration to bear in mind when identifying Taraxacum officinale  or any of its hundreds of variations is this:  Dandelion has no branching characteristics, but instead grows in a rosette fashion, directly off of its taproot.  And dandelion never has spines on its midrib, as does Lactuca serriola (“Prickly Lettuce” – illus.), which otherwise looks very similar when young.  Although dandelion’s impostors likely  won’t  harm you, they won’t offer you dandelion’s benefits either!

Habitat & Range:  A native of Europe and Asia, dandelion has found its way onto every continent— except, maybe , Antarctica.

Cycle & Bloom Season:  A perennial that may bloom several times throughout the year.  In areas of severe winter climate, dandelion may appear only as a free-seeding annual.

Parts Used:  All parts of the plant are useful, for various applications.

Actions:  Diuretic, cholagogue, bitter, nutritive, anti-inflammatory, tonic, laxative.

Affinities:  Liver, gallbladder, gastrointestinal tract.

Preparation:  Water infusion (tea), decoction, tincture, fresh or dried leaves and flowers.

Specific Uses:  To begin an accurate assessment of Dandelion’s deep-reaching medicinal attributes, we must first put healing into a whole body perspective.  All higher organisms (including dogs, cats, birds, mice, lizards, goats and even humans) maintain vital body functions within tightly knit parameters of systemic cooperation.   A precise and balanced relationship between nutrition and elimination of waste is a critical part of this cooperation, and if a systemic excess or deficiency occurs that the body cannot correct through elimination, supplementation, or immune system intervention, it will try to compensate by shutting down a system or storing waste materials wherever it can.   In other words, a state of “dis-ease” results.

Enter Dandelion.

Dandelion is one of the most complete plant foods on Earth.  A one cup serving of fresh dandelion greens will provide as much as 2000 I.U.’s of vitamin A (1 1/2 times the RDA for an adult human), 20% protein (by content… that’s double of what spinach provides), vitamins C, K, D, and B complex; iron, manganese, phosphorus and many other trace minerals; and an especially rich source of potassium.  All of these vital nutrients are conveniently contained within a single source, in quantities that the body can fully absorb.   This means that  dandelion will gently supplement diet without overworking the liver and kidneys with excess vitamins and minerals (this is often signified by dark urine).

Supplementing your companion animal’s diet with dandelion leaf is as simple as drying the greens and crumbling them onto his food.  If that doesn’t work, or if you need to get nutrients into your animal more quickly, try making a leaf tea using organic, unsalted vegetable or meat broth in place of plain water.  Plan on feeding about a teaspoon of the dried herb for each 20 pounds of body weight daily.  Horses, llamas, sheep, goats, mules, and other large animals will often eat the greens directly out of their pasture…  If they don’t like it, try hand feeding or adding a little molasses.  If your animal is sensitive to changes in diet, then start him off with a little at a time.

In addition to providing your animal with many of the nutrients he needs, the leaves possess what herbalists call a “bitter tonic” principle.   The idea is to “warm up” digestive metabolism before the digestive system is forced to go to work— when a small amount of a bitter herb is taken into the mouth, the recipient immediately experiences a sudden increase of salivation.  Then, as the bitter herb reaches the stomach, bile and other digestive agents are then triggered into production.  The result:  more efficient digestion, reduced indigestion, better absorption of nutrients, and increased appetite.  Dandelion leaf is particularly useful in animals which have a chronic problem with indigestion.  If your animal has frequent gas and/or passes food that does not appear digested, get him to chew a fresh dandelion leaf while you reconsider his diet, or apply a few drops of dandelion tincture (an herbal glycerite is most palatable) onto his tongue.  It doesn’t matter if the animal doesn’t appear to swallow it; the bitter action is triggered in the mouth.

Dandelion is well known among herbalists as a safe but powerful diuretic and liver stimulant.     Congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema, arthritis, gall bladder disease, kidney stones— these are all imbalances resulting from the body’s inability to eliminate water and/or accumulated excesses.  In mainstream practices, drugs such as furosimide ( widely known under the brand name “Lasix) are often used to drain off excess fluid from the body and thus promote the elimination of accumulated waste materials. Pharmaceutical diuretics are fast-acting, easy to administer, and very effective, but while they do a great job at expelling fluid,  they tend not to discriminate between what the body needs to keep and what it needs to lose.   As a result, the body often loses too much potassium, a crucial heart and brain chemical,  through urination.   In this event, potassium must be supplemented throughout the therapy.   Dandelion leaf on the other hand, contains its own rich source of fully assimilable potassium; an attribute which helps to replace what would otherwise be lost through urination.

How effective is dandelion as a diuretic?  Many contemporary herbalists  claim that dandelion may be as effective as the aforementioned furosimide.   The big trade-offs though are ease of administration, getting enough of the tea into the animal to bring about desired effects, and the time it may take for dandelion to start working.  While furosimide can be administered in a little pill,  a dandelion therapy involves getting your animal to drink warm tea or take a tincture extract (again, the aforementioned broth method works nicely).  None of this is to encourage you to stop the diuretic therapy which has been prescribed by your veterinarian… if you wish to seek the dandelion alternative, see a holistic veterinarian first.

While dandelion’s leaves are very nutritive and diuretic, the root possesses its own usefulness as a safe, reliable liver tonic.  The liver is the primary filtering organ of the body; responsible for removing toxins and excesses from the blood for elimination via the kidneys.  The liver also plays critical roles in digestion through its production of bile, bilirubin, and various enzymes.  If  bile ducts in the liver or gall bladder become congested, blocked, or otherwise diseased to the point of dysfunction, the body will invariably suffer one or more toxicity related imbalances.  Such imbalances may be characterized by symptoms such as jaundice, rheumatoid conditions, eczema, dandruff, or chronic constipation.  And while dandelion leaf tea or tincture may do much toward relieving the symptoms of such conditions through a nutritive/diuretic action, the root will work closer to the underlying causes.

Dandelion root has a well validated ability to stimulate bile production and circulation throughout the liver.  In one study involving dogs (and please bear in mind that we strongly oppose animal testing), researchers observed a three to four times increase in bile production after administration of dandelion root1.  The gallbladder, which stores bile from the liver, is also stimulated; causing this small, hollow organ to contract and release bile into the digestive tract, thus aiding in digestion and acting as a gentle laxative to promote the elimination of solid waste.

One of the best things about dandelion root as a liver and gallbladder stimulant is its gentle nature.  Unlike many cholagogue herbs, dandelion does not further irritate an already inflammed condition.  In fact, in clinical studies using an over-the-counter preparation of the root, dandelion was shown to be effective in treating inflammatory diseases of the liver and gallbladder (including gallstones)2.

The flowers of dandelion are known by herbalists to be high in lecithin and to have weak but useful analgesic qualities.  The usefulness here stems from the fact that they don’t contain any salicylates; the alkaloid compounds found in aspirin which are toxic to cats and may be irritating to the stomach lining.  To use the flowers, infuse a generous handful in a cup of near-boiling water.  When the water has darkened as much as possible, it can be cooled and administered with a dropper… 30-40 drops per 20 pounds of body weight.  If this proves to be a nightmare for you and your animal, try drying the flowers and sprinkling them on his or her food.  You shouldn’t expect aspirin-like effectiveness; but it is a mild pain-killing option worth considering.

Dandelion is perhaps the first herb to consider when optimized digestion and waste elimination is a necessary part of an herbal therapy.   In holistic healing, the body, whether be it animal or human, should not be viewed as a collection of individual body systems, but as an intricately-balanced cooperation of relative components.  From this perspective it is easy to see how dandelion can serve a positive role in its effort to help the body at what it is designed to do— stay healthy.  The body cannot achieve this fundamental goal unless it is able to effectively utilize nutrients and eliminate its waste— and dandelion is here to help.

Couchgrass

c.2018 Greg Tilford

Elytrigia [Triticum; Agropyron] repens                                                                               Grass family

Appearance:  Believe it or not, if you are a gardener, you probably already know and hate this plant by the name “quackgrass”.  Couchgrass (pronounced “cooch-grass” in much of Europe,  it’s native birth place and medicinal origin) is a profusely common, introduced weed in North America.  To the untrained eye, Agropyron repens looks like every other waist-high wild grass— with perhaps the most distinctive exception displayed by its leaves.  Each leaf (or “blade”) of couchgrass looks as though somebody  pinched a crimp in it with their fingernails— about one or two inches away from the tips of the leaves.  While this does not serve as a definitive means of identification, it provides a good point from which you can begin the process of “ruling-out” look-alike grasses in your area, one species at a time.  If you wish to gather this plant for medicinal use, find some samples of what you think might be couchgrass, then take them to your local extension agent, a botanist, or somebody else who is up on identifying grasses.  Unless you are very experienced at using a botanical key (a scientific, reference used to identify plants through recognition of their taxonomic features), attempts to identify couchgrass will be a hit-or-miss proposition.  Fortunately, none of the look-alike grasses are toxic— but they’re probably not medicinal, either.

Habitat & Range:   Couchgrass native to the Mediterranean area.  It now makes itself at home virtually everywhere on earth.  In North America, expect to find it areas where livestock grazing, farming, or other human motivations have delivered the seeds.

Cycle & Bloom Season:  An aggressive perennial which reproduces by seed or spreading rhizomes.

Parts Used:  The rhizomes (horizontally creeping roots).

Actions:  Antimicrobial, astringent, anti-inflammatory, mild diuretic.

Affinities:  Urinary tract.

Preparation:  Tincture, decoction of the fresh or freshly dried rhizomes.  As a dietary supplement, the fresh leaves.

Specific Uses:  Historically, many animal lovers have come to know Agropyron repens as “dog grass”, because dogs, cats, and other animals love eating the fresh spring leaves of the plant.  Our dogs are no exception— we have clumps of “dog grass” growing in the  in front of our house, and whenever an opportunity arises (one which doesn’t interfere with a game of Frisbee), they both actively graze on the plants. It is very interesting to watch how they   actually differentiate the couchgrass from other grasses in their intuitive drive to eat the plants. But even more interesting is the way they instinctively use this plant to fulfill  special health care needs. Specifically, they will eat couchgrass to the point of vomiting, and while humans may find this somewhat disgusting, an inquisitive herbalist with a holistically-oriented mind can clearly see what the animals are doing— they are either using the grass as a digestive cleansing agent or they are vomiting so they can re-ingest their stomach contents.  The latter may be indicative of poor nutrient absorption— eating food twice, in effect, allows for more complete absorption of certain nutrients.  For more on this lovely subject, see the section on gastrointestinal problems.  The point is this: if your animal eats grass, it is likely to fill a nutritional or medicinal need, and such activities should not be overlooked when assessing your animal’s holistic health— even if you do wish to look away and forget about it.

As a food, a patch of couchgrass provides a rich source of vitamins A and B, iron, rough fiber, and silica (for healthy bones, hooves, nails, coat, etc.) for grazing animals.  However, most of the medicinal values of couchgrass are contained with the rhizomes of the plant.       Couchgrass serves as an excellent tonic and disinfectant for the urinary tract.   It is a soothing, anti-inflammatory demulcent and saponin-based diuretic with mild antimicrobial activity, and is considered a specific remedy for chronic or acute cases of cystitis and urethritis, where the root tea or tincture will help reduce inflammation, inhibit bacterial reproduction,  and lessen pain during urination.   It should be noted that although couchgrass has been shown to possess broad antibiotic activity1, it may be too weak to be effective against infections which are already well-established.  In such cases, couchgrass should be combined with stronger antimicrobial herbs— such as echinacea, thyme, or Oregon grape (or goldenseal— provided it from cultivated, not wildcrafted sources).   As a diuretic, couchgrass increases the volume of urine by stimulating sodium excretion,  helping to wash away waste materials from the body via the kidneys. This makes couchgrass an effective adjunct to various liver-supporting, alterative herbs (such as dandelion or burdock), especially in the treatment of rheumatism or chronic skin problems.

The demulcent properties soothe inflammation and it can also be used for kidney stones and gravel, and because it is very gentle on the kidneys seldom irritates the bladder or urethra during long term use, it is a primary herb to consider when treating the symptoms of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (or Feline urinary Syndrome – FUS) in cats, a condition which is usually due to factors other than infection.

For use in urinary problems, the best way to administer this herb is in the form of a cooled decoction.  Make the decoction by gently simmering a heaping teaspoon of the chopped, dried root, or two heaping teaspoons of the chopped fresh root (rhizomes), in eight ounces of water for about twenty minutes.  The decoction can be squirted directly into the mouth of the animal.  A safe starting dose is 2-3 ml (about 1/2 tsp.) per 20 lbs. of the animal’s body weight, twice to three times daily.  If direct administration is too difficult, the dose can be added to the animal’s drinking water— try to figure out how much your animal drinks, then add enough couchgrass to meet dosing requirements.  Glycerin or alcohol tinctures can be used at half the above dosage, and are best if diluted into water.  Keep in mind that this is a very subtle herbal medicine—  the needs and systemic requirements of the animal you are helping may require several increases in dosage over several days, or weeks of administration.

Marshmallow

 Althea officinalis                                Mallow family

c.2018 Greg Tilford

Appearance:  A stout plant which may grow as high as seven feet, marshmallow has alternate, three to five-lobed leaves, and showy 2-3 inch flowers that range in color from white to pale pink .  The entire plant is covered with fine, soft hairs— a trait that gives the foliage a dusty appearance.

Habitat & Range:  A native of West and Central Europe, marshmallow has become naturalized in the United States, where it grows in marshes and moist meadows throughout the New England states.  It has become a popular garden herb throughout the world, and is very easy to grow.

Cycle & Bloom Season:  A perennial that blooms from late June through September.

Parts Used:  Primarily the root.  The foliage is useful too, but does not make as good a medicine.

Actions:  Demulcent, emollient, antimicrobial, hypoglycemic, immunostimulant.

Affinities:  Respiratory, digestive, urinary tract, skin.

Preparation:  Tea, low-alcohol tincture, fresh or dried chopped root.

Specific Uses:  Marshmallow has a very long history as a medicine.   The word“Althea”  is derived from the ancient Greek word “altheo”, meaning “to cure”.  With very few exceptions, marshmallow is among the safest and most versatile herbs for animals.  The root of the mature plant contains up to 35% mucilage; a gooey, slippery substance that has a consistency similar to gear oil.  This makes marshmallow useful in situations that involve surface irritation of the skin or internal mucous membranes.  It is particularly useful for urinary tract inflammations which are compounded by the presence of gravel in the urine (urinary calculus), and in digestive disorders where ulceration or infection is further aggravated by the presence of food or other solids.    In these cases marshmallow provides a soothing, lubricating, protective barrier between mucous membranes and substances which contribute to the irritation. Marshmallow is also useful for soothing upper respiratory irritations that are secondary to a dry, raspy cough.  On the surface of the body, marshmallow brings soothing relief to insect bites, stings, abscesses, and inflammations that are secondary to injury or infection.  In addition to the soothing nature of mucilage, marshmallow has antimicrobial and immune-stimulating properties.  In animal studies (which the authors don’t condone), it has been shown to be active against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, and Staphylococcus aureus1— bacterial infections which are commonly seen in the digestive tract, urinary tract, skin, and ears of dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, and other animals.   A dab of marshmallow tincture also serves as an excellent antimicrobial lubricant for a rectal thermometer.

Herbs for the Anxious Dog or Cat

by Greg Tilford

WHAT MAKES HERBAL CALMING FORMULAS EFFECTIVE?

Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)

The efficacy of an herbal calming formula is influenced by several other factors— while quality, composition, and concentration of active ingredients all factor into the equation, we also must consider the physical and behavioral nature of the recipient dog, the causes of his anxiety, and the context in which a product is used as important aspects of how an herbal calming formula will act within the body.

To explain in more detail…

PICKING THE RIGHT PRODUCT FOR THE JOB

So, you are probably wondering: Which herb works best? What form of product is best? How much should I give?

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

First, it is important to know that not all calmative herbs are alike. Some, such as chamomile, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and valerian are especially well  suited to calming a nervous stomach. While skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia), an herb that many of my veterinarian friends of mine are using for treatment of canine epilepsy is better suited to cases of nervous jitteriness, muscle twitching, or hypersensitivity to touch.

Passionflower can be used in a manner similar to that of skullcap, but it stands above skullcap when the situation calls for a remedy against emotional upset— like separation anxiety or fear aggression that is associated with jealousy of another animal.

It is also important to know that no single herb will work effectively in each and every animal. Why? Because no two dogs or cats are alike. Where one herb will work well for calming dog “A”, the same herb may actually aggravate the emotional condition of dog “B”. For example, most herbalists regard Valerian as a somewhat “warming” herb, that when ingested tends to warm the body and “heat the constitution” of the animal. If applied to a dog with a hot temperament— or one that is chronically hot, itching for no apparent reason, or displaying a bright fire-red tongue— valerian root may actually make the pup even more hot and irritable.

Some formulas however, balance out the heating effects of valerian or other warming herbs by combining them with an assortment of other “cooler” calmatives such as passion flower, oat flower and skullcap.

THE BEST FORMULATION FOR FIDO

In weighing the choices of which form of product (i.e., tablet, liquid, powder, etc.) to buy, your primary considerations will be two fold. Ease-of-administration, followed closely by optimum availability of active components.

Obviously, if you must chase your dog down and force-feed a vile-tasting product into him, you will be working against the goal of calming him. On the other hand, if you are feeding a product that he relishes because of all of the dried meats, grains, and flavoring agents it contains, you might have to feed large amounts to find effect.

My preference, of course, is biased by the fact that I own a company that produces a sweet-tasting; alcohol free tincture blend that I feel offers optimum potency and acceptable palatability in most dogs. But regardless of which type of product you prefer, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for how much to feed.

BUYER BEWARE!

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Even a dyed-in-the-wool believer of herbal medicine like myself is wise be a little bit skeptical. Beware of product manufacturers that make extraordinary claims. And if a calming formula contains an ingredient you do not recognize, don’t buy it— at least not until you do some research into exactly what the stuff is.

The sad truth is that clever marketing has made certain herbs bigger than life.

Despite the potential values of many of those “super trendy super herbs” out there, consumers must remain aware that market performance and popularity does not always equate to sound medicine.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum spp.) is one example. Ever since this wonderful plant gained worldwide recognition as a potential alternative to antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, it has been pushed as a panacea against anything that vaguely resembles chronic depression. It has even been touted as a “mood elevator” by large pharmaceutical companies who added it in scant doses to their daily vitamin product (just how the FDA lets them get away with that is beyond me!)

The truth about St. John’s wort is that it might work in certain individuals (human or animal) that suffer from depression that may be attributable to serotonin-related or other brain chemistry imbalances. To say that it will work against the emotional or behavioral imbalances in a broad audience of dogs is bit of a stretch— at least in my mind. In fact, in the 15 years of working with hundreds of holistic vets who have employed St. John’s wort, I have yet to see it actually work upon the mood or behavior of any animal. In my opinion St. John’s wort is better suited to relieving nerve pain. I do not consider it effective for cases of acute (sudden-onset) anxiety— such as that caused by fireworks, a trip to the veterinarian, or a stay at the kennel.

So what DOES work? Well, when I am faced with a cat who insists on climbing the walls or a dog that hides under the furniture during a thunderstorm, I reach for my Tranquility Blend formula (available from Animal Essentials)— a combination of valerian root (Valeriana off), skullcap herb (Scutellaria laterifolia), Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and Oat flowers (Avena sativa). These four time honored herbs combine to create a balanced formula that is safe and effective for all animal types. Plus, the product is in the form of a sweet-tasting glycerin liquid that is easy to feed.

Don’t Miss out on a Single Episode of Natural Pets TV, with Greg Tilford!

Last year I had the pleasure of filming 11 episodes of Natural Pet TV with Robert Semrow of Pet World Insider.  The episodes are aired on the Roku entertainment network, as well as YouTube (and soon, Amazon Network).   Links to each episode appear below.  Enjoy!

Episode 1 – Holistic Wellness and Thinking:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsloJ-IBLuk

Episode 2 – Preventing and Confronting Chronic Illness:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbc6zG3FSmo

Episode 3 – The Roles of Herbs in Systemic Support

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjXe2OXhBGQ

Episode 4 – Remedial and Maintenance Herbs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsvpAL1kyKA

Episode 5 – The Kitchen Cupboard Apothecary

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Camo4kl9Y4

Episode 6 – Herb Safety and Pet Toxicology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4KagYfNLDE

Episode 7 – Immune System Support

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4yrnE43gqI&t=1s

Episode 8 – Senior Support

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfUqr51lAbE

Episode 9 – Finding the best Supplements

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUk__0JzKyA

Episode 10 – Senior Pet Care needs; Herbs and more

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVWMbLPYaFs

Episode 11 – Liver and Digestive Support

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=di0omTFRymE

Amazing Olive Leaf!

©2017 Greg Tilford

Virtually any credible herbalist will tell you, “there are no silver bullets; no panaceas.”   This is absolutely true— nothing cures everything, and there is not a single herb, drug or medical treatment that will help every individual, every time.  There is however a few herbs that reach closer to being a “fix-all” than most others, their medicinal values just waiting to be discovered.   At the top of my list of discoveries is the humble but very powerful olive leaf (Olea europaea); an herb that can quite literally transform a non-believer of botanical medicine into a devout follower.

For thousands of years humankind has realized the remarkable values of olive trees.  Their delicious and nourishing fruit, the sacred and curative oil contained within the pits, and perhaps most important of all, the strength and resiliency of the trees themselves.  Compared to most other types trees and neighboring flora, olive trees are remarkably resistant to drought, blight and marauding insects — so much so that olive trees are often seen flourishing amongst a virtual boneyard of weaker neighbors.  It’s no wonder that early healers picked up this plant and began to use it in pursuit of their own wellness.  Holistic herbalists, like myself and our ancestors, know that a medicinal plant isn’t merely a botanical resource from which certain chemistries can be extracted and exploited, but an integral part of a much grander design.  One which includes and requires participation of all who feed upon the fruit of a tree,  or rest in the shade of its branches. Watch the birds as they feed upon berries to ultimately plant seeds for future generations.  Observe the deer as they feed upon foliage while at the same aerating the soil with their hooves, and scattering droppings to build rich compost.  Check out the bacteria and fungi that transform fallen fruit and leaves into food for other plants.   Herbalism isn’t about replacing pharmaceutical drugs with natural alternatives, it’s about an awareness that all life is connected and that we must not just consume, but participate in the natural systems of our living planet.

Humans of course, are difficult students. After all we are relatively new to all of this— we’ve only been around for a couple million years.  Plus, we are endowed with an amazing, super developed brain that, as part of its uniqueness, has forced us away from the instinctive behaviors of animals.   We don’t fit here, unless of course we learn to.

Olive leaf brings the lessons to us.  By all accounts, early healers saw the natural resilience of Olea europaea as an indication of its medicinal capacity, and began using it for sore throat, infections of the skin and many other ailments.

Perhaps the first formal medical review of the plant came in 1854, when fellow named Daniel Hanbury reported to a Pharmaceutical Journal that olive leaf had demonstrated an ability to cure severe cases of fever and malaria.  Hanbury published a simple formula:  “Boil a handful of the leaves in a quart of water down to half of its original volume.  Then administer the liquid in the amount of a wineglass every three or four hours until the fever is cured.”  In his article Hanbury reported that he had discovered the herb in 1843, when he used it to successfully treat sick Britons who were returning from Her Majesty’s tropical colonies.   Olive leaf soon became well known as a very effective febrifuge remedy, and was seen as much more effective than quinine in treatment of malaria.  In 1962 Italian researchers recorded that one of several active components of olive leaf, oleuropein, could reduce blood pressure in both humans and animals, and it was soon established that oleuropein is strongly antibacterial and antifungal as well; two traits that help explain it’s remarkable resistance against various plant-killing pathogens.

By the mid 1900’s multiple studies had been published about the amazing healing capabilities of olive leaf, and in 1969, Upjohn; a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, went to work at develop what they envisioned to be a powerful antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal drug.  To accomplish this they focused their studies on what was already regarded as the most active component of olive leaf,  oleuropein, along with calcium elenolate, another compound that showed strong activity against various viruses, bacteria and pathogenic fungi.  The findings of Upjohn’s in vitro (test tube) studies were astounding.  Virtually every microbe that was inoculated in their studies was killed by even the weakest extracts of the herb.  Olive leaf was shown to be effective against dozens of pathogenic microbes, ranging from rabies, HIV, influenza and even polio, to several of the most drug resistant strains of bacteria and fungi.  Best of all, olive leaf and its derivatives exhibited almost no risk of toxicity.  But despite Upjohn’s amazing findings, their plans of developing a new super drug were ruined when they learned that oleuropein and elenolate didn’t work so well when used in vivo (inside a living body) unless the rest of the plant’s chemistry remained as part of the formula. It turned out that like all herbs, the “entourage effect” of multiple chemical components, including among others, caffeic acid, verbascoside, luteolin 7-O-glucoside, rutin, apigenin 7-O-glucoside, luteolin 4’-O-glucoside, maslinic acid, hydroxutyrosol and oleocantha all contribute to the wonders of this amazing botanical.  Hence the old herbalist’s saying, ”The whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.”  Knowing that it would be virtually impossible to develop a patentable drug from a whole plant that lives in easy access to billions of people worldwide, Upjohn abandoned their studies, leaving their amazing findings to herbalists like me, who will always regard olive leaf extract as my number one “go to” in virtually any case of viral, bacterial or fungal infection.  Unlike conventional pharmaceuticals, olive leaf extract is virtually harmless.  And unlike many conventional antibiotics which are quickly becoming useless against deadly forms of drug-resistant bacteria, olive leaf offers a complex mix of antimicrobial compounds that even the most stubborn bacteria will have a very difficult time finding a foothold against.