Botanical Materia Medica
An A – Z Guide to Herbs for Animals
by Greg Tilford, Herbalist
ALFALFA Medicago sativa Pea Family
Appearance: Alfalfa is a sprawling member of the pea family (Leguminosae), with small, tightly-arranged blue, or sometimes pink or white flowers; small, prickly, seed-bearing pods; and clover-like leaves.
Habitat and Range: Widely cultivated throughout the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that first blooms in early summer, alfalfa will continue to bloom after successive harvests throughout the growing season, as long as climate permits vigorous re-growth.
Parts Used: Dried leaves, stems, unopened flowers.
Actions: nutritive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, diuretic.
Affinities: Muscloskeletal system, digestive tract, liver.
Preparation: Bulk herb sprinkled onto food, capsules, infusion, or liquid extract.
Specific Uses: Alfalfa contains a broad spectrum of nutrients, including considerable quantities of protein (up to 50%), trace minerals, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, B1, B12, C, D, E, and K. It is also very high in chlorophyll, which is to serve as an antioxidant in the bloodstream. All of this makes alfalfa particularly attractive as a livestock feed. But in addition to being highly nutritive, alfalfa is traditionally known as one of the best herbal treatments for arthritis, rheumatism, and gout. Clinical research of the aforementioned diseases have shown that at least ten to twenty percent of human subjects will experience dramatic reduction of painful symptoms with the use of this herb. Traditional uses in animals have commonly lead to similar results. This is likely attributable to alfalfa’s impressive chemical array of saponins, beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, alpha-spinasterol, flavonoids, coumarins, alkaloids, beta-carotene, chlorophyll, octacosanol, and amino acids. For arthritis and other inflammatory diseases of the joints, alfalfa can bring long term relief to dogs, cats, rodents, horses, and various other herbivores who receive it as a daily food supplement. For use in therapeutic doses, it acts very well when combined with dandelion, yucca, and licorice (see chapter on arthritis).
Alfalfa also possesses cancer preventative qualities. It is believed that alfalfa induces complex cellular activities that serve to inactivate chemical carcinogens in the liver and small intestine before they can cause damage; thus helping to reduce the risk of cancerous growth.
Alfalfa’s considerable vitamin K content has been shown to be beneficial in remedying bleeding disorders which may result from long term antibiotic therapies, anticoagulants, aspirin, and anticonvulsant drugs 1,2,3. The coumarin constituent of alfalfa is also well-known for it’s anticoagulant qualities, and in fact many anti-clotting drugs were derived from this compound. Although excessive doses of fresh alfalfa or concentrated extracts may be contraindicated in animals with anemia, moderate dietary supplementation of alfalfa may be useful in some types of this disease (see Cautions and Comments).
The various saponin constituents of alfalfa are also known to help with the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients in the small intestine, and may act to stimulate the body’s natural production of growth hormones— yet another reason for its popularity as a livestock feed. In this capacity, alfalfa works by mechanisms very similar to yucca, but it is much less irritating to the stomach and intestines than the latter, and therefore it can be used over longer periods of time without adverse side effects, and may be especially useful in animals with debilitating diseases that need to gain weight, but cannot afford added stress upon compromised body systems.
In the urinary tract, alfalfa has an alkalizing effect, making it useful in treating ailments which involve overly acidic urine, and especially where there is bladder irritation and crystal formation. This nutritional plant is also useful in helping an animal adjust to a new diet.
For the brain, alfalfa is said to help improve mental vigor. This is likely due to alfalfa’s broad spectrum of nutrients, many of which are critical to proper nerve and brain functions. By now, you probably see the value of this herb in the care of older animals.
Availability: Health food stores, can be propagated in the garden.
Propagation & Harvest: Alfalfa is extremely easy to grow just about anywhere. In fact, if allowed to spread, it will quickly become competitive with everything in the garden. Being a legume, alfalfa fixes nitrogen at nodes which are situated throughout its extensive root system, making it a valuable soil building ingredient when the plants are tilled in. Unfortunately, the weed-like character of this plant over-shadows its value as a soil builder. Digging the roots is like pulling crabgrass, and tilling often results in even greater proliferation from the subsequent root cuttings. In other words, buy certified organic alfalfa at the herb store, unless you wish to delegate a portion (or perhaps all) of your garden to it. A word to the insistent gardener: if you plant alfalfa and then have second thoughts about it, get it out before it goes to seed. Once it does, it’s yours for life!
Gather alfalfa before it comes into bloom. Cut (or mow) the plants during dry weather, cutting the stems at about one inch above ground level. Allow the herb to dry in an airy, moisture free place that is away from direct sunlight until it is completely dry, or make a tincture from the freshly cut greens.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Dandelion, garlic, licorice, red clover, and yucca.
Cautions and Comments: Alfalfa is regarded as safe by the FDA. Although adverse side effects are rare, many horse owners will testify that consumption of too much fresh alfalfa may lead to colic; a condition that can be very serious in animals. This is due in large part to alfalfa’s saponin constituents. Although these soap-like compounds are medicinally valuable, used in excess they may irritate the stomach lining and intestinal mucosa, resulting in nausea and gastritis. Horses, as well as rabbits, do not vomit, which greatly compounds the seriousness of this side effect. The risk of this occurring is greatly reduced by feeding only dried greens.
Although instances of Heinz-body anemia are unheard of with this herb, alfalfa does contain considerable quantities of vitamin K, which has been linked to cases of this disease in dogs, cats, and various herbivores when ingested in very large quantities. Ironically, alfalfa may be useful as a nutritional supplement in anemic animals anyway, provided it is fed in controlled quantities. Although more scientific study is warranted here, one theory is that small doses of vitamin K may trigger an accelerated replacement of red blood cells, in a like-versus -like fashion similar to the concept behind homeopathic remedies.
The seeds of alfalfa have been found to contain a toxic amino acid, L-canavanine, which has caused blood disorders in humans and in animals. Use alfalfa only during its pre-bloom stages of growth. Alfalfa can trigger allergic responses in animals that are especially sensitive to pollens.
1. Almquist, H.J. “The Early history of Vitamin K.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 28, 656-659, 1975.
2. Greaves, J.D., Schmidt, C.L.A. “Nature of the factor in loss of blood coagulability of bile fistula rats.” Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, 37, 43-45, 1937.
3. Vest, M. “Vitamin K in medical practice.” Vitamins and Hormones . New York, 24, 649-663, 1966.
ALOE Aloe species Lily family
Appearance: Aloes are cactus-like members of the lily family (liliaceae), with narrow, tapering, proportionately thick, succulent leaves with spiny margins. There are perhaps 500 species of aloe, but the most common aloe of commerce is Aloe barbadensis, which we commonly know as “aloe vera” This species produces its leaves directly from a stout central stalk; in a rosette fashion, while several other varieties of aloe are branched; almost bush-like. Aside from these variances, all aloes share similar appearances and can grow very large. In some areas of Southwest Africa, aloes are seen in excess of twenty-five feet tall, with stems which are more than ten feet in circumference.
Flowers are small, tubular, characteristically lily-like in appearance, and are produced in leafless, terminal spikes.
.Habitat & Range: Aloes are indigenous to South and East Africa, and have been introduced to the West Indies, where a great deal of commercial cultivation takes place. In North America and Europe, aloes are used as landscape and garden plants, in areas with Mediterranean climates. They are popular indoor plants through much of the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Aloes are perennials which bloom opportunistically when mature. In other words, if they receive all of the elements they require to thrive, they will likely remain in bloom throughout each year of their lives.
Parts Used: Primarily the gel-like juice of the inner leaf, or the yellowish latex, contained immediately beneath the skin of the leaves.
Actions: Vulnerary (wound healing), emollient, antibacterial, antioxidant, immunostimulant, anticancer, antitumor, purgative, refrigerant.
Affinities: Skin, digestive, lymph system.
Preparation: Freshly pressed juice, or stabilized (commercial)aloe gel preparations are the most commonly used forms of aloe. Using this plant at home is as easy as cutting a mature leaf from the lower part of the plant and squeezing out the juice. Intravenous formulations of aloe constituents have been FDA approved and are available for use by veterinarians. Acemannan is a powerful immunostimulant.
Specific Uses: Aloe’s great claim-to-fame is from its use as a topical skin dressing. Fresh aloe juice or commercially prepared gel contains dozens of minerals, proteins, enzymes, polysaccharides, and other constituents which help to soften and soothe the skin, and promote the rapid healing of minor burns and wounds. Topical applications of aloe gel will likely bring immediate, cooling relief to flea bites, poison ivy, and sunburned ears— it is excellent for reducing the itch and tightening of post-surgical incisions. Applied after sutures are removed, the gel will reduce much of the irritation that so often leads to persistent chewing or scratching, and which may result in inflammation and infection. In any external application, apply enough juice to lightly cover the affected area and allow it to dry. If possible, keep the animal from licking it off— the idea is to leave it on as long as possible. Unless your animal has an adverse reaction to the juice (reddening, an allergy rash, etc.), aloe can be liberally applied once or twice per day, until the healing process is progressing well.
Internally, a small dose of aloe juice may be useful for healing minor injuries and irritations of the digestive tract, such as what may occur when Bowser swallows a jagged bone that looks like it should have been donated to a dinosaur exhibit.
Scientists have recently found that acemannan, a chemical compound found in aloe vera juice, acts as a strong immunostimulant in animals; particularly cats. It has been found to be especially effective in the treatment of fibrosarcoma and feline leukemia (FeLV). It is theorized that acemannan triggers an increase in the autoimmune attack upon the viruses which are believed to cause these usually fatal diseases. Typically, over 70% of cats that become ill with FeLV die within ten weeks of onset of disease. But, in a recent study, 44 cats with confirmed FeLV were intravenously injected with 2mg/Kg of this compound weekly, for six weeks, and re-examined six weeks after the treatment was terminated. At the end of the twelve week study, 71% of the cats were alive and in good health1. Acemannan has also been shown effective against cancerous tumors in rodents and canines2,3,4. Acemannan has since been FDA-approved for veterinary use, and will undoubtedly be tested in humans.
Other chemical compounds found in aloe juice have been shown to have antioxidant actions in the body.
Availability: Aloe gel, or juice (the difference being consistency) is available at health food stores. Any good nursery will have the plants.
Propagation & Harvest: Aloe is very easy to grow as a house plant. It requires well-drained, sandy soil and should only be watered once or twice a month. Avoid using potting soil— it retains too much moisture, and may cause rot problems. Ordinary garden soil will do fine. A happy aloe that receives plenty of sunlight will bloom continuously and reproduce aggressively from side-shoots. These shoots are easily transplanted into their own pots. If you live in an area where frost is rare, aloe can be planted in the garden. Again, just give it plenty of sun, don’t over water it, and it will be yours forever.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Nothing really compares with aloe, but if you need it and don’t have it around, look toward chickweed, plantain, self-heal, and comfrey as topical alternatives. Internally, ginger, cayenne, red clover, cleavers, dandelion, yarrow, garlic, and burdock are worth considering to compliment the activity of aloe.
Cautions & Comments: Aloe must be used with caution if used internally in your animal, as it possesses strong purgative qualities that may result in digestive griping and severe diarrhea. The constituents you want to avoid when using aloe for internal applications are the anthraquinone compounds contained in the latex of the inner skin. Although several commercial laxative preparations use aloe latex in their formulas, we strongly discourage their use in animals. The laxative action of aloe latex is too drastic and irritative to be used in a holistic context. The juice of the inner leaf material is much gentler and can be used safely in small doses, but a big drawback is its bitter taste, which can make administration into many animals a real problem. In any case, if you intend to use aloe as a laxative, it should be administered for a short period of time. Like many anthraquinone laxatives, extended use of aloe can lead to digestive system dependency (i.e., it is habituating). For the do-it-yourself animal herbalist, aloe is best left for external applications. It is beleived that aloe constituents may be passed in mother’s milk to nursing infants5, so it should not be used in these circumstances.
1. Sheets MA, Unger BA, Giggleman GF Jr, Tizard IR. “Studies of the effect of acemannan on retrovirus infections: Clinical stabilization of feline leukemia virus-infected cats”. Mol Biother 3(1):41-5, 1991).
2. Peng SY, Norman J, Curtin G, et al. “Decreased mortality of Norman murine carcoma in mice treated with the immunomodulator, acemannan”. Mol Biother 3(2): 79-87, 1991.
3. Harris C, Peirce K, King G, et al. “Efficacy of acemannan in treatment of canine and feline spontaneous neoplasms”. Mol Biother 3 (4):207-213,1991)
4. Desai K.N.; Wei, H.; Lamartiniere, C.A. The preventive and therapeutic potential of the squalene-containing compound, Roidex, on tumor promotion and regression. Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 35294, USA. Cancer Lett, 101: 1, 1996 Mar 19, 93-6.
5. Werbach M., Murray M. Botanical Influences on Illness, Nijmegan, Netherlands, 1994, Third Line Press.
ARNICA Arnica species Sunflower Family
Appearance: Arnica is a classic sunflower, with bright yellow, daisy-like terminate flowers. Leaves are opposite, range from narrowly lanceolate to broadly heart-shaped (depending on species), and foliage of most species are at least partially covered with fine hairs. The roots of arnica are rhizomatous; consisting of horizontally-creeping roots which send up shoots along their lengths to produce “colonies” of plants. Most arnicas are aromatic, particularly when the leaves are bruised, with distinctive, pine-like odor. Most arnicas are small plants, seldom exceeding twelve inches in height.
Habitat & Range: Arnica is a mountain plant which occurs in coniferous sub alpine and alpine regions of Western North America; from Alaska to the mountains of Southern California (where it grows only above 9000′ in elevation).
Cycle & Bloom Season: Arnica is a perennial which blooms during its second year of growth, and every year thereafter. It is among the first flowers to bloom in early spring, and is often one of the first to die back in early summer. During dry years, arnica may not bloom at all.
Parts Used: The entire flowering plant.
Actions: Vulnerary; peripheral vasodilator.
Affinities: Muscles and subdermal capillaries.
Preparation: Oil infusion, water infusion, fresh poultice, or commercially prepared gel.
Specific Uses: Closed tissue injuries, including fractures, sprains, and contusions.
Arnica is perhaps the best-known herbal sports medicine. Used topically, preparations of arnica act to open up peripheral capillaries and lymph ducts, and increasing circulation in tissues which are engorged with fluids as a result of injury. When used immediately after an injury occurs, results can be dramatic. In essence, arnica helps to speed the healing process by moving waste-bound fluids out, and cleansing fluids and platelets into the affected area. Arnica is especially valuable for treatment of horses and other large animals who are subjected to rigorous exercise and an occasional twist or strain of the leg or hip joints. Arnica can be used on dogs as well, but special measures must be taken to prohibit the animal from licking it off, as arnica can be toxic if taken internally in improper dosages. Cats are not excluded from arnica, but like so many other substances, they are more sensitive to arnica’s volatile oils and are more prone to allergic reactions with this herb. Test a small portion of your cat’s skin before using arnica for an injury, while looking for development of redness or other signs of irritation. To use arnica on a dog or cat, apply enough of the infusion or gel to wet the skin of the animal (i.e.., not just the fur), then wrap the area with gauze or a piece of cloth and secure it so the animal cannot easily remove it. The idea is to keep the preparation on the animal as long as possible. Arnica can be applied this way twice daily for up to three days. Long term applications should not be necessary and are not recommended, as a rash will likely develop from over use.
When used internally in carefully measured doses, arnica is said to act as a neurological device in cases of chronic urinary incontinence that cannot be attributed to physiological pathologies. While use of arnica in this capacity holds a great deal of promise for many animals suffering from urinary incontinence, the toxicity of this plant limits such use to the advanced professional— talk with a holistic veterinarian first.
Although this book is focused on herbal remedies, the value of arnica in homeopathic preparations should not be overlooked. Used in a homeopathic capacity, arnica can be used internally, with a great margin of safety. We have seen amazing results with the use of homeopathic arnica at the onset of traumatic injury in animals, and keeping homeopathic arnica on hand is as simple as purchasing a small vial of the tiny white pellets and slipping it into your pocket, purse or first aid kit. To learn more about using homeopathic arnica, we highly recommend Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, listed in the bibliography of this book.
Availability: Arnica gels and tinctures are readily available from herb retailers. If you live in the mountains, arnica is easily propagated from seed or root cuttings. Seeds are available from specialty seed catalogs.
Propagation & Harvest: Arnica requires soil with plenty of organic matter, and does best when its root system can crawl around under a blanket of pine needles. Given that it is seldom found at altitudes under 3000′ unless one travels to Canada, it likely has some specialized light and or air quality requirements that prohibit it from flourishing in urban areas. If you live in the mountains, arnica can be direct seeded or started from root cuttings. But beware— the roots will quickly consume your garden.
To harvest arnica from the wild, grasp the stem of the flowering herb just above ground level, then snap it off, taking only what you need and not enough to leave a visual impact on the stand of plants from which you are gathering. Take care not to damage the roots by pulling on the plant or stepping into a patch of plants— the roots crawl horizontally, and the pressure of a human foot can injure them.
After gathering what you need, you have the option of processing them fresh, or allowing them to dry in a dark place. Fresh plants will yield a more potent infusion, but will spoil more quickly in the refrigerator because of their water content. Regardless, we opt for the use of fresh arnica. To make an oil infusion, refer to the “Making Herb Preparations” chapter of this book.
Another option for use of arnica in emergency situations is to make a simple poultice by mashing a flowering plant with some water to make a pesto-like paste. The poultice can then be applied to the injury as a crude ointment. It can really work wonders when you’re out on the trail— just bear in mind that animals (or people) should not ingest the poultice in any quantity.
Alternative and Adjunct Herbs: St. John’s wort, ginger, cayenne, and yarrow are good choices as internal adjunct therapies here. St. John’s wort can be used topically as well, and is especially useful if nerve trauma is suspected.
Cautions & Comments: Arnica can be very toxic if ingested in anything but homeopathic or minute quantities, and may cause internal bleeding if ingested in large enough quanitites. Because arnica works very quickly to stimulate dilation and circulation of peripheral blood vessels, it should not be applied to open, bleeding wounds. To do so might actually increase bleeding and slow the cogulation process. Animals generally dislike the taste, but extra measures are warranted to prohibit dogs and cats from licking arnica-treated areas.
ASTRAGALUS Astragalus membranaceous Pea Family
Appearance: A typical member of the pea family, astragalus has pinnately-divided leaves, small pea-like flowers and seed pods, and a sprawling, vine-like stature which brings to mind any of the hundreds of wild vetches that inhabit much of the globe. Astragalus membranaceous, the species of commerce, may grow as tall as six feet, which gives it an appearance that is similar to licorice, (Glycyrrhiza spp.)which is yet another member of the pea family. While there is a growing belief among herbalists, botanists, and medical researchers that North American Milk Vetch (Astragalus americans – a common weed), may have similar medicinal attributes and may even be the exact same plant as A. membranaceous; the medicinal astragalus of commerce. However, the Astragalus genus is very large, consisting of hundreds of species, which in many cases are very difficult to differentiate, even by trained botanists. Some varieties of astragalus are toxic, and to compound this mystery even more, these plants will often cross-pollinate and hybridize. For now, the jury is still out on whether or not we have a wild, medicinal astragalus in North America.
Habitat & Range: An import from China, astragalus has been cultivated throughout much of the world as an important herb of commerce.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms from spring to early summer.
Parts Used: The mature (3+ year old) roots.
Actions: Immunostimulant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, hypothyroid (mildly depresses thyroid function), hypotensive, alterative, digestive tonic.
Affinities: Immune system, lungs, liver, heart, kidneys, thyroid, digestive tract.
Preparation: Tincture or infusion.
Specific Uses: One of best known and widely used herbs in Chinese Medicine (where it is known as “Huang Qi”), astragalus has found its way into Western Herbalism by virtue of its widely versatile immune-strengthening qualities. In Chinese Medicine, astragalus root is sweet and mildly warm. It tonifies the Qi and hoists Yang. It is commonly used for Spleen-Lung Qi deficiency, including symptoms of emaciation, weariness, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and prolapse of the uterus or anus1.
Astragalus is especially useful for strengthening the body against viral infections of the respiratory tract and heart through stimulation of killer-cell activity and interferon production in the body, and it imparts direct antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities to this effort as well. This makes astragalus a viable option for early treatment of various forms of respiratory infection, including kennel cough (Bordetella bronchiseptica), a condition which theoretically involves this bacteria’s opportunistic cooperation with various forms of virus. While astragalus works to stimulate T-cell activity and helps to raise white blood cell counts2,3, it also boosts the body’s defenses through its liver-strengthening attributes. In a study involving rats (again, we oppose animal studies), saponin constituents were shown to enhance DNA synthesis in the liver— a process which is believed to be a major factor in the strengthening of cell structures against infection or the introduction of toxins4. Other studies suggest that astragalus may be useful for helping the body protect itself and speed recovery from the damaging effects of long term steroid therapies5. Astragalus is known to strengthen kidney circulation, making it useful in early stages of kidney infection and/or renal failure6.
For any of the aforementioned purposes, up to 20 drops of the extract can be administered for each 20 lbs. of your animal’s body weight; up to twice daily.
In addition to its broad-spectrum ability to boost resistance to disease, astragalus is traditionally used to boost energy levels in debilitated people and animals, which adds to its promise as a candidate in the treatment of various cancers; especially those which are compounded by depressed immune functions. For pet owners who are going through the horrors of chemotherapy or radiation treatments for their animals, astragalus may offer a foot hold in maintaining some functional balance in an immune system that is stressed by both a disease and toxic intervention. To use astragalus in this capacity, first consult a holistic veterinarian.
Astragalus is also known to have antiviral qualities that are specific to infections of the heart. Again, if you suspect a problem of this serious nature, talk to a holistic veterinarian.
Availability: Astragalus is available through most good herb retailers. The seed can be purchased from specialty seed catalogs.
Propagation & Harvest: Astragalus is very easy to grow from seed— some rich soil, full sun, and ample watering is all it requires to thrive. However, if you decide to grow this plant in your garden, chose a place where it can remain for quite some time. Astragalus roots require three or more years to reach their full medicinal potential, and during this time, the plants will likely spread throughout the area where they were planted. Do not plant astragalus unless you are certain that the seed you have is in fact A. membranaceous, and do not plant astragalus if you live in an area where soils have a high selenium content (see “Cautions and Comments”).
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For respiratory infections, astragalus combines well with coltsfoot, grindelia, or mullein leaf. For kidney infections or dysfunction, couchgrass, cornsilk, pipsissewa, and goldenrod are noteworthy adjuncts. For use in situations involving liver toxicity, cancer, or depressed immune functions, gentle tonic herbs with diuretic, alterative, and nutritive qualities are indicated to help remove toxins and excess waste from the body. Dandelion, burdock, red clover, licorice, and alfalfa are excellent herbs to investigate.
For an overactive thyroid, astragalus works well by itself, but if you don’t have access to any, an alternative choice might be the herb, bugleweed.
Cautions & Comments: While Astragalus membranaceous ; the medicinal variety of astragalus is among the safest of medicinal herbs for both humans and animals, many other species of astragalus are toxic, especially to grazing animals. Buy astragalus roots, preparations, and seeds only from reputable sources. Also, astragalus is known to accumulate selenium in its tissues, in areas where a high selenium content is present in the soil. Selenium can be very toxic in high doses. Check with your county extension agent before planting this herb.
Although this herb is commonly used to treat immune disorders, its use may be contraindicated in disorders where immune responses are abnormally increased and/or counter-productive. For more information on this, see “Echinacea”.
In Chinese Medicine, astragalus is contraindicated in Excess Heat and Yin Deficiency patterns.
1. Schoen, Allen, Wynn, Susan. Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine,
2. Weng, X.S. ,Chung, Kuo, Chung, Hsi I., Chieh, Ho Tsa Chih. “Treatment of leucopenia with pure Astragalus preparation–an analysis of 115 leucopenic cases” Wuxi TCM Hospital, Jiangsu. 1995 Aug, 15:8, 462-4.
3. Chung, Hsi I., Chieh, Ho Tsa Chih,Chang, C.Y., Hou, Y.D., Xu, F.M. “Effects of Astragalus membranaceus on enhancement of mouse natural killer cell activity” Clin Lab Immunol. 4(8):484-485, Aug., 1984.
4. Zhang, N.D., Wong, W.L., et al. “Effects of astragalus saponin 1 on cAMP and cGMP level in plasma and DNA synthesis in regenerating rat liver.” Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica, 19(8), 619-621, 1984.
5. Yang, G., and Geng, P. “Effects of yang-promoting drugs on immunological functions of yang-deficient animal induced by prednisolone.” Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 4(2), 153-156, 1984.
6. Dong, D.C., Zhou, L.F., and Chen, J.X.J. “Changes in proteinuria, renal function and immunity after treatment with injections of a solution of Astragalus membranaceus.” 25(3):119-23, March, 1988.
BEE BALM Monarda species Mint Family
Appearance: This pungent genus of dry land mints are known by many common names: Wild Bergamot, Purple Bee Balm, Horsemint, Wild Oregano, Oswego Tea, and Sweet Leaf
Leaves are lance shaped, simple, opposite, and have a tendency of curving backward toward the ground. Leaf margins are sometimes, but not always, toothed . Like most members of the Mint family, the stems of bee balm are distinctively square (four-sided). Flowers are presented in one to three inch terminal clusters, each containing dozens of tiny, rose to purple-colored blossoms. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of this plant is its strong but pleasant odor, which ranges from sweetly sage-like to that which leads many to believe that they have discovered a wild strain of oregano. The plant can grow to three feet on its sturdy stems, but most are found in the six to eighteen inch tall range.
Habitat & Range: Wild bee balm likes meadows and slopes that are predominantly dry and sunny,unlike most mints, Bee Balm is very drought tolerant and prefers dry land habitats. Bee balm(M. fistulosa) is generally found at elevations below four thousand feet. Other varieties of Monarda, such as M. methaefolia, grow at higher elevation in shady, moist soils.
The range of this plant remains largely undefined, but it seems to be spreading westward from the eastern United States. Livestock enjoy grazing on this plant and have undoubtedly served as a vehicle in the expansion of bee balm’s range.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial which blooms by mid-summer, and often continues to bloom until the first frost.
Parts Used: Leaves if plucked from the plant; the entire aerial plant if the stem is taken.
Actions: Diaphoretic, carminative, antiseptic, analgesic, antifungal, and anesthetic.
Affinities: Skin, mouth, digestive tract, kidneys, urinary.
Preparation: Unlike most leafy herbs which begin to break down and lose their potency after about six months, bee balm can be dried and stored for up to two years. The fresh or dried leaf, stem, and flower material can be made into an alcohol or glycerin tincture. The dried plant can be infused for use in skin and eye washes.
Specific Uses: Although this plant is widely available and infinitely useful, it is often overlooked by herbalists, and it has not received the clinical study that it deserves as a healing ally. Despite an overall lack of scientific validation, bee balm is a very safe herb to use, in both animals and humans. Many North American Indian tribes used this plant extensively; for both healing and in spiritual ceremonies.
Like most mints, bee balm has a special affinity toward the digestive tract, where it is very useful for relieving gastritis and spastic colon. However, it does not taste very good, and most herbivores will abandon it in favor of less pungent forage. Therefore, for use as a digestive aid in animals, the best form of administering bee balm is in gel caps or in a glycerine extract.
Bee balm has excellent antibacterial qualities, and is especially useful for mouth and gum infections. Two methods of application will work here: a poultice can be made from the dried or fresh herb and applied directly to the affected area, or a strong infusion or tincture can be used the same way. The poultice or infusion can also be very effective as an antifungal agent. Dogs, cats, horses and other large animals with fungal infections of the skin will likely benefit from a generous topical application of bee balm poultice or salve, or from twice daily skin rinses with cooled, bee balm tea (also see Calendula). To make the tea, cover a generous handful of the herb with very hot water and allow it to steep until it has thoroughly cooled. Don’t worry about straining it— just pour the entire mess over the affected areas of the animal. In dry weather, or in cases where the animal chooses to lick the rinse off before it can be effective, you might consider applying the tea as a fomentation (see “The Basics of Making Herbal Preparations”). Bee balm skin rinses can also bring soothing relief to itchy skin that has resulted from infected flea bites or spontaneous dermatitis, such as poison ivy, nettle stings, or contact allergic reactions; and will help to relieve pain while reducing scarring from minor burns. The rinse also imparts a very pleasant odor to your pet.
In large animals, bee balm tea can be used as a douche or enema; for treatment of fungal or bacterial infections and/or irritations of the rectum or vagina.
A dilute infusion can be used as a gentle, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory eye or ear wash, especially if a fungal or bacterial infection is suspected. For application in the eye, don’t make the infusion too strong— it should only be light yellow in color. Rinse the eye and surrounding tissues, with use of an irrigation syringe. To add stronger antimicrobial activity to the rinse, a pinch of dried Oregon grape root or certified organic goldenseal can be added to the infusion while it is steeping. Just remember… keep your eye rinse very weak. Ear rinses can be made much stronger.
Bee balm works very well for low-grade urinary tract infections, and you might find it very useful for kidney infections as well. Unless you can get your animal to drink the tea, a glycerin-based tincture is probably your best bet… 12-25 drops per twenty pounds of animal weight; two to three times per day.
Availability: Wild harvested or organically grown bee balm is available through herb retailers, as is the tincture. Seeds and plants can be purchased through specialty catalogs and nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Bee Balm reseeds itself readily and transplants well. This is an excellent plant to introduce into your herb garden. No stratification or other special treatment is required, and it is adaptable to almost any soil. Gather the upper parts of this plant when it is in full-bloom(May- Sept., depending on its location)–this is when they are the most potent. Pluck individual leaves to minimize impact, or gather the stem and leaves after the plant has bloomed and gone to seed. If the latter is your choice, clip the stems about one inch above ground level to allow for perennial re- growth and root protection. When gathering while the plant is in bloom, always be sure to leave plenty of flowers intact for pollination and seed development.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Combines well with catnip, chamomile, and/or fennel for digestive upsets and gas. Works well as an infusion with echinacea, couchgrass, raspberry leaf, or goldenrod for urinary or kidney disorders. As a skin rinse, bee balm serves as a good base infusion to which feverfew flowers can be added for control of fleas.
Cautions & Comments: Bee balm is a very safe herb. However, this plant often grows in areas that are heavily grazed by livestock; where the presence of neighboring weeds may have led to the introduction of herbicides. Always check or ask for evidence of spraying before you harvest.
BLACK WALNUT Juglans nigra Walnut family
Appearance: A large tree that may grow to 120 feet, black walnut is characterized by its six inch to two foot long leaves, which are each pinnately divided into 12 to 24, lance-shaped and toothed leaflets. Fruits are presented as green orbs with fleshy outer husks that later dry into very hard, dark brown nuts.
Habitat & Range: Common throughout eastern North America; sporadically distributed throughout the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas. Introduced as an ornamental tree in most other regions of the U.S. and southern Canada.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Blooms in spring; bears fruit beginning in early summer.
Parts Used: Primarily the green (unripe) outer fruit hulls.
Actions: Anthelmintic (expels worms), astringent, emetic, laxative.
Affinities: Digestive tract, skin.
Preparation: Extract of the green, unripe hulls.
Specific Uses: Our purpose for including this botanical into this herbal repertory for animals is as much to discourage its misuse as it is to express its medicinal attributes. Black walnut hull extract is unquestionably one of the best and safest worming agents offered by the plant world. But like many substances that can actually make a tapeworm hate life, it can be toxic to the host if not used with proper care, caution, and training . Black walnut offers symptomatic worm intervention that is generally safer and kinder to the host animal than most other herbal wormers (such as tansy or wormwood), but it should be entirely avoided in the treatment of horses (See Cautions and Comments). The holistic pet owner should also take into account that such intervention is actually contrary to the holistic principles of using herbs in a natural context. This stuff kills and expels tapeworms, but it does not address the underlying reasons why the animal is infested with an over-population of opportunity-seeking parasites in the first place. For more on the principles I am referring to, and our recommended approaches to parasite control, please read the chapter: “Parasite-related Problems.” For now, we must tell you that black walnut, although safe and effective when used in the correct dose and where indicated by specific circumstances, is an herb best reserved for use by experienced practitioners.
Availability: Available in the form of alcohol tincture, from several human-oriented herb product companies. Black walnut is also used in several over-the-counter wormers— most of which the authors will not recommend by virtue of holistic principles.
Propagation & Harvest: This is a beautiful, full-sized shade tree that can be purchased from many landscape nurseries and fruit tree catalogs. The green, unripe fruit hulls are harvested while they remain fleshy, in early to late spring.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Garlic and raw pumpkin seeds, added to a good natural diet, are the better choices for worm control in most circumstances.
Cautions & Comments: Black walnut can be toxic to horses, and may cause laminitis, severe gastritis, and breathing problems in these animals1. In fact, these problems have been recorded in cases where horses have merely used black walnut shavings as part of their bedding! Concentrations of strong tannins and various alkaloid constituents contained in the bark, leaves, stems, and hulls of black walnut will likely lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and gastritis in dogs and cats if ingested in anything but small quantities. Remember: anything that can kill a tapeworm has the potential of being harmful to your animal!
1. Eaton SA; Allen D; Eades SC; Schneider D.A. “Digital Starling forces and hemodynamics during early laminitis induced by an aqueous extract of black walnut (Juglans nigra) in horses.” Department of Large Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens. Am J Vet Res, 1995 Oct, 56:10, 1338-44.
BORAGE Borago officinalis Borage family
Appearance: Borage looks very similar to its relative, comfrey, except borage has a more unruly stature. Plants may grow to three feet tall, and quickly sprawl all over the flowerbed shortly after rocketing skyward from their emergence as flattened, well-mannered little rosettes of basal leaves. The unique, 2-6 inch long broadly lance-shaped or narrowly-oval leaves have wrinkled, prickly-haired surfaces that bring into mind my grandpa’s second day beard stubble. Flowers are brilliant-blue, with five petals and five stamens, and anthers which form a black-tipped cone-like structure at the center of each flower. Flowers are borne in drooping, terminate clusters from the upper branches of the plant.
Habitat & Range: Native to many parts of Europe and Asia, borage has been widely introduced as a garden plant in North America. It will grow just about anywhere that has a long enough bloom season to allow for seed development… basically, from the mid-latitudes of Canada, southward.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Borage is a self-seeding annual that blooms from spring to mid-summer in most areas.
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and the oil extracted from seeds.
Actions: Tonic, galactagogue, ; expectorant;, astringent, anti-inflammatory;, diuretic;,
Affinities: Adrenal glands,
Preparation: The most common uses of this plant require an oil extract of the seed— a process which is impractical for the do-it-yourself pet owner. The leaves can be dried and used within three months for infusions, in capsules, or in bulk form; powdered and added to your pet’s food. Dried leaves lose their medicinal qualities rather quickly, so use this herb as early after drying as possible.
The fresh leaves can be scraped of their prickly hairs and made into a poultice, or briefly steamed in their entire form for use as a warm, cover dressing for over-exerted muscles and minor skin inflammations. Although fresh borage can be fed to horses and other herbivores, most animals dislike the prickly texture of the foliage.
Specific Uses: Borage is one of many herbs that have been in traditional use for many centuries, but nonetheless has not received the scientific attention it deserves. What we do know about borage is that its seeds contain impressive amounts of essential fatty acids, especially gamma-linolenic acid (GLA); a compound which has shown to be extremely useful in the treatment of various liver, cardiovascular, and metabolic disorders. In fact, borage seed oil may contain twice the GLA that is offered by the oil of evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) seeds. (The use of evening primrose should be avoided in subjects with blood-clotting disorders.
Some claim that the GLA in evening primrose oil can decrease blood cholesterol and blood pressure and cure rheumatoid arthritis(Passwater, 1981).
Recent studies suggest that essential fatty acid deficiencies may be strongly associated with many chronic diseases in both people and animals, including atopic eczema;, diabetes, and various inflammatory disorders1. In dogs and cats, fatty acid disorders are characterized in the early phases by a dull coat, itchy skin, and excessive shedding. GLA’s are important in the production of prostaglandins; compounds which are critical to the healthy performance of countless metabolic functions— from breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and other essential nutrients into useable forms, to maintenance of cellular integrity and proper functioning of smooth muscle tissues (including the heart, uterus, and vascular system) throughout the body. In other words, animals cannot survive without a proper balance of fatty acids, including GLA, in their bodies.
GLA is not produced by the body itself, and therefore it must be received through dietary sources. The problem is that GLA is relatively rare in nature— it occurs in only a few vegetable sources. Borage seed oil is one of the richest GLA supplements available, and can be easily administered by breaking a gelcap onto your pet’s food each day. Ask your holistic veterinarian for recommendations on how much of the oil your animal may need.
Borage leaf has also received attention from herbalists who beleive that it may be useful for gently strengthening adrenal function, particularly in subjects who have recently undergone extended steroid therapies. The adrenal cortex (the outer tissues of the adrenal glands) are chiefly responsible for the body’s production of corticosteroids; the hormones which are responsible for natural reduction of inflammation. When synthetic corticosteroids are introduced into the body, natural adrenal functions are replaced and the adrenal cortex will often begin to shut down its natural production. As a result, many animals which are coming off of prednisolone or other steroid therapies will have depressed adrenal function. Fat metabolism, and mineral balances may also be affected if this happens. While borage is by no means as powerful as licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) in its adrenal-stimulatory actions, it is believed by many herbalists to gently stimulate adrenal function which is slightly depressed, especially when used over an extended period of time. It may be particularly useful in cases where water retention and high blood pressure are prevalent in an animal’s holistic condition. In these situations, the stronger licorice may be contraindicated because of its potential side-effects (see licorice). While the use of borage in this capacity lacks good scientific validation, it has nonetheless been used safely and effectively for hundreds of years. The dried leaves may be tinctured (12 drops per twenty pounds of body weight, twice daily), or fed in bulk form, 1/2 teaspoon sprinkled onto each pound of your animal’s food. Borage also has a folkloric reputation for increasing milk production in nursing mothers (both human and otherwise)—an action which may be attributable to increased hormone production by the adrenal gland.
Topically, borage leaves can be applied as a soothing poultice or compress for minor skin irritations. To sum up its potential for topical use: consider borage as a limited alternative to comfrey.
Availability: Virtually any nursery or seed catalog which sells herbs will likely have borage.
Propagation & Harvest: Borage prefers dry soil and full sun. Aside from these requirements, it is extremely easy to grow from seed or nursery raised transplants. If you choose to transplant borage from one portion of the garden to another, plan to do it while the plants are very young, as the taproot goes straight down, and is easily damaged when removed from the soil.
Borage is a very successful, self-seeding annual that drops thousands of tiny seeds almost immediately after blooming. Give the plant plenty of room to sprawl, and consider planting it with other annuals. Otherwise, it will likely become a nuisance after dozens of young plants emerge beneath your perennials during the second year.
Harvest the mature leaves while the plant is in full bloom. Borage leaves are especially susceptible to mold while they are drying, so never harvest when the leaves are wet. Dry them by spreading them on clean newspapers, or a non-metalic screen, in an area that has plenty of air circulation and is away from direct sunlight. Never stack the leaves on top of each other, and turn them once or twice daily to assure quick, even drying. The dried leaves can then be crumbled and stored in a glass jar for up to three months, before they begin to lose their usefulness.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For similar topical applications, look toward comfrey, which is perhaps a more effective alternative when indicated. For anti-inflammatory applications and situations involving depressed adrenal function, such as with Addison’s disease, look toward licorice and astragalus as stronger alternatives.
Cautions & Comments: The leaves of this plant contains small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids;; a group of substances that have been shown to cause liver disease in some individuals. Although the presence of these alkaloids in borage is very low (much lower that the content of comfrey), requiring ingestion of very large and sustained quanitities to become harmful in most animals, it has nonetheless been banned from human use in Germany .
1. Janick,J., J.E. Simon, J. Quinn, and N. Beaubaire. “Borage: a source of Gamma Linolenic Acid. Vol. 4 of Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants: Recent Advances in Botany, Horticulture, and Pharmacology, ed. L.E. Crakerand J.E. Simon, 145-186. Oryx Press, 1989.
BUGLEWEED Lycopus species Mint family
Other Names: Water Horehound.
Appearance: The appearance of Bugleweed characterizes it as an atypical member of the Mint Family. Like other Mints it has four-sided stems, flowers at the upper leaf axils, and opposite leaves. But the unique leaves of Lycopus americanus differentiates it from other Mints (and even other species of Lycopus ), as they are deeply and irregularly lobed. Other species of Bugleweed (such as the less common L. unifloris and L. asper ) have leaves which are not deeply lobed but simple and coarsely toothed, making them difficult to differentiate from other Mints… such as Skullcap;. However, the easily identified L. americanus remains by the far the most common and conspicuous variety in North America; making it the Bugleweed to remember. Bugleweed, unlike many other Mints, does not have a minty odor. Small, whitish to pink flowers are whorled in the leaf axils. Stems may be lightly to moderately hairy, especially toward the base of the plant.
Habitat & Range: An inhabitant of stream banks and marshes; Bugleweed is typically found in the shade beneath willows and other shrubs. Several species of Lycopus are widespread throughout most of North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Perennial; blooming from early to mid-summer.
Parts Used: Leaves, stems, and flowers.
Actions: Hypothyroid, mild cardiac sedative, nervine, diuretic, peripheral vasoconstrictor, astringent, anti-tussive.
Affinities: Thyroid glands, heart, nervous system.
Preparation: Although this herb may be useful in dried bulk form or in capsules, it doesn’t taste very good, and it may be difficult to get into a dog or cat in an appreciable quantity that doesn’t just pass though their short digestive tracts. Alcohol or glycerin tincture is your best choice here. Refer to the appendices of this book for the proper formula.
Specific Uses: Although relatively little research has been done to validate bugleweed’s usefulness in animal subjects, it may prove very useful in dogs and cats with hyperthyroid conditions. While bugleweed cannot physically correct a diseased thyroid gland and will not work as quickly as synthetic drugs, human studies have confirmed that bugleweed slows the release of the hormone thyroxine in the thyroid, making it very useful in the treatment of mild forms of hyperthyroidism1. Specifically, it should help ease abnormal excitability, acute hyperventilation, slow a rapid heart rate, and relieve spastic coughing in dogs and cats that are suffering from spontaneous hyperthyroidism. It should be noted though, that small, frequent doses of the herb extract must be given for a period of at least a few days before results are seen. Two to six drops per twenty pounds of the animal’s body weight, three times daily is a good starting point.
Bugleweed also possesses sedative and vasoconstrictor actions that make it useful in many heart and vascular system disorders. It is believed to work in the cardiovascular system in a way that is similar to the drug digitalis; by strengthening the heartbeat while slowing a rapid pulse. But, unlike digitalis and other such drugs which are used primarily in humans, bugleweed is virtually free of dangerous side-effects.
Adding to bugleweed’s usefulness in cardiovascular disorders is its mild diuretic action… it helps to expel water from the body, making it useful in animals with pulmonary edema that is associated with a weak, rapid pulse and unproductive coughing. However, some extra caution is advised here; bugleweed is believed to have weak, narcotic-like effects in higher brain centers that regulate cough responses— much like wild cherry does, but not as strong. In other words, it may act to suppress the cough response even if such suppression is not conducive to the healing process. In respiratory disorders such as Bordetella or pneumonia, cough suppression may be contradictory to the holistic principles of using herbs in the first place, and may even be dangerous to the animal. Remember… the primary goal of herbal therapies is to assist the body in its capacity to heal itself, not to interfere with it’s efforts to do so. If the animal is successful at expelling mucus as a result of persistent coughing, the body is doing its job, and the use of bugleweed is probably contraindicated. See a holistic vet, and for a more holistic perspective on coughing, see the pages on wild cherry.
The nerve calming and vasoconstrictor actions of bugleweed also make it useful for pain relief in situations that involve irritability and tension, especially when circumstances are compounded by injured nerves, such as in post traumatic circumstances where an animal is in pain from a crushing injury, is jumpy and cannot get comfortable, and just paces, whines, and pants like a steam engine. Since bugleweed does not contain salicylates, it can be used for post-traumatic pain relief in cats, especially in those with pre-existing functional thyroid adenoma, or other forms of disease which may contribute to an over active thyroid.
In humans, bugleweed is often used by herbalists in the treatment of migraine headaches.
Availability: Seeds are available from specialty seed catalogs. Bugleweed herb and herb tinctures are available through natural products retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: Bugleweed requires consistently moist soil and at least fifty percent shade cover. For best results, sow the seeds indoors in February or March, then transplant them to an area that gets plenty of shade and water throughout the summer. Plants are ready to harvest when the flowers are just beginning to bloom. The freshly cut herb is the best choice for making your own medicine, but if this isn’t possible, cut the stems at about three inches above ground level, during a period when the foliage is completely dry. Hang them in small bunches of four to six stems apiece, in an airy location, away from direct sunlight. When properly stored, the dried herb will retain its medicinal potency for at least six months.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For use in hyperthyroidism, bugleweed combines well with motherwort. For use in heart and vascular disorders associated with a rapid, erratic pulse, ginkgo and motherwort will serve as substitutes in many cases, and skullcap, hawthorn, garlic, and astragalus should all be investigated as adjuncts. For nervousness that is associated with abnormal irritability, pain, or rapid heartbeat, bugleweed combines nicely with valerian, skullcap, hops, or chamomile. When water retention is an associated factor in any of the above, try adding dandelion leaf to the formula as a diuretic aid.
Cautions & Comments: Like all members of the mint family, this is a very safe herb, with no known toxicity realtive to its sensible use. However, since bugleweed is a vasoconstrictor and may have hormonal properties, common sense dictates that it should not be used in pregnant or nursing animals. For obvious reasons, bugleweed should not be used in animals with depressed thyroid function. Another point to consider before using bugleweed in your pet is that very little research has been done into the attributes and side-effects of bugleweed in animals. Although it can be safely used in most dogs, cats, and equines, its effects in birds, rodents, and other animals are largely unknown. If in doubt, contact a professional who is familiar with the specific applications of this herb.
1. Samec, V.: Weiner med. Wschr. 31 (1961) 513; cited in Weiss, R.F., “Herbal Medicine”, Beaconsfield Publishers, 1988.
BURDOCK Arctium lappa or A. minor Sunflower family
Appearance: Burdock first appears as a rosette of large up to 12″ long heart-shaped leaves. During the second year the plant continues skyward; often reaching six to eight feet, while branching out to produce multitudes of thistle-like, light lavender to purple-flowered, seed-bearing burrs at the upper leaf axils and branch ends. Each burr contains several small black seeds, and is covered by reverse-hooked spines that enable them to stick to anything that brushes by. The entire plant is covered with tiny hairs that give the leaves and stems a tacky texture which can be compared to ultra-fine grit sandpaper (the gray kind). The light brown, carrot-like taproot may weigh two or three pounds and extend two or more feet below a second year plant. This sturdy taproot, combined with the annoying and extremely efficient reproductive qualities of the burrs, has earned Burdock a hated reputation as a farm and garden enemy.
Habitat & Range: Burdock is a Eurasian import that has made its home throughout most of North America. It prefers rich, deep, consistently moist soil, and is frequently found in profuse abundance along the margins of cultivated fields and at roadsides (particularly where human or livestock traffic can cooperate with the hitch-hiking burrs).
Cycle & Bloom Season: A biennial which blooms in mid to late summer.
Parts Used: The root.
Actions: Alterative, cholagogue, diuretic, nutritive.
Affinities: Liver, skin.
Preparation: Although all preparations of this herb are useful, the active constituents of this plant must be given in relatively large doses to be of therapeutic advantage. Since most animals don’t like eating it, a strong tincture of fresh or dried root will get the job done most effectively. Burdock root takes well to a glycerin menstruum, and its flavor is sweet and agreeable to most animals. Bear in mind that if you use fresh roots for the purpose of making a glycerite, water content in the vegetable is very high. Therefore, it is best to use one hundred percent, undiluted vegetable glycerin in your maceration. Fresh or dried burdock root can be decocted as well, to be poured over your animal’s food… be liberal with quantity–burdock is good food.
Specific Uses: We cannot emphasize the value of this herb enough in the long term care of companion animals. Burdock has an ancient and respected reputation as a nutritive liver tonic that helps to clean and build the blood. Just 2.5 ounces of fresh burdock root contains up to 61 mg of calcium, 77 mg of phosphorus, 1.4 mg of iron, 0.03 mg of thiamin and 0.05 mg of riboflavin. 1.
Burdock root is a specific treatment for chronic or acute psoriasis or eczema; it has a strong affinity toward the treatment of flaky, oily, or inflammatory skin disorders which can be traced back to liver deficiencies and/or a general overload of toxic substances in the body (usually the result of a poor diet). It is also useful in the holistic treatment of arthritis, rheumatoid disorders, inflammatory kidney and bladder disease, and virtually any other type of metabolic disorder that may be the result of poor waste elimination. Adding to all of this is a diuretic action that helps in the elimination of waste materials from the body. In simple terms, burdock helps clean the body, from inside out.
Burdock contains chemical constituents that have been shown to be effective in preventing disease which may result from environmental toxicity. Specifically, burdock helps to remove mutagen substances, such as pesticides and airborne pollutants, from the bloodstream before they cause harm to the body2. Animal studies have also indicated that burdock extract has free-radical scavenging qualities in the liver3, thus weeding out carcinogenic elements before cellular damage can occur.
Virtually every living creature is continually subjected to the harmful effects of human society… our companion animals are no exception. The liver is the organ which begins the cleansing process. And not only does it filter the blood, it contributes bile and numerous enzymes to the digestive tract that are essential to the breakdown and absorption of essential nutrients. By assisting liver function and prompting the efficient removal of systemic waste, introduced toxins, or allergens from the body, imbalances such as arthritis, kidney stones, bladder infections, or eczema can be avoided. By helping the liver at its job, we are also relieving pressure from secondary immune functions that need to remain unencumbered in their fight against viruses and other microbes which may have bypassed the liver. Furthermore, by helping the liver to work at optimum efficiency, less solid or toxic waste will reach the kidneys; a set of delicate organs that are vulnerable to the liver’s deficiencies.
Burdock is an excellent, long-term liver tonic, and it is gentle enough to use in cases of pre-existing liver of kidney disease. It is an excellent choice for animals that are suffering as a result of a poor diet. Just remember… diet is where the road to a long, healthy life begins… burdock will not replace a good, natural diet, but it can help tremendously in allowing the body to utilize the good nutrition it receives.
Availability: Fresh, organically-grown burdock root is available at many health food stores. Dried burdock root, and root tincture are available through most herb retailers. Seeds are available through specialty seed catalogs.
Propagation & Harvest: Provided you have deep, rich soil for tap roots that can penetrate the earth for three feet, burdock is easy to grow. Burdock likes moist (but not wet) soil, and it prefers to have at least a couple hours of shade each day. Sow the seeds as you would carrots,in early spring. The roots are ready after the leaves die back in fall of the first year. Second year roots can be used if dug in the spring, but remember that biennials die after their second year of growth… the roots will be losing potency as they approach their demise.
Burdock roots can be refrigerated for several weeks after harvest, or they can be chopped and dried, made into tincture, or decocted for immediate use.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Dandelion root serves well as an alternative to burdock. For flaky or itchy skin problems, burdock combines well with licorice, red clover, dandelion, or yellow dock. As a liver aid in conditions associated with chronic constipation, burdock combines well with dandelion, chicory, turkey rhubarb, yellow dock, or Oregon grape. In cases of pre-existing liver damage that have resulted from chemical toxicity or vaccinosis, use burdock with milk thistle or licorice. As an adjunct to an immune-support formula, combine burdock with echinacea or astragalus.
Cautions & Comments: This is one of the safest herbs available to humans and animals. In essence, burdock is a “nutraceutical”, a food which lends medicinal attributes. No toxicity has been noted with this herb.
1. Chadha, Y.R. (ed. in Chief). 1985. The Wealth of India. New Delhi: Publications & Information Directorate, CSIR.
2. Morita, K., et al. 1985. “Chemical Nature of a Desmutagenic Factor from Burdock (Arctium lappa Linne).” Agric. Biol. Chem. 49: 925-32.
3. Lin CC; Lu JM; Yang JJ; Chuang SC; Ujiie T. “Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge effects of Arctium lappa.” Graduate Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kaohsiung Medical College, Taiwan. Am J Chin Med, 1996, 24:2, 127-37
CALENDULA Calendula officinalis Sunflower family
Appearance: Also known as pot marigold, the bright yellow, orange, or red-orange flowers of calendula are a familiar sight in gardens and landscape designs everywhere. Calendula officinalis is a small plant that seldom exceeds 18 inches in height. The lance-shaped or oblong, alternate leaves have coarse surfaces and are borne on sturdy, branching stems. Calendula should not be confused with other “marigolds”, namely “French marigolds” and other members of the Tagetes genus of the sunflower family, which have a pungent odor and much different, compound leaf characteristics.
Habitat & Range: Originally a native of Europe and Africa, calendula is a cultivated plant throughout most of the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: The word “calendula” is derived from the “calends”— meaning that the plant blooms continuously; on the new moon of each month. While calendula really doesn’t keep such an accurate calendar, it does remain in a constant and generous state of bloom throughout most of its annual life span.
Parts Used: The flowers.
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, lymphatic, vulnerary, astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, antitumor, cholagogue, emmenogogue.
Affinities: Skin and mucous membranes.
Preparation: Water or oil infusion, tincture, poultice, salves and ointments.
Specific Uses: Calendula is among the first herbs to consider in minor first aid situations. A broad array of medicinal compounds in the flowers of the plant, including various essential oils, flavonoids, saponins, triterpene alcohols, carotenes and others, combine to help speed cell reproduction and inhibit bacteria and fungi at the site of injury. For minor cuts, insect bites, abrasions, or post-surgical incisions, calendula salve will bring quick, soothing relief to pain and swelling, while lending wound-healing, antimicrobial properties to the body’s healing effort. Infusions of the flowers are effective as a soothing and healing skin wash for various forms of inflammatory dermatitis— such as flea bites, poison ivy, eczema, or sunburn. The antimicrobial and astringent nature of this plant make it useful for treating burns as well. In these circumstances, a cooled water infusion (skin rinse) is recommended over oils, salves, or poultices, as the latter may seal in heat, causing further aggravation of the injury. A cooled water infusion may also be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis, where the mild but predictable astringency of the plant combines with its bacteria-fighting properties to reduce irritation and infection. To make an eyewash or skin rinse, refer to “The Basics of Making Herbal Preparations”. Internally, an infusion or tincture of the flower may be used to treat inflammation or ulceration of the digestive or urinary tracts, where it serves in the drainage of lymph-engorged tissues and reduces inflammation. It may also prove beneficial in the treatment of candidosis— a fungal infection which infects mucous membranes in the mouths and digestive tracts of birds, cats, horses, and sometimes dogs. The antifungal qualities of this herb also make it a possible option for topical treatment of chromomycosis; an infection of the skin which occurs from various fungi origins in cows, horses, dogs, cats, and amphibians— or in the treatment of entomophthoromycosis ; a fungal infection of the nostrils, mouth, or lips of horses. While virtually no scientific data exists to validate the effectiveness of calendula against these three forms of disease, its safety and reputed effectiveness as a broad-spectrum antifungal agent make it an option worth trying.
Preparations containing calendula have been shown effective in the treatment of chronic colitis1. Animal studies have shown that the saponin constituents in calendula may possess antitumor activities2.
Availability: Over 30 cultivars of calendula are available at nurseries everywhere.
Propagation & Harvest: Sow seeds in early spring, or transplant the starts after danger of frost is past. Calendula likes moderately rich soil and full sun. It is not picky about pH— as long as your soil is not excessively alkaline or acidic in nature, calendula will do just fine. Once established, plants will self-sow from their prolific seed production. Seedlings that emerge each spring should be thinned to about six inches apart, otherwise you can expect a continuous, relatively carefree supply of calendula. Harvest the flowers whenever the are in full bloom. They can then be made into an herbal preparation while they are fresh, or you can dry them indoors for use in the near future.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For use in first aid salves, calendula combines especially well with comfrey and St. John’s wort. To increase its effectiveness in antifungal uses (internally or externally), try combining it with bee balm, oregon grape, or licorice. For urinary or digestive tract inflammations, calendula can be combined with cornsilk, marshmallow, or plantain.
Cautions & Comments: Although calendula is without question one of the safest herbs around, it does have a reputation for stimulating menstruation, and in some studies it has been shown to possess abortifacient activities in rodents3. Therefore, it should be avoided during early pregnancy. Calendula may contain a very small measure of salicylic acid4, a constituent that is potentially toxic to cats. Although this compound is likely confined to the leaves and stems of the plant and does not occur in quantities that are likely to be of immediate danger to felines, its presence should be taken into account prior to long term internal use.
1. Chakurski I., Matev M Koichev A., Angelova I., Stefanov G. “Treatment of Chronic Colitis with an Herbal combination of Taraxacum officinale, Hypericum perforatum, Melissa officinalis, Calendula officinalis and Foeniculum vulgare.” Pharmazie (1988 Mar) 43(3):220.
2. Boucard-Maitre Y et al. “Cytoxic and Antitumoral activity of Calendula extracts.” Pharmazie 1988; 43: 220.
3. Morelli I et al. Selected Medicinal Plants. Rome: FAO, 1983
4. Foster, Steven. Herbal Renaissance – Growing, Using, and Understanding Herbs in the Modern World. Layton, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books, 1993.
CAYENNE (Capsicum) Capsicum species Nightshade family
Appearance: Like many common names, the words “capsicum” or “cayenne” are used as generic terms for a broad range of small, very hot chili peppers. Most of these peppers are genetically-engineered variations from two species of the Capsicum genus: Capsicum frutescens, and C. annuum. There are dozens of varieties, but all share a very similar appearance: shiny, ovate to lance-shaped, 1-5 inch long alternate leaves; small, white, star-shaped flowers; and sturdy, sometimes vine-like stems that reach anywhere from one to three feet tall when mature. The fruits are bright red when ripe, and range in shape from small, pea-like globes, to 8-12 inch bananas— depending on variety. One of the primary reasons why so many cultivars of capsicum have been developed is to provide the market with a variable range of “heat”— some rank as “hot” others as “very hot” , while others can be described as downright “searing” when placed on the tongue. Any variety of capsicum will serve the medicinal purposes described in this book. However, the hotter varieties will lend more versatility to the herbalist, as the potency of the topical preparations can be adjusted from almost blistering, down to mildly rubifacient (reddening) to the skin.
Habitat & Range: Originally a native to tropical regions of South and Central America, virtually all of the capsicums are now cultivated in long-season regions throughout the world. In northern climes, capsicum can be grown as an attractive house plant.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Wild, South American capsicums are perennial plants that can reach seven feet in height, but in North America they are cultivated most as annuals. Most capsicums will bloom in early summer, and will produce ripe fruit by mid-august.
Parts Used: The fruits.
Actions: Rubifacient, vasodilator, hemostatic, counter-irritant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, tonic.
Affinities: Skin and circulatory system.
Preparation: For internal uses, the dried, powdered fruits are most commonly contained in gel caps. The whole or powdered fruits may be used in oil infusions, salves, ointments, or tincture form. Various brands of capsaisin creams and ointments are commercially available at drug stores, for topical treatment of arthritis, muscle aches, and stiffness.
Specific Uses: Capsicum is very reliable in its activity as a peripheral vasodilator. Used internally, it acts to “warm the body” by quickly dilating small capillaries and increasing circulation to the skin and extremities (this is why sweating and flushed skin is experienced when we eat foods containing cayenne). Because of this activity, capsicum is commonly used in the systemic treatment of impaired blood circulation, and because it triggers the outward movement of blood throughout the body, it is often added as a “carrier” or potentiating adjunct to other herbs. It’s effect in this capacity can be quite dramatic— especially when it is combined with herbs that have an affinity to the skin or extremities. By itself, capsicum is useful for opening capillary occlusions that are the byproduct of a crushing injury, and it is considered a specific remedy for chronically deficient peripheral circulation— situations where the extremities are characterized by continuously cold paws, hands, or feet. Capsicum is also regarded as a circulatory stimulant for the lungs, and may be useful for improving pulmonary efficiency in animals with hypostatic pneumonia (a condition arising from poor blood circulation through vascular structures of the lungs), or other conditions where edema or other factors are interfering with proper blood circulation in pulmonary tissues. In most internal applications, capsicum is administered once per day, in the form of a gelatin capsule. For a dog or a cat, the capsule would contain a small pinch of the powder. For horses and other large animals, several full, “OOO” size capsules may be needed to bring about desired results. Like many herbs, finding the correct dose is contingent upon the specifics of the individual animal and the situation at hand.
Topically, capsicum will work as a contact rubifacient— serving to quickly open subcutaneous capillaries while serving as a peripheral nerve-block to reduce pain at the site of application. These topical attributes make capsicum especially useful for therapies that are to be confined to a specific portion of the body, such as a stiff or arthritic knee that may benefit from the herb’s instantaneous warming effect. The compound that is chiefly responsible for this activity is called capsaisin, and in addition to its capacity to block pain and increase circulation, capsaisin has been shown to activate the body’s own anti-inflammatory mediators at the site where it is applied. This means that it not only helps to reduce pain and congestion in arthritic joints, but also acts as an assistant to the body’s internal anti-inflammatory mechanisms. These combined actions make topical preparations of capsicum useful for safely relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis1.
On the top of the authors’ list of uses for capsicum though, is its effectiveness as a hemostatic agent. It’s interesting to note that while capsicum has such a profound ability to increase blood circulation when applied internally or onto the skin, its effects are quite opposite when applied to an open wound. To stop the bleeding of a barb wire cut, a claw that was clipped too short, or any other minor to moderate wound where profuse bleeding will not coagulate readily on its own, capsicum (i.e. ground cayenne from the kitchen) powder can be liberally applied directly to the site of injury. Unless bleeding is emanating from a fairly large vessel, the results will likely be instantaneous, and believe it or not, capsicum really doesn’t hurt much when applied to an open wound (trust me— I’ve used it on myself!).
Availability: Readily available wherever culinary spices are sold. Capsicum plants are available through virtually any nursery that stocks vegetable plants.
Propagation & Harvest: Capsicum is often slow to start from seed, so you are advised to purchase young plants. Like most peppers, capsicums that are planted outdoors require warm, sunny days and nighttime temperatures that seldom fall below 55 degrees in order to produce fruit. Many varieties are quite suitable as house plants.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: To stop bleeding, capsicum combines well with yarrow. For circulatory problems, hawthorn, ginkgo, ginger, and yarrow should all be considered as well.
Cautions & Comments: Contrary to what may seem obvious, capsicum does not cause irritation to the digestive tract when consumed in moderate quantities, but the key word here is moderate. Animals with a sensitive digestive tract or with inflammatory digestive or urinary system disease should not be fed capsicum in absence of a full understanding of all underlying conditions. When used properly and in moderation capsicum is a very safe herb, but extra care and attention is needed to assure that capsicum is truly indicated. No two animals are identical, and where capsicum may serve to benefit one, it can cause painful irritation to another. In other words, it is best to have your animal examined by a holistic veterinarian before proceeding with any internal therapy that includes capsicum. Capsicum is a strong irritant to mucous membranes, and should always be kept away from the eyes and nose (this is the stuff they make bear-defense pepper spray from!) . It’s topical use should also be avoided with animals that have hypersensitive skin. Although capsicum is generally considered safe during pregnancy, the authors recommend that its use be limited to topical applications throughout. In our opinion, strong urinary tract irritants have no place in pregnant or lactating animals.
One final note: be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after handling any form of this herb— and don’t touch your eyes, lips, or any other mucous membranes for about thirty minutes after that. Again, trust me!
1. Deal, C.L., et al. “Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaisin: a double-blind trial.” Clinical Therapeutics, 13(3):383-95.
CATNIP Nepeta cataria Mint family
Appearance: Wild catnip is always a wonderful discovery. Its pungent, tangy-mint aroma wafts to the nose with the slightest disturbance of the plant. And the flavor and soothing effects of the tea are likely to please even the most discriminating palate. Characteristically a mint, catnip has square (four-sided) stems and opposite leaves. Leaves are petiolate, coarsely but often bluntly toothed, and range in shape from nearly heart-shaped to broadly lanceolate. Once one has become familiar with this plant, it’s aroma is a dead give away. The entire plant is distinctively fuzzy; with an almost flannel-like texture. Unlike most other Mints which bloom in whorls at the upper leaf axils or in terminate clusters or spires, catnip blooms at both the upper leaf axils and in spike-like terminate clusters.
Habitat & Range: Catnip is a Eurasian import that is now widespread in North America. It likes full sun and rich, moist soils, and is most frequently found in disturbed areas… such as along irrigation channels and at the edges of cultivated fields. Unfortunately, this characteristic often makes it difficult for the herbalist or wild food forager to find uncontaminated plants. Fortunately, it can be found at many nurseries.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms from late spring to mid-summer.
Parts Used: Leaves, stems, and flowers are collected before seeds begin to develop.
Actions: Carminative, sedative, antispasmodic, anti-emetic, feline-euphoric, diuretic.
Affinities: Digestive and nervous systems.
Preparation: Fresh or dried chopped herb, water infusion, tincture, or of course— in a catnip mouse.
Specific Uses: Catnip is a gentle carminative and antispasmodic for easing flatulence and stomach upsets. It will also act as a mild sedative to help calm the nerves and promote restful sleep in most animals. Due to a constituent called nepeta lactone, cats become intoxicated when they sniff this plant. However, the effect of the herb when ingested is relaxing in a different way— calming to the stomach and relaxing to the nerves, but without feline-erotic visions of candy-coated mice. Interestingly, about twenty percent of our feline friends will not experience a euphoric response to catnip. Unfortunately, the authors’ cat is one of those who, “just says no.” This is an excellent herb to consider for high-strung animals with a nervous stomach, especially if episodes of vomiting are predictable by stressful events— like running the vacuum cleaner, having the neighbors and their screaming child over for dinner, or worse yet— bringing another kitten into the royal palace. Twelve to twenty drops (1/4 to 1/2 ml.) of a glycerin-based catnip tincture can be administered for every twenty pounds of an animal’s body weight, ten to twenty minutes prior to being subjected to stressful circumstances. For travel or other prolonged periods of stress, the tincture can be added to the animal’s drinking water— twelve drops per eight ounces of water is a good starting dose. If the animal doesn’t respond, try adding six drops at a time, until the desired calming effect is evident. Dropping a few fresh leaves into the animal’s drinking water may work as well. Or, you can try feeding dried catnip to your pet by putting it onto its food; 1/8-1/2 tsp. per pound of food fed. Just remember— this might make kitty roll around in her dinner!
Availability: Catnip has become a way side weed in many areas. If you are not so fortunate, the plants or seeds are available through many nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Gather the leaves, stems, and flowers before the plant goes to seed. The herb can then be dried indoors. Spread the herb loosely on a clean sheet of paper, rearranging it frequently to prevent mold. The herb is ready for storage when it is crispy dry.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: To help settle an upset stomach and to prevent nervous vomiting, catnip combines well with fennel. Chamomile serves as an effective adjunct or alternative in these circumstances. For motion sickness, a pinch of ginger can be added to a teaspoon of dried, powdered catnip. The combination can then be given to dogs or cats in a small gel cap. One cap should do for a cat, dogs may require two or three, depending on the animal’s size.
Cautions & Comments: The herb is very safe, however fatalities have been reported from ingestion of the seeds. Like most mints, catnip should be used sparingly in pregnant animals, as the volatile oils it contains may be passed on to the fetus.
CHAMOMILE, German Matricaria recutita Sunflower family
Appearance: German chamomile is characterized by its 1/2 to 1 inch yellow disk flowers, each surrounded by ten to twenty white rays, and its finely divided, linear, “feather-like” leaves. The common name “chamomile” is used in reference to dozens of related species, but most medicinal uses are isolated to two genera, Matricaria recutita (German chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (Roman chamomile), and their respective subspecies. The differences between these two groups of chamomile rest in their life cycles, the number of flowers they produce, and overall size. German chamomile is an annual plant that can grow to two feet tall, producing numerous terminate flowers on each of its many stems. Roman chamomile on the other hand, is a creeping perennial that seldom exceeds one foot in height, and which produces fewer but larger (1″ wide) flowers. Both German and Roman chamomiles share a nearly identical range of therapeutic usefulness, but German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is by far the more popular medicine. This is because German chamomile has received much more research attention and has long been regarded (by herbalists) as a more potent medicine than Roman chamomile. For the purposes of this book, our primary focus is on German chamomile, however, there is a generally over-looked, wild relative to cultivated varieties chamomile that also deserves a place in the animal herbalist’s repertory— Pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides). Pineapple weed looks, smells, and even tastes very much like its cultivated cousins, but its discoid flowers are completely without rays. This small, wayside weed is often found growing in inconspicuous, ground-hugging mats in vacant lots, on road margins, and sometimes right in the middle of a driveway!
Habitat & Range: Natives of Europe and Western Asia, chamomile is cultivated world wide.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Chamomile is notorious for its continuous bloom. In areas where the occurance of frost is rare, chamomile will often produce flowers throughout the year.
Parts Used: The flowers.
Actions: Anti-spasmodic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, sedative, nervine,
anti-microbial, bitter, vulnerary, tonic, anthelmintic (vermifuge).
Affinities: Skin, digestive tract, liver, nervous system, mucous membranes, smooth muscle tissues.
Preparation: Water or oil infusion, tincture, salve, ointment, fomentation.
Specific Uses: Chamomile is a mild sedative, anti-spasmodic, and digestive tonic that is safe, gentle, and effective in a broad spectrum of applications. The herb tea or tincture is helpful for indigestion, gas, and vomiting. Chamomile is perhaps the first herb to reach for in cases of digestive upset that arises from nervousness and hyper-excitability. The chemistry of chamomile is very complex and the whole of medicinal activities are not attributable to any single class of constituents, but rather to a synergistic sum of all parts. However, dozens of scientific studies (using both animals and humans) have given us solid information about how many of chamomile’s chemical compounds contribute to its effectiveness as a holistic healing device. For example, apigenenin, chamazulene (and its precursor, matricin ) and other volatile oil constituents of the flowers have been shown to be strong antispasmodic agents both in and on the body, as have several of chamomile’s flavonoid constituents1, 2. In the digestive tract, chamomile serves to ease nervous spasm, helps to expel gas, aids in the production of bile to improve digestion3, and reduces inflammation throughout. All of these activities amount to an excellent remedy for chronic or acute gastric disorders, including various forms of inflammatory bowel disease.
For inflammations of the skin, including flea bites, contact allergies, and various bacterial or fungal infections, a cooled water infusion of the flowers can be used as soothing, healing, antimicrobial rinse. For conjunctivitis, whether it be from bacterial infection or the result of airborne irritants or allergies, the cooled infusion can be carefully strained through a paper coffee filter and diluted with saline solution (the end product should be transparent and light yellow) for use as an anti- inflammatory/antimicrobial eye wash that can be liberally applied several times per day until inflammation subsides.
Chamomile has also been shown to have a tonic (constricting and strengthening) effect on smooth muscle tissues throughout the body, including the heart, bladder, and especially the uterus4. While uterine tonics may be of benefit before pregnancy, and during late term pregnancy, herbs that constrict uterine tissues are generally contraindicated during early pregnancy (see “cautions & comments”).
In the authors’ experiences, chamomile serves as a general purpose “calming herb” that can be fed to animals as a “first try” remedy for any variety of spasmodic or anxiety-related problems. Because it a good tasting herb, soluble in water, and very safe in most animals, its use should be considered before stronger, less palatable antispasmodics or sedatives are employed.
Chamomile’s usefulness in expelling worms is often overlooked in favor of “faster-acting” herbs (such as wormwood, black walnut hulls, or garlic), but it really should not be. Chamomile is relatively non-toxic when compared to most other “herbal wormers”. While it does not work as quickly as the other anthelmintics, it does work— especially for round worms and whip worms— and it offers anti-inflammatory activities that help counteract the effect parasites often have on the intestinal mucosa. Even more pronounced in its vermifuge activities is Pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides) ; a “common weed” relative of chamomile that grows virtually everywhere.
For internal uses, we prefer a glycerin tincture of the herb, because it can be administered in small, easy-to-feed doses— 0.25 to 0.50 ml per 20 lbs. of the animal’s body weight, twice daily, as needed to suppress symptoms. The sweet-tasting glycerin tincture can be orally administered, directly into the animal’s mouth, or it can be added to the animal’s drinking water. The” glycerite” is also useful in treating gingivitis, especially when small proportions of stronger antimicrobial herb extracts (such as thyme, rosemary, bee balm, oregon grape, or echinacea) are added. To use chamomile in this capacity, the tincture can be applied directly to the gums of the animal with a cotton swab.
Chamomile extract can also be used in a vaporizer, or steamed from boiling water, for inhalation treatment of asthma, allergies, bronchitis and the like. In homeopathic form chamomile is used for teething puppies to keep them from chewing everything in sight.
Availability: Chamomile can be purchased from any health food retailer, and is available at most supermarkets. The plants are available through most nurseries, as are the seeds.
Propagation & Harvest: Chamomile is easy to grow in all climates, and once established, its promiscuous, free-seeding character yields abundant growth year after year. In fact, if left to its unruly ways, it will likely find its way out of the flower beds and into the pathways and beyond. Chamomile blooms continuously throughout the growing season. The flowers can be plucked off at anytime and dried indoors, on a piece of clean paper or a non-metallic screen. Fresh flowers are useful too, and in fact are a stronger option for use in skin rinses and against intestinal parasites. However, the dried flowers have a much more pleasant flavor.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For stronger activities in cases of nervous stomach problems and gas, look to catnip, fennel, and bee balm. Combines well with calendula, juniper leaves, or uva-ursi in anti-inflammatory skin rinses. For irritable bowel, diarrhea, and other gastric disorders, study about plantain, slippery elm, and marshmallow. For inflammatory urinary tract problems, chamomile combines with cornsilk, plantain, uva-ursi, white oak bark, couchgrass, and marshmallow. For use against worms, chamomile can be combined at a 4:1 ratio (4 parts chamomile to 1 part other herb) with garlic, Oregon grape, organically-raised goldenseal, wormwood, or black walnut hulls.
Cautions & Comments: While the uterotonic activity of chamomile is very subtle, its use in pregnant animals should be limited. Like all herbs that constrict uterine tissues, chamomile may act as an abortifacient if used in excessive amounts during early pregnancy. Furthermore, studies suggest that excessive use of chamomile during pregnancy may increase fetus reabsorption and inhibit fetus growth in some animals5.
Chamomile is without doubt, one of the safest herbs in existence. However, some animals (and humans too) are extremely allergic to this plant and its relatives. Always check for sensitivity before feeding this herb, by applying a small amount of the preparation to the animal’s skin. Then, if no reactions are observed, feed just a drop or two and watch for anything out of the ordinary.
1. Schoen, Allen M., Wynn, Susan G. From multiple research citations in Complimentary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, p. 356. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 1998.
2. Mann, C., Staba, E.J. “The chemistry, pharmacology, and commercial formulations of chamomile.” Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants: Recent Advances in Botany, Horticulture, and Pharmacology ; vol 1. Craker, L.E., Simon, J.E., editors. Arizona: Oryx Press, 1986:235-80.
3. Ikram, M. “Medicinal plants as hypocholesterolemic agents.” JPMA 1980; 39: 38-50.
4. Shipochliev, T. “Extracts from a group of medicinal plants enhancing the uterine tonus.” Vet Med Nauki 1981; 18: 94-98.
5. Habersang, S. et al. “Pharmacological studies with compounds of chamomile IV. Studies on bisabolol.” Planta Medica 1979; 37:115-23.
CHAPARRAL Larrea tridentata Caltrop family
Appearance: Chaparral (also commonly known as “Creosote Bush;”) is the predominant low-desert shrub of the U.S. Southwest. The abundance of this shrub almost makes a description of it unnecessary, as many who live or travel between the Pacific and inland states of the Southwest invariably find themselves within what seems to be an endless expanse of these ancient plants. But, for the sake of minute details… Chaparral is the chest-high to 10′ tall dark green stuff with spindly, wind- whipped branches that contribute to the highway hypnosis we all suffer while driving to and from Las Vegas. The leaves are tiny (1/8″) and have a greasy-leathery texture. Bark is reddish-brown toward the base of the plant; progressively lighter (to almost white) on the smaller limbs. Flowers are minute and yellow; later developing into oddly fuzzy, seed-bearing capsules. If you are one who traverses the “Ocean of Chaparral”, get used to it… it is one of the oldest living inhabitants of our planet, with some plants having been carbon dated at over 10,000 years of age!
Habitat & Range: Profusely abundant from the deserts of Central Texas; westward through the southern half of New Mexico and Arizona to the deserts of Southern California and Nevada.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Chaparral often blooms according to precipitation. Generally this occurs any time from March through May.
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, fruits.
Actions: Bacteriostatic, antifungal, amoebicidal, antioxidant, alterative
Affinities: Skin, blood, liver.
Preparation: Decoction— for external use as a skin and coat rinse; or as an ingredient in salves and ointments. For small animals, the fomentation method of application is strongly advised (see “The Basics of Making Herbal Preparations), as this form of preparation will allow the active constituents of the herb to remain on the body longer, and will prohibit the animal from licking the decoction off. Salves or ointments that contain a large percentage of chaparral should also be kept out of the mouth of the animal. For horses or other large animals, this is less of an issue, especially if the decoction is applied to portions of the body that are beyond reach of the animal’s mouth.
Because this plant is naturally designed to resist harsh, desert elements, it its poorly soluble in water. Therefore, decoctions and alcohol-based tinctures are the best methods of extraction for this plant.
Specific Uses: Anything this old and abundant must be here for a reason— and this philosophy dates back as long as our history. American Indians of the Southwest have used this plant for centuries– for everything from the internal treatment of tumors; and hepatic diseases ;to topical skin treatments, including sunscreen— for themselves and their animals. Today, herbalists use the plant as a strong bacteriostatic (also see antimicrobial and antiseptic); and antioxidant ;agent in the treatment of blood and liver disorders. However, recent scientific research and documented incidents have raised both hope and concern. Some studies have shown that chemical constituents in chaparral may inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, while others have shown exactly the opposite. And recently a few accounts of serious liver damage; (in humans) have been attributed to this herb. Many theories have emerged with the question of why this plant may suddenly be harming us after hundreds of years of safe medicinal use— one being that perhaps that humanity and chaparral are evolving away from one another1. Nevertheless, thousands of people still use chaparral on a daily basis, and it remains a popular herbal medicine in the natural products markets worldwide.
In animals, chaparral has been shown to have strong antifungal, antibacterial, and remarkably, even amoebicidal properties. The constituent believed to be responsible for most of chaparral’s medicinal activity is a lignan compound known as nordihydroguaiaretic acid , or “NDGA”. NDGA may be effective in treating various forms of amebiasis, including Entamoeba histolytica 2, an amoebae that can be passed from humans to the digestive tracts of dogs (and rarely, to other animals), and which causes acute or chronic colitis which is characterized by persistent diarrhea. It has also been proved effective against Salmonella, Streptococcus, Phylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, and various other pathogens and moulds3. Unfortunately, chaparral’s toxicity prohibits it from most internal uses However, its remarkable antimicrobial properties make it an excellent, broad-spectrum topical agent that is as useful for the animal handler as it is for the animal receiving care. As a hand rinse that is used before and after the handling of animals which may carry Salmonella or other transmittable pathogens, or as a rinse that is applied prior to handling animals which are prone to infection from human-carried pathogens, a decoction of chaparral serves an effective, two-way adjunct to soap and water. For external treatment of fungal infections of the hooves, nails, or skins of various large and small animals, chaparral is among the first herbs to try. Just remember: Keep chaparral from going into the animal’s digestive tract (see Cautions & Comments, below).
Availability: Available through herb retailers; profusely available in the low desert regions of Southwest US and Mexico.
Propagation & Harvest: In arid regions, chaparral can be transplanted into the garden as a slow-growing landscape shrub. The leaves, twigs, and flowers can be harvested any time.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For antibacterial skin rinses, bee balm, chamomile, sage, thyme, or rosemary can be used. For treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin disorders, chaparral combines well with calendula or aloe.
Cautions & Comments: Ingestion of this plant in large enough quantities, in any form, may lead to liver damage. For this reason, it is a good idea to take extra measures in assuring that your animal does not lick external applications of chaparral off after they are applied. Therefore, we recommend that you wrap dogs, cats, or other small animals in a towel, after a skin rinse has been applied. For more ideas on how to reduce risk of ingestion, review the “preparations” segment of this outline.
1. Smart, C.R., et al. “Clinical experience with nordihydroguaiaretic acid – chapparal tea in the treatment of cancer.” Rocky Mt. Med. Journal, pp.39-43, Nov., 1970.
2. Segura, J.J., et al. “In vitro amoebicidal activity of Larrea tridentata.” Bol Estud Med Biol., 1979; 30: 267-68.
3. Gisvold, O., Thaker, E. “Lignans from Larrea divaricata.” Journal of Pharmaceutical Science, 1974; 63: 1905-07.
CHICKWEED Stellaria media Pink family
Appearance: Common Chickweed is a weak-stemmed, sprawling annual that is commonly found in lush, low-growing mats or entangled in other growth (often times in the rose bed). Chickweed exhibits a unique characteristic which makes it very easy to differentiate from all look-alikes: a line of minute hairs run up only one side of the stem; switching sides at each pair of leaves (see photo). Opposite leaves may grow to 1 1/2″ and range in shape from broadly lanceolate to ovate, but always with distinct points at their tips. Flowers are small (1/4″ across) and white; with five petals that are clefted at their tips to give the false appearance of ten petals. These flowers, and the small oval seed capsules, are suspended away from the main stems of the plant on proportionately long stalks which are borne from the leaf axils. The reproductive prowess of this plant compensates for its structural frailties, for as the weak stems fall to the ground from the weight of the leaves, they take root at their numerous nodes to extend their outward sprawl. And despite its annual existence, Chickweed blooms continuously… each time dropping seeds as it continues its march.
Habitat & Range: Chickweed inhabits moist meadows, ravines and disturbed areas throughout all of North America… from the Brooks Range of Alaska to all points southward.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual that blooms and free-seeds itself continuously throughout growth.
Parts Used: The freshly harvested leaves, flowers, and stems.
Actions: Emollient, demulcent, diuretic, tonic.
Affinities: Skin and digestive tract.
Preparation: Fresh whole plant, fresh juice of the plant, water or oil infusion, salves, ointments. If you have access to a juicer, try this: juice enough of the fresh plants to fill an ice cube tray (preferably a stainless steel one), then freeze it. If the tray is stored in a Ziplock bag and kept in a very cold freezer, the frozen juice cubes will keep for about three months. Individual cubes can be thawed and the juice can be used as needed; internally or externally.
Specific Uses: Whether for human or animal purposes, chickweed is a safe, delicious resource for providing soothing, cooling relief for virtually any form of minor irritation. Internally, chickweed acts to soothe, protect, and mildly lubricate the upper digestive tract. Fed in its entire fresh form, it is useful for relieving minor esophageal irritations— such as something that Rover ate that didn’t go down so easily, or even a minor bite or sting that Godzilla the Iguana has suffered from snapping at an insect that came from a bad neighborhood. Chickweed can also be fed to dogs or cats as a source of lubrication and light roughage that may assist in the expulsion of hairballs. For mild cases of stomach upset which are believed to be the result of an irritated stomach-lining, or for a mild case of colitis, fresh chickweed or chickweed juice is indicated as a mild, first aid tonic for dogs, cats, horses, or any variety of herbivore. If chickweed is not astringent or mucilaginous enough to bring relief, the therapy can be progressively “upgraded” with stronger herbs (See “Alternatives and Adjuncts, below). Chickweed is very nutritious, and is an excellent nutritive and digestive tonic for birds. Chickweed poultices are useful for cooling and soothing minor burns; and skin irritations;; particularly when associated with itching and dryness.
Availability: Chickweed is a “wayside weed” that grows just about everywhere in the world. If you cannot find a wild source, many specialty seed catalogs now carry the seed. Don’t bother with the dried herb you are likely to find in the market place— it just isn’t the same!
Propagation & Harvest: Because chickweed is a vigorous free-seeder, transplanting it into the garden is as easy as grabbing a handful of the plants and spreading them on a moist flowerbed. Give your chickweed plenty of water, rich soil, and at least four hours of shade each day, and it will likely be at your service forever. Although this plant likes to sprawl, its delicate (and delicious) nature seldom poses a problem to the weed weary gardener.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Aloe juice or gel can be used as a better option for burns and irritations of the skin. In salves and ointments, chickweed combines nicely with calendula or St. John’s wort. For cases of gastrointestinal irritation that will not respond to chickweed’s gentle nature, slippery elm, plantain, or marshmallow should be considered.
Cautions & Comments: Chickweed can generally be considered a safe, medicinal food plant— it can be fed to most animals in whatever quantities they desire. However, very large quantities of chickweed can have a laxative effect, and always keep in mind that some animals may be allergic to chickweed. Perhaps the most important thing to consider with the use of this plant , is that it often lives among hated weeds that have been subjected to herbicides, and it is frequently found in waste areas that are subject to various contaminants. Never gather chickweed from cultivated areas, road margins, or any other place where toxic residues might be present.
CLEAVERS Galium aparine Madder family
Appearance: The Galium genus is large and widespread, with no less than 13 species in the Pacific Northwest alone. Species can be generally divided into two groups: perennial and annual. In essence, the annual varieties are sprawlers and climbers, often forming ground-covering mats; with much weaker taproots and more delicate stems and leaves than perennial species. All Galiums have four-sided stems and slender leaves that grow in whorled clusters of 2-8 (depending on species)… like bicycle spokes. Flowers are very small and white to greenish in color. Galium aparine (photo) is a widely distributed annual variety which has earned most of the appeal of the herb market because of its delicate, aromatic, and readily water soluble nature. It has earned the common names of “Cleavers” or “Tangleweed;” because of the thousands of infinitesimal, reversed hooks on the angles of its stems. These tiny hooks enable the plant to cling to just about anything in a fashion similar to the way static-charged hair will cling to clothing. This allows Cleavers to effectively reproduce… as the delicate, seed-bearing foliage is easily uprooted and carried away by the passerby. Perennial varieties such as Northern Bedstraw; (G. boreale… also illustrated) do not share this unique characteristic.
Habitat & Range: Galium aparine (Cleavers) and most other annual varieties prefer moist habitats and are commonly found growing in shaded ravines and along streams. G. boreale (Northern Bedstraw) and other perennial species can tolerate a much wider diversity of habitats and are commonly found along road margins and in dry, sunny areas. Both Cleavers and Northern Bedstraw are common throughout North America and most of the northern hemisphere, up to about 6000′ in elevation.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Annual or perennial (depending on species). Most Galiums bloom in early to mid summer.
Parts Used: The entire, fresh plant.
Actions: Tonic, alterative, diuretic, astringent, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary.
Affinities: Lymph system, urinary tract, skin
Preparation: Juice, tincture, or tea of the fresh plant.
Specific Uses: Herbalists have long regarded cleavers as a valuable lymphatic tonic. It is used in virtually any condition that is characterized by general or localized swelling, or in situations where lymphatic circulation has been impaired by the formation of scar tissue, ulceration, or infection. Although the activities of cleavers are very subtle, the herb is believed to increase circulation of lymph in impaired areas of the body, through dilation of small (almost cellular level) capillaries. This would explain cleavers’ remarkable ability to help speed the healing of gastric ulcers, and its long-standing reputation for helping with the systemic drainage of lymph-engorged cysts, tumors, and inflammed tissues of the urinary tract. In addition to its lymphatic qualities, cleavers lends mild astringent activities to its job of relieving inflammations of the upper digestive and urinary tracts. In cats, these activities make cleavers a safe, long term aid in the treatment of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (also known as Feline Urinary Syndrome, or FUS), and the herb may also be useful for chronic, low grade kidney inflammation. Because cleavers is thought to increase lymphatic flow throughout the body tissues, it stands to reason that it may be useful as an “alterative” therapy in the treatment of various skin disorders. In essence, the lymph system is responsible for “washing” the body tissues. Throughout the body, lymph is passed across capillary barriers to remove waste materials from healthy cell communities. The lymph is then returned to the blood stream, where in a properly functioning body it is cleaned of waste material by the liver and kidneys. The waste then (hopefully) leaves the body via the usual urinary and digestive outlets. From a holistic perspective, skin problems such as psoriasis and eczema are usually the result of poor elimination of systemic waste— instead of being “washed” out by the lymph sytem, “filtered” by the liver and kidneys, and eliminated out of the body, the waste materials build up in the body— and dis-eases like rheumatoid arthritis, flakey, oily, or itchy skin result. By improving lymphatic circulation, a critical level of systemic waste management is assisted.
Although relatively little scientific research has been done to validate these claims, its long history of use and safe track record make cleavers a worthwhile tonic for those of us who are willing to accept a healing of nature at its face value. A typical starting dose (of the glycerin tincture) for dogs, cats, horses, birds, or other animals, is 0.5ml-1.0 ml per 50 lbs. of the animal’s body weight, twice daily. Horses, rabbits, or other herbivores can be fed the fresh herb in their daily meals.
Availability: Cleavers is a common wild plant throughout most of the northern hemisphere. It is available in various forms at your local herb retailer, but bear in mind that the dried herb (or any preparation or the dried herb) is inferior medicine if compared with the fresh plant. If you plan to purchase a commercial preparation of cleavers, check the label to make sure that it was produced from the fresh plant— otherwise, you might be buying an expensive “nothing.” Fresh plant tinctures, in our opinion, are the way to go.
Propagation & Harvest: A few specialty seed catalogs offer cleavers (Galium aparine) seed, and many nurseries sell starts of “sweet woodruff”— a generic term for any variety of perennial Galiums that are sold as bedding plants. While these cultivars likely possess medicinal attributes, exactly how they measure up to the “herbalist-approved” Galium aparine is unknown.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For problems involving the lymphatic system, cleavers combines with calendula, echinacea, or astragalus. For skin and liver problems, cleavers is best if combined with alterative, diuretic, and cholagogue herbs— dandelion, burdock, oregon grape, milk thistle, and yellow dock should be investigated. For treatment of tumors, cleavers is traditionally combined with red clover, licorice, violet, or aloe. For urinary tract problems, check out corn silk, marshmallow, and couchgrass as alternatives or adjuncts.
Cautions & Comments:
Cleavers is a very safe herb, and no contraindications have been noted with animal or human use. Although rare, allergic reaction is a possibility to consider before feeding.
COLTSFOOT Tussilago or Petasites species Sunflower family
Appearance: The common name “coltsfoot” is shared by two, distinctly different genera: Tussilago and Petasites. The classic, “Old World” coltsfoot is Tussilago farfara ; a European native which produces light yellow, dandelion-like flowers and proportionately large, heart-shaped leaves. The Petasites genus on the other hand, produces its flowers on a leafless stem before the leaves fully develop. Five species of Petasites inhabit North America, while Tussilago farfara is strictly a naturalized import in North America. Both genera of coltsfoot are equally valuable as medicines. For the purposes of identifying varieties that are native to North America, I will focus this section on the Petasites clan of coltsfoots.
The flowers of Petasites are generally drab and feather-like; ranging in color from white to light purple, and are presented in terminal cluster atop a reddish stem. Leaves vary in shape, according to species; from triangular (P. frigidus/nivalis) or narrowly arrow-shaped (P. sagitatta), to broadly oval-shaped with deep, palmate lobes(P. palmatus). The 3″-10″ wide leaves are presented on long petioles which extend directly from thick, creeping rootstocks, and are dark green on their upper surfaces; lighter and felt-like on their undersides.
Habitat & Range: Coltsfoot requires consistent moisture at its feet, and is usually found along streams, in wet meadows, and on shaded road margins; particularly where water seepage is continuously present. Several species of Petasites range in forested areas from Alaska southward to California; and eastward across the northern half of North America. The European variety of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) has escaped cultivation in the Northeastern portions of the United States, where it enjoys similar habitat characteristics.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Late March to Early June.
Parts Used: Leaves and stems of the mature plant.
Actions: Expectorant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial.
Affinities: Lungs and upper respiratory.
Preparation: Water infusion (tea), tincture, or syrup.
Specific Uses: Coltsfoot has long been regarded as a first choice for relieving the rawness and pain of unproductive, spasmodic coughs. It is soothing because of its mucilage, and the constituent petasin acts as an anti-spasmodic and nerve sedative for the bronchial rings and pulmonary receptors. Coltsfoot is useful in easing the discomforts of respiratory infections that are characterized by a dry cough or seemingly immobile accumulations of thick phlegm in the bronchi. We find it particularly useful for tracheobronchitis in dogs (specifically kennel cough), especially when combined with antiviral herbs, such as licorice. Preparations of Tussilago farfara have been shown to inhibit Bordetella pertussis , a bacterial component of the kennel cough malady, as well as various other strains of gram-negative bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Proteus hauseri, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Proteus vulgaris1,2,3. All of this makes coltsfoot useful as a respiratory disinfectant, expectorant, and anti-tussive in a wide variety of different animals, and it does so in a very holistic manner— many forms of cough-suppressants (including wild cherry bark) simply suppress the body’s efforts to heal itself, by acting upon the brain, to block the body’s cough response mechanisms. Coltsfoot on the other hand, does its service by gently assisting the body in its efforts to clear invading microbes and their effects out of the upper respiratory tract.
Glycerin tinctures are the ideal form of administration for this herb— 0.5-1.5ml (or about 1/3 of a teaspoon) per 20 lbs. of an animal’s body weight, twice to three times daily is a good starting dosage for most animals.
In humans, coltsfoot has been used for hundreds of years in the treatment of respiratory ailments ranging from chest colds; to whooping cough;, asthma;, and viral pneumonia:viral;.
Availability: Although coltsfoot is currently under FDA scrutiny and will likely be labeled as “unsafe for internal use”, the tincture or dried herb remains widely available through herb retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: Coltsfoot (both Tussilago and Petasites ) can be propagated in the garden if given ample shade and rich, consistently moist, slightly acid soil. This plant does best in a cool climate, and is quite winter-hardy.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For deep coughs and bronchial congestion, coltsfoot may be combined with mullein, horehound, licorice, or elecampane. For respiratory infections that are believed to be of bacterial or fungal origin, coltsfoot can be “boosted” with echinacea, Oregon grape, bee balm, or thyme. For respiratory viruses, licorice and echinacea are good adjuncts.
Cautions & Comments: Coltsfoot contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (or “PAs”), a potentially toxic group of compounds which may lead to liver damage if ingested in excess over extended periods of time. The PA content of coltsfoot is about one-third of that which is contained in comfrey (Symphytum sp.), and most of this compound is contained in the plant’s flowers; not the leaves and stems. What this means is that the PA content of coltsfoot is really quite low. Nevertheless, it can cause harm if coltsfoot is used in absence of common sense. For more on pyrrolizidine alkaloids, see the outline on comfrey.
1. Didry, N. et al. “Components and activity of Tussilago farfara.” Ann Pharm Fr 1982; 40: 75-80.
2. Didry, N., Pinkas, M. “Antibacterial activity of fresh leaves of Tussilago sp.” Bull Soc Pharm (Lille) 1982; 38: 51-52.
3. Ieven, M. et al. “Screening of higher plants for biological activities I. antimicrobial activity.” Planta med, 1979; 36: 311-21.
COMFREY Symphytum officinale Borage family
Appearance: Comfrey is a robust plant— with coarsely-textured, broadly lance-shaped, alternate leaves that may exceed a foot in length at the base of the plant; getting progressively smaller toward the top of the plant. The leaves and hollow stalk of the plant are covered with bristly hairs that tend to irritate human skin. The downy, tubular flowers are presented from the axils of the small upper leaves in drooping clusters, and are usually a shade of pink or purple, but sometimes white or pale yellow. Large plants may reach three or more feet in height, and multiply vigorously by continuous root division, sometimes forming their own sort of hedge-like clump. Symphytum uplandicum (Russian comfrey), may grow in excess of six feet tall.
Habitat & Range: Over 35 species of Symphytum are in cultivation worldwide, most having originated from Europe and Western Asia. In North America, Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Russian comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum) are the most common garden varieties.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms from early spring to late fall.
Parts Used: All above-ground parts.
Actions: Vulnerary, cell-proliferant, anti-inflammatory, astringent, demulcent, expectorant.
Affinities: Skin, digestive tract, respiratory.
Preparation: Water or oil infusion, poultice, salve, fomentation (compress).
Specific Uses: Where does one start with an herb that has had such a rich history as a healing device? Comfrey has been traditionally used for everything from mastitis in goats, to cancer in humans— and virtual libraries of scientific research and anecdotal records have been compiled over the centuries to substantiate, deny, or otherwise argue comfrey’s value and safety as an herbal medicine. Most of what you may have heard about this plant extrapolates to animals (especially mammilian types), including the toxicity issues— and just about everyone who has lived in the company of horses, goats, sheep, llamas, and a comfrey patch, knows just how valuable this plant is.
Comfrey is the among the first herbs to consider in the topical treatment of burns, skin ulceration, abrasions, lacerations, flea and other insect bites, or just about any other irritation. Likewise, a poultice, salve, or infusion of the leaves can be applied directly to bruises, fractures, sprains, and other closed tissue injuries. Most of this is attributible to allantoin ; a compound which has been shown in several studies to speed cell reproduction, both inside and outside of the body. In fact, many herbalists have found that comfrey works so well at “speed-healing” injuries, that it can actually seal bacteria into the site of an open wound, if additional antibacterial measures are not taken at the time of application. To avoid this from happening, a strong antibacterial herb, such as Oregon grape, thyme, Usnea , or St. John’s wort should be added to any comfrey preparation that is intended for open wounds, especially burns. In addition to its cell-proliferation activity, comfrey’s mucilaginous nature adds a soothing, lubricating, and protective barrier to the skin and inflammations of the digestive tract. Adding to this, comfrey also contains rosemarinic acid1 and several other compounds that have been shown to contribute anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and astringent qualities to its list of healing attributes.
For external treatment of closed injuries , skin ulcers, or mastitis, a poultice or fomentation can be made from the fresh or dried leaves and applied to the affected area. If you have access to fresh comfrey leaves (and you should!), wrap a handful in a clean towel, then place the towel into a bowl of boiling water. Allow it to soak until the water just begins to turn green, then remove it, squeeze the excess water back into the bowl, and apply the compress to the affected area. With horses and other large animals, this might require you to secure the compress onto a swollen leg with a strip of gauze or an old (but clean) piece of your retired jeans. Leave the compress on for as long as possible— preferably eight hours or more. The extra “comfrey tea” that you squeezed back into the bowl can be applied to the compress from time to time and allowed to soak through to where it is needed. In cases of mastitis or other ailments where a fixed compress is not practical, an ointment or salve is your better option. If neither of these preparations are available, try making a strong tea of the leaves (fresh leaves are always superior to dried) and rinsing the entire area with the luke warm liquid several times per day.
Internal use of comfrey has become a controversial issue, and is strongly discouraged by the FDA. However, millions of people have been using this herb safely and effectively in their animals (and themselves) for centuries, and just like many other herbs, the safe use of comfrey is measured by moderation and common sense— more on this later.
For treatment of colitis, stomach ulcers, or just about any other inflammation of the digestive tract, a handful of the fresh leaves, or 2-3 oz. of the dried leaves can be fed directly to horses and other large herbivores on a daily basis for up to two weeks. For dogs and cats, one-half to one teaspoon of the dried herb for each pound of food fed should be of therapeutic benefit.
Comfrey is traditionally used for bronchitis and other respiratory ailments that are relieved by its soothing, anti-inflammatory nature. A cooled tea serves this purpose well— a tablespoon per 20 lbs. of the animal’s body weight, twice daily. However, in all cases of internal use, feeding of comfrey should be limited to occassional, short term therapies. By no means should comfrey be fed to an animal as a daily food supplement, as the plant contains small, cumulative amounts of potentially toxic, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (or, “PAs” – see Cautions and Comments, which follow). For the same reason, highly concentrated preparations, such as tinctures or strong decoctions, should not be employed internally.
Availability: Any nursery that carries herb plants has access to comfrey. The dried herb, and various salves, ointments, and other preparations containing comfrey are available through health food retailers and herb stores.
Propagation & Harvest: Comfrey can be easily started from root cuttings. It will grow in just about any soil, and is hardy to at least Zone 4. The biggest plants though, are found in rich, deep, moist soil with a pH level in the range of 6 to 7.5. Once established, comfrey needs little attention. In fact, its rambunctious growth will amaze you— we live in an area of Montana that has a scant 100 day growing season and winter temperatures that may plunge to 40 degrees below zero, yet our comfrey (which grows from beneath the foundation of the house), can be divided into multiple new starts at least twice per year!
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For external applications, comfrey combines especially well with calendula, chamomile, aloe, St. John’s wort, or bee balm. For gastric disorders, comfrey combines with cleavers, calendula, catnip, or chamomile.
Cautions & Comments: The issues of toxicity that have haunted comfrey in recent years have become a major subject of frustration to herbalists, a source of apprehension and political ammunition for opponents of herbal medicine, and a wealth of misinformation, confusion, and fear for the casual herb user. While the FDA and other protective agencies are doing their jobs as best they can during a major health care revolution and it is not our intent to criticize them, most herbalists will agree that comfrey has received a bad reputation. The FDA has banned the sale of comfrey for internal use, but in thousands of years of use by millions of people, only two reports of hepatotoxicity have been documented in humans2,3. Indeed, comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs); compounds which are known to cause liver damage and/or cancer if ingested in large enough quantities. However, most of the concern surrounding these alkaloids comes from studies or cases where the alkaloids were isolated from the rest of the plant’s chemistry, then fed or injected into test animals in quantities or concentrations which are hundreds of times greater than that which would occur in nature. Common sense dictates that anything which is ingested in over-abundance is potentially toxic, but given the fact that the PA content in a fresh comfrey leaf amounts to only about 0.3% of its total chemistry, the average horse would need to eat several hundred pounds of the leaves each day before any toxic effects were observed! A cup of coffee contains over one dozen potentially toxic alkaloids— so does chocolate. However, the real threat from PAs come from the fact that these alkaloids may accumulate in the body, perhaps to toxic levels, if used continually over a long period of time. Therefore, if you plan to use comfrey or any other herb which contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids in an internal application, do so with moderation and only for short periods of time. Don’t use comfrey in pregnant or lactating animals, or in animals with preexisting liver disease. Also, keep in mind that the PA content of the root is ten times greater than that of the fresh leaves, therefore, the root shouldn’t be used internally. On the other hand, the PA content of the dried leaves, the form in which comfrey is most readily available in the marketplace, is practically nil.
1. Gracza, L. et al. “Biochemical-pharmachological investigations of medicinal agents of plant origin, I: Isolation of rosmarinic acid from Symphytum officinale and its anti-inflammatory activity.” Arch Pharm (Weinheim) 1985; 318: 1090-05.
2. Weston, CFm, et al. “Veno-occlusve disease of the liver secondary to ingestion of comfrey.” British Medical Journal, 1987; 295: 183.
3. Ridker, PM et al. “Hepatic venocclusive disease associated with the consumption of pyrrolizidine-containing dietary supplements.” Gastroenterology 1985; 88:1050-54.
CORN SILK Zea mays Grass family
Appearance: Sorry if you were expecting something other than the obvious here— but the “corn silk” we are referring to here is simply the hair-like, pollen-receiving portion of a corn stalk we are all familiar with (i.e., the part most of us throw away first, when we peel an ear of corn!).
Habitat & Range: Farms and gardens throughout the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual that blooms in early summer— the “silk” develops just as the plant is beginning to form cobs.
Parts Used: The silk.
Actions: Diuretic, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, cholagogue, astringent.
Affinities: Genitourinary tract, including the kidneys.
Preparation: A low-alcohol (less than 25% alcohol) tincture, or an infusion (tea) of the fresh silk is preferable. The dried silk may be used if it is very fresh, but it in no way will it equal silk which has been recently pulled from the plant.
Specific Uses: First and foremost, corn silk is indicated wherever chronic inflammation exists in any portion of the urinary tract or kidneys. It is specifically indicated in feline lower urinary tract disease (also formerly known as “feline urinary syndrome”, or “FUS”), where it serves to reduce inflammation without causing added irritation to the kidneys. Unlike many other diuretic/astringent herbs which are used to increase urine output by means of kidney irritation , corn silk does not contain harsh volatile oils which may compound the problems of inflammatory kidney disease. Therefore, it is very useful for improving kidney function during early onset kidney failure, or for helping with the reduction of pain and inflammation in the passing of kidney or bladder stones (especially when combined with marshmallow). The astringency factor of corn silk is enough to tighten and strengthen the lining of the bladder and smooth muscle tissues of the urinary tract, making it useful in some cases of chronic urinary incontinence, but it is not strong enough to effectively stop acute cases of bleeding or inflammation. In other words, corn silk is best remembered as a long term medicine for chronic urinary problems.
Corn silk has been shown to possess cholagogue, diuretic, hypoglycemic, and hypotensive activities in laboratory animals1. All of these activities serve as clues into why corn silk is especially effective as a general kidney tonic.
The effectiveness of fresh silk over dried cannot be over stated, and the best methods of administration involve the direct feeding of the herb in a low-alcohol liquid base (a strong tea is really ideal). Dosage is difficult to generalize because of the variable nature of genitourinary diseases. But— a safe starting point is to use one milliliter (on average, about 30 drops or so, or 1/4 tsp.) of the low-alcohol tincture, per 20 lbs. of the animal’s body weight, twice daily. If the tincture is alcohol-free, it can be administered directly into the mouth. If not, it should be no more than 25% alcohol, and should then be further diluted with at least an equal amount of water. To make a tea of the fresh silk, chop it as finely as possible, then steep a heaping tablespoon of the herb in near boiling water until the mixture cools. The tea is then strained and fed to the animal; 1/4 cup (if possible) per 20 lbs of body weight, twice daily. Many herbivores enjoy eating corn silk. This is fine— but remember that if you want to get an optimum amount of the herb into your animal’s urinary tract, it really needs to be administered as a liquid.
Availability: Here’s a problem— finding dried corn silk is easy, and several manufacturer’s provide extracts of this herb, but if it’s fresh corn silk you are after, you might have to plant some corn in the herb garden. If you have access to organically-raised fresh corn at your health food store, you can use the silk from this. However, non-organic sources of corn silk should be avoided, as the silk has likely been sprayed with a pesticide. Cornsilk should look fresh, juicy, and colorful. If it has turned brown, much of its medicinal activity is diminished.
Propagation & Harvest: Corn is easy to grow, and there are dozens of cultivars available to suit virtually any set of growing conditions (we live at 5500′ elevation in Montana, and even we can grow it!). Harvest your cornsilk when it appears as full and alive as it will ever be— this is usually in early summer. If you plan on eating corn, make sure that it is given an opportunity to receive pollen from the tassels of the plants for at least a week before you harvest, otherwise your cobs will have no kernels. Plan on using your fresh silk immediately. The cooled tea can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week— the glycerin tincture will keep for at least a year if kept refrigerated.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For chronic urinary tract inflammation, corn silk combines well with couchgrass, calendula, or cleavers. If infection is evident, add echinacea, Oregon grape, yarrow, or thyme. For urinary incontinence, read about St. John’s wort, ginkgo, and uva-ursi. To help pass kidney stones, try a 50/50 combination of cornsilk and marshmallow. For use as a kidney tonic, corn silk combines with marshmallow, hawthorn, ginkgo, or goldenrod. For use in feline lower urinary tract disease, cornsilk combines with couchgrass, echinacea, marshmallow, and horsetail.
Cautions & Comments: Corn silk is known to be very safe, however, since this herb is actually the pollen-receiving part of plant, it stands to reason that animals with pollen allergies may have adverse reactions to corn silk. Corn silk has been shown to stimulate uterine contractions in rabbits, and therefore should be used with caution(if at all) in pregnant animals.
1. Leung, AY. Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs and cosmetics.” New York-Chichester: Wiley, 1980.
COUCHGRASS 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.
Availability: Couchgrass is not a very popular herb in America (it is very popular in Europe), and some of the dried rhizome that you find in the herb stores will be on the verge of becoming useless dust. Fortunately, it grows everywhere— the only problem is identifying it among other weeds, and finding the physical stamina to dig the stubborn rhizomes. If you meet this criteria, you can easily become a garden hero in your neighborhood (on the other hand, everyone may think you’re nuts for actually wanting the stuff!). The golden rule: beware of pesticides. Finding “clean” couchgrass can often be difficult.
Propagation & Harvest: As far as propagating couchgrass— go ahead if you don’t mind sacrificing the engine on your rototiller and don’t care if it strangles the rest of the garden. The rhizomes can be harvested anytime throughout the growth season, but are usually strongest when dug in the fall. The best medicines are made from the fresh rhizomes, but dried roots are useful too, if used within a year of digging. Good luck— the stuff is really tough!
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For urinary inflammations that are secondary to infection, combine with Oregon grape, organically-raised goldenseal, thyme, or echinacea. For stones or any other cause of urinary tract inflammation, marshmallow, corn silk, and plantain are valuable adjuncts. If blood is present in the urine— see your holistic veterinarian— your pet needs stronger measures than couchgrass.
Cautions & Comments: No toxicity has been noted for couchgrass, although excessive amounts may lead to vomiting or diarrhea. Always be careful about verifying the source- cleanliness of this herb— it is on just about everybody’s “noxious weed” list, and pesticide residues can remain with the plant for several years.
1. Leung, AY. Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs and cosmetics.” New York-Chichester: Wiley, 1980.
DANDELION 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.
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.
Propagation & Harvest: If you wish to propagate dandelion (no, I’m not insane!), give them deep humus-rich soil, full sun. Gather dandelion greens in early spring for use in salads, they get bitter with age. Leaves intended for herbal teas and medicines can be gathered anytime, provided it is done in dry weather. Wet dandelions tend to develop mold while they are drying… don’t wash them after picking! Shake them off and dry them on newspapers in a well ventilated area, away from light. Then stir them often to prevent molding and store them in baggies only after they are completely, crispy dry. Gather the roots as late in fall as possible; this is when they contain the greatest concentration of beneficial constituents. Chop them up (I use a food processor), then spread them onto newspaper and dry with the same consideration you gave to the leaves.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For liver and digestive problems, check out milk thistle, burdock, yellow dock, marshmallow, chickweed, and Oregon grape as possible adjuncts or alternatives.
Cautions & Comments: The first and foremost consideration in using dandelion as food or medicine is the cleanliness of the plants you are using. Always make sure that the greens you are feeding have never been sprayed with herbicide. If they ever have, don’t try washing them; move on to another patch… you won’t have trouble finding more!
1. Chariot, E. & Charonnat, R. “Therapeutic Agents in Bile Secretion.” Ann. Med., 37, pp. 131-142, 1935.
2. Ripperger, W., “Pflanzliche laxatien und cholagogue wirkungen.” Medizinische Welt, 9, pp. 1463-1467, 1935.
DILL Anethum graveolens Parsley family
Appearance: A healthy dill plant is an attractive addition to the herb garden. Plants may reach six feet in height. The dark green, finely-divided leaves have a delicate, “feathery” appearance, and the yellow, umbel flowers are attractive to bees. The entire plant is distinctively aromatic and delicious— just brushing past one makes my mouth water!
Habitat & Range: Originally a native to Southeast Europe and Southwest Asia, dill is a common resident in herb gardens world wide.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual which blooms in early to mid-summer, dill is very successful at reproducing from the copious quantities of viable seed it produces shortly after blooming.
Parts Used: Foliage, flowers, and seeds.
Actions: Carminative, stomachic, galactigogue, antibacterial, diuretic.
Affinities: Digestive tract.
Preparation: Feeding of the fresh or dried herb, tea, tincture, poultice.
Specific Uses: Dill is very good for relieving nausea and flatulence, especially when such maladies are secondary to a sudden change in diet— such as when puppy decides to swipe a tamale from your foolishly unattended dinner plate. The effectiveness of dill in this capacity is largely attributable to the plant’s numerous volatile oil constituents, which combine to have an anti-foaming action in the stomach1, much like many over-the-counter anti-gas remedies. The highest concentrations of these oils are held within the seeds of the plant, but the dried leaves and stems (the stuff you likely have in the kitchen) can be used too. If your dog is belching something which is suspiciously reminiscent of what was supposed to be your dinner, and the problem appears to be getting progressively (and menacingly) worse, try direct-feeding 2-8 ounces of cooled dill seed tea (one tsp. to 8 ounces of water) to the animal. If your animal doesn’t like the flavor, try adding the tea to its drinking water— or if need be, disguise it as “yummy people food” by making the tea with some clear, unsalted broth instead of water. If belching, bloating, or other forms of indigestion are a problem after every feeding , call a holistic veterinarian while reassessing your animal’s diet. Think holistically— a sprinkling of ground dill seed on the animal’s food may bring about symptomatic relief, but if the condition is on-going, a deeper problem needs to be addressed.
In addition to providing remedial relief from excess gas, dill also possess antibacterial qualities which are strong enough to inhibit bacterial reproduction in the mouth, but too weak to compromise beneficial microbes deeper in the digestive tract. This makes dill very useful for treating halitosis and the early-onset of gingivitis in dogs and cats. Again, the herb or seeds can be infused and added to the animal’s drinking water— or a poultice or glycerin tincture can be swabbed onto the animal’s gum line, two or three times daily.
Dill is useful for treating mild to moderate cases of colic. If they will take it, horses and other large herbivores can be fed the seeds or even the entire, fresh plant— as much as they need to find relief.
Dill seed contains carvone, anethofuran, and limonene ; volatile oils which have been shown to increase the production of cancer-fighting enzymes (namely, glutathione S-transferase, or “GST”) in the body2. These enzymes react with certain types of carcinogenic chemicals, with the end result of eliminating them from the system. While this in itself represents only a small measure of cancer-prevention, it certainly makes dill another “medicinal food” to consider when custom-tailoring your animal’s diet plan. While dill does contain limonene, a substance that is known to repel fleas, it’s presence is not large enough to be of use by itself. However, the carvone which dill contains is believed to increase the effectiveness of various other natural insecticides (such as those contained in feverfew or oxeye daisy), making dill a useful adjunct in the never-ending battle against fleas.
Dill has a folkloric reputation as a galactigogue ; a substance which stimulates the production of milk in nursing mothers.
Availability: The grocery store or your favorite nursery.
Propagation & Harvest: Dill is easy to grow from seed or starts, and can be fall seeded for an early spring harvest in areas where winters are harsh. In areas where the growing season is long but not too hot, a continuous, self-seeding crop of dill is not only possible, but perhaps inevitable. Harvest the leaves and flowers when they are lush and aromatic, the seeds shortly after they have turned brown; before they begin to fall to the ground. This is best accomplished by clipping the entire umbel off, then shaking the seeds into a paper bag.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For gas and other digestive problems, dill combines with fennel, parsley seed, or catnip. For infections of the mouth, Oregon grape, sage and thyme are stronger options. For bad breath, parsley, dill, and peppermint makes an an excellent combination formula. For fleas, try making a skin and coat rinse by combining dill, feverfew flowers, and yarrow into a tea.
Cautions & Comments: Dill is very safe. However, because of its volatile oil constituents, dill should be used conservatively in pregnant or lactating animals.
1. Foster, Steven. “Herbal Renaissance”, p. 83-4. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 1993.
2. Zheng, G.Q.,P.M., Kenney. “Anethofuran, carvone, and limonene: Potential Cancer Chemopreventative Agents from Dill Weed Oil and Caraway Oil.” Planta Medica 58: 338-41, 1992.
ECHINACEA 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: Most often the root is used. The leaves, stems, and flowers are useful too, although they are much weaker medicine.
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 isobutylamides1,2. 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.
Echinacea is also used with some success for colic in horses; with free-feeding of the fresh leaves, stems, and flowers being the most popular method of administration.
Availability: Various preparations of echinacea are widely available through health product retailers. The seeds and plants are available through most nurseries. Because of continuing over-harvest, wild stands of this plant are at at risk of disappearing forever. Please make sure that the echinacea you are using is from cultivated sources.
Propagation & Harvest: Echinacea purpurea, the primary echinacea of commerce, is easy to grow and requires little care once the plants are established. Seeds require cold, damp stratification, and light to break their dormancy. This means that the seeds must be sown on top of the soil, or covered with just a trace of soil in order to germinate.
Roots must be at least three years old to be of medicinal value.
Varieties such as E. pallida and E. angustifolia are much more finicky, but not impossible to grow in the garden . However, before you choose to pull your hair out to grow these varieties, bear in mind that despite what herbalists once thought, the gardener-friendly Echinacea purpurea provides medicine which is as potent as any others.
Plants are hardy to at least zone 4, and are very drought tolerant when mature. A well-established stand of echinacea will reseed itself, and mature plants can bear roots of up to three pounds each.
Dig mature echinacea roots from the garden after the plant has gone dormant for the winter; after the plants’ third year of growth has been completed. The roots can be chopped and tinctured while fresh, or dried and ground for use in teas. The dried roots can be tinctured as well.
Leaves, stems, and flowers can be selectively harvested when they are in full bloom, in mid-summer. If you opt to do this, bear in mind that a preponderance of leaves and flowers must remain on the plants to provide life-support for the roots and to produce viable seeds.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Virtually any of the alterative;, diuretic;, cholagogue;, or expectorant ;herbs combine well with echinacea to support the body through various forms of microbial infection. To help fight infections of the mouth,; digestive tractinfections of;, or urinary tract, echinacea serves as an excellent adjunct to Oregon grape; or couchgrass. As a lymphatic, echinacea combines well with cleavers.
Cautions & Comments: Because echinacea stimulates immune functions, it should not be used in situations where abnormal immune functions are already present. This would include any disease where the immune system actually works against itself, such as in multiple sclerosis, leukosis (where an overpopulation of white blood cells already exists), diabetes mellitus, feline AIDS, or any condition which involves an increased immune response. When used in the presence of any of these diseases, echinacea can have aggravating effects. In circumstances where immune function is diminished and white blood counts are low, it has been theorized that echinacea may cause a dangerous stimulatory response, triggering invading microbes to reproduce faster.
Remember… echinacea’s roles are always complimentary to a healthy immune system. Consult your holistic veterinarian if you are uncertain of your animal’s level of disease resistence, before using echinacea.
1. Bauer, R. Wagner, H. “Echinacea — der sonehut — stand der forshung”. Zeitschrift fur Phytotherapie 9:151-159, 1988
2. Bauer, R. Wagner, H. “Echinacea species as potential immunostimulatory drugs”. In: Wagner, H., Farnsworth, N.R. (eds.), Economic and medicinal Plant Research. Volume 5, New York: Academic Press, pp. 253-351, 1991.
3. Foster, Steven, “Echinacea – The Cold & Flu remedy”. Alternative Complimentary Therapies, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1995.
4. Jurcic, K, Melchart, D, Holsmann, M, Martin, P, et al. “Zwei probandenstudien zur stimulierung der granulozytenphagozytose durch echinacea-extract-haltige praparate.” Zeitschrift fur Phytotherapie, 1989; 10:67-70.
ELECAMPANE Inula helenium Sunflower family
Appearance: Elecampane is a stout, impressive plant. Healthy specimens may grow in excess of six feet high. We have seen these plants in tightly-clustered, hedge-like stands so thick that one cannot see daylight through them! The narrowly lance-shaped leaves may exceed sixteen inches in length, and four inches in width. The daisy-like flowers may reach four inches in diameter, are burnt-orange, and have narrow rays which contrast with the robust, overall appearance of the plant. A splendid addition to any herb or flower garden!
Habitat & Range: Probably a native of southeastern Europe, elecampane has become naturalized throughout much of Europe and the eastern portions of the United States. It has been cultivated throughout much of the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that generally blooms in early to mid-summer.
Parts Used: The rhizome (root).
Actions: Expectorant, sedative, respiratory stimulant, demulcent, antibacterial, fungicidal, anthelmintic.
Preparation: Decoction or tincture.
Specific Uses: Elecampane has long been regarded as a valuable medicine for a wide variety of lung disorders. Among herbalists, it is regarded as an expectorant which also lends antibacterial support, mild antitussive qualities, and the soothing relief to mucous membranes by virtue of its mucilage content. In other words, elecampane helps make coughing more productive by stimulating excretion of mucus, acts to protect and lubricate inflamed mucous membranes in the respiratory tract while inhibiting bacterial infection, and serves to suppress the cough response just enough to where the body is relieved of unnecessary stress. Unfortunately, relatively little scientific study has been performed to support all of these claims. However, science has uncovered evidence to suggest that elecampane may have sedative qualities in certain types of animal, and we know that it contains a volatile oil constituent called alantolactone, which is active against roundworms, whipworms, threadworms, and hookworms in humans. Regardless of a lack of scientific study, this plant has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for bronchitis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis— and it is regarded (by herbalists) as a safe enough for use in children with a dry, irritating cough. In animals, we find it useful for soothing a raspy HACK! that is the cause of too much trail dust or perhaps even kennel cough. Proper dose and duration of therapy must be determined through recognition of specific symptoms, and should based on the special needs of the individual animal. Most of what we know about this herb is centered on the hands-on experience of those who are very familiar with it. Therefore, if elecampane seems to be a viable option for your animal, seek the advice of a holistic practitioner before you proceed with its use.
Availability: The dried rhizome or tincture is available through herb retailers. Plants, root cuttings and seeds are available through specialty nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Elecampane likes full sun, and a moist clay loam with an acid pH of 4.5 to 6. Aside from these requirements, you can grow it just about anywhere. Roots are dug in fall of their second year. They can then be processed while fresh, into tincture, or dried in a warm location for future use.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For respiratory disorders associated with heavy congestion, elecampane combines well with mullein, or grindelia. For kennel cough, it can be combined with coltsfoot.
Cautions & Comments: Elecampane has been shown to be highly allergenic in animals and humans with sensitivity to plants in the sunflower (asteraceae) family. Elecampane may interfere with existing hypoglycemic (low blood sugar)therapies or treatment of hypertension. Since research and clinical data relative to elecampane’s use during pregnancy and lactation, common sense dictates that its use in these circumstances should be avoided.
FENNEL Foeniculum vulgare Parsley family
Appearance: Fennel looks very much like dill— delicate, finely divided leaves, yellow umbel flowers, and hollow stems. The most obvious difference rests in the aromatic nature of the plant— fennel smells somewhat like anise (or licorice), whereas dill smells like, well, dill pickles. Fennel also has sturdier stems, and proportionately large bulb, which is considered a gourmet delicacy by salad and sautéed vegetable connoisseurs. The entire plant may grow in excess of six feet tall.
Habitat & Range: Native to Eurasia, fennel has become a full-time, naturalized resident in southern half of California, where it its frequently found on the margins of waste areas.
Cycle & Bloom Season: There are many subspecies of Foeniculum vulgare— many are perennials, others are annuals or biennials. In northern climes, fennel usually grows as an annual.
Parts Used: Seeds, leaves, roots.
Actions: Carminative, antispasmodic, galactogogue, stimulant, nutritive, antibacterial.
Affinities: Digestive tract.
Preparation: Fresh or dried leaves, seeds, or roots, or a tincture or tea of the same.
Specific Uses: Fennel seed is among the first herbs to reach for in cases of flatulence or colic. Its activity in the digestive tract is very similar to that of catnip. However, fennel tastes very different from any mint, and it’s flavor is often favored by dogs and cats who are turned off by “minty” herbs. About 20% of cats won’t go near a flake of catnip, making fennel the herb of choice for gastric upset and irritability. In chronic cases, it serves as a gentle anti-gas and antispasmodic agent that can be added directly to the animal’s food, to bring symptomatic relief while the care taker investigates for the deeper cause of the problem. In acute cases, such as when the horse finds an open bag of molasses and oats that you forgot to put away (or when he grazes on too much fresh alfalfa because you left a gate open), fennel may help to reduce the subsequent bloating caused by intestinal gas build up. For flatulence or colic, horses can be free-fed fresh fennel greens— as much as they want— until they find relief. For dogs and cats, fennel seed works to relieve gastric discomfort from the “no-nos” which are inevitably consumed as a result of human weakness at the Thanksgiving dinner table— or from the dishes that “can wait until morning.” A cooled tea works very well for this purpose— one teaspoon of the fresh or dried seeds (fresh are better) in eight ounces of boiling water, steeped until cool. The tea can be fed at a rate of two to four tablespoons for each 20 pounds of the animal’s body weight, or it can be added to drinking water, as generously as the animal will allow. A glycerin tincture also works very well, and allows the convenience of a smaller dosage for finicky animals— 10-20 drops (or more precisely, up to 0.75ml) per twenty pounds of the animal’s weight, as needed. Fennel is high in vitamin C, A, calcium, iron, and potassium, and varying amounts of linoleic acid. It is an especially good nutritional adjunct for dogs and cats with chronic indigestion which cannot be attributed to a specific disease entity. Fennel also helps increase appetite, and freshens the breath by minimizing belching and through its antibacterial activity in the mouth. The leaf tea is said to be an effective skin and coat rinse, for repelling fleas. Traditionally, fennel is fed to increase milk flow in nursing mothers.
Availability: Fennel seed, root, and sometimes the greens can be found in food stores which stock specialty vegetables. Fennel tinctures are available through herb retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: Fennel is very easy to grow from seed or nursery starts. It does best in areas with a cool climate, and likes light, dry, slightly alkaline soil. The seeds should be harvested in the fall, just as they begin to dry and turn to a light brown color. The leaves and flowers can be harvested and used anytime. For food use, the one inch wide bulb is hilled up with soil and “blanched” throughout the remainder of their growth— this makes the bulbs white and tender, with a mild flavor.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Catnip serves as an excellent alternative, as does anise seed, celery seed, or dill seed. For chronic flatulence, try using a bitter herb, such as dandelion leaf or Oregon grape, a few minutes before each feeding. Fennel can then be used after the meal, if flatulence persists.
Cautions & Comments: Like most plants that derive their medicinal activities from volatile oil constituents, fennel should be used with caution in pregnant or lactating animals. The volatile oils in fennel may also cause a photosensitive dermatitis in some animals, but such occurances are rare. In general, this herb is very safe.
FEVERFEW Tanacetum parthenium Sunflower family
Appearance: Feverfew is a stout, fast-growing plant, with sturdy, ridged stems, deeply divided alternate leaves, and yellow-centered white flowers which look like miniature (one inch wide) white daisies. The entire plant is very aromatic.
Habitat & Range: Feverfew is native to the Balkan region of Europe, and has since been naturalized throughout North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial or biennial which usually blooms from June through August.
Parts Used: All aerial parts.
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, vasodilator, insecticidal, emmenogogue.
Affinities: Vascular system, gastrointestinal, reproductive system.
Preparation: Dried herb, tincture, tea.
Specific Uses: Feverfew has become a well-known remedy for migraine sufferers. Several studies have shown that part of its effectiveness in treating migraines is attributable to a group of sesquiterpene lactones (especially parthinolide), which are contained in the leaves and flowers of the plant. These compounds act to inhibit platelet aggregation in the blood stream, thus preventing blockage of small capillaries and helping to relieve the pounding, high-pressure pain of a migraine headache. In animals, this activity helps relieve post trauma or post surgical discomfort, especially where capillary circulation is diminished or impaired. Feverfew has been shown to block or inhibit release of histamine, serotonin, thromboxane, prostaglandins, while inhibiting proliferation of certain types of mononuclear cells in the synovium of injured or arthritic joints— meaning that feverfew might be useful in proactive reduction of inflammation associated with arthritis, joint injuries, and various other diseases1,2,3.
Feverfew is especially useful in cats, as an alternative to aspirin. Aspirin can be very toxic to felines, as can many of the classic anti-inflammatory herbs (including willow, poplar, and meadowsweet), because they contain salicylic acids; the natural precursors to aspirin (see “Pain Relief”). Feverfew may not address pain as directly as aspirin, but it does not contain any salicylate constituents and can therefore be used at a greater margin of safety. A glycerin-based tincture works well for this, as does a cooled tea. Twelve to twenty drops of the tincture, or 1/2 teaspoon of a strong tea, for each 20 lbs. of the animal’s body weight, twice daily.
The upper parts of feverfew (especially the flowers) contain pyrethrins, compounds which are known to be paralytic to fleas. To make a flea rinse for your pet, cover the chopped, fresh herb with boiling water. Cover the mixture, then let it stand until it is completely cooled. Strain the fluid from the herb, and pour it into your animal’s coat, while making sure that the liquid is soaking down to the animal’s skin. Do not towel dry your pet— let the rinse dry naturally, and be sure to use all of the rinse; the pyrethrin will not remain active for more than a few hours. For more on fighting fleas with feverfew, see the chapter entitled “The Fight Against Fleas.”
Availability: Feverfew is readily available wherever herbal remedies are sold. The plants are available through most nurseries. However, for use against fleas, you really need the fresh plant— so put one in the garden!
Propagation & Harvest: Feverfew is very easy to start from seed or nursery starts. The plants are extremely winter hardy, drought resistant, and will tolerate poor soil. Stuff a plant into the corner of the garden, give it a little water, and watch it go! (In fact, its will free-seed its way right out of the garden!). Harvest the leaves and flowers as you need them.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For relief from pain and inflammation, feverfew combines well with skullcap, valerian, and licorice. For fighting fleas, combine with celery or dill seed, and yarrow.
Cautions & Comments: The fresh foliage of this plant may cause mouth ulcers and therefore should never be fed. To check for sensitivity to feverfew, a small test dose (a drop or two) of tincture or tea should be fed before larger doses are administered. Feverfew should not be used internally for periods exceeding one week. Feverfew act as an abortifacient in animals and humans, and therefore should not be used during pregnancy.
1. Collier, HOJ et al. “Extract of feverfew inhibits prostaglandin biosynthesis.” Lancet, 1980; ii:922-73.
2. Makheja, AM, Bailey, JM. “A platelet phospholipase inhibitor from the medicinal herb, feverfew.” Prostaglandins Leukot Med 1982: 8: 653-60.
3. O’Neill, LAJ et al. “Extracts of feverfew inhibit mitogen-induced human peripheral blood mononuclear cell proliferation and cytokine mediated responses: a cytotoxic effect.” Br J Clin Pharm 1987; 23:81-83.
.FLAX Linum species Flax family
Appearance: There are almost 300 species of flax distributed world wide, but the most common species have bright blue, 5-petaled 1/2-1 inch wide flowers, narrow single veined leaves, small 5-chambered fruits, and wire-like stems that sway in the slightest breeze and seem to have a hard time supporting their own weight. Plants range in size from 6 to 32 inches tall.
Habitat & Range: Common blue flax (Linum perenne) and several other blue-flowered species is found in prairies, open meadows, and along road ways throughout North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual or perennial (depending on species) that blooms from June-August and reseeds itself readily.
Parts Used: The seeds.
Actions: Nutritive, demulcent, laxative, antioxidant, tonic.
Affinities: Skin, nervous system, digestive system.
Preparation: Ground seeds, seed oil, stabilized seeds.
Specific Uses: Flax seed contains Alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid; Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA’s). EFAs are very important in the development and maintenance of a healthy brain, liver, heart, and immune system— in fact, these acids are so important, an animal (or human for that matter) cannot survive without them. Several studies have confirmed that Omega-3 fatty acids are essential factors in brain development of young animals, and may even help protect the brain against certain types of neurotoxins1,2. Numerous studies have also shown that daily supplementation with EFA’s may dramatically improve the skin, coat, and nails in animals who receive it as a supplement to a good diet3,4. EFA’s have also been linked to retinal development and antioxidant activities. The point is this: all animals require essential fatty acids in order to enjoy healthy lives. The problem is that many animals do not receive enough Omega-3 fatty acids to adequately support their bodies’ needs, and as result, end up suffering from chronic disease which could have been easily prevented. And, complicating this problem even further, the systems of some animals (especially cats) cannot adequately convert incomplete sources of essential fatty acids into the bioactive compounds their bodies need. Therefore, most companion animals must receive the bulk of their EFA requirements from supplemental sources. Flax seed is perhaps the richest plant source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and it provides these critical elements in a form which can be readily assimilated into the systems of dogs and cats.
There are various ways to feed flax seed to an animal. One option is to buy a nutritional supplement that includes flax seed as part of a balanced herbal formula. Other options are to buy the seeds in their whole form and grind them immediately before adding them to your companion’s food. Or you can use flax seed oil. There are several things to consider when deciding which form of flax seed is best for you and your companion. First, it’s important to know that flax seed oil (the fraction of the plant that contains the highest concentration of EFAs) goes rancid very quickly. While flax seed oil offers Omega-3 EFAs in a form that can be fed in relatively small quantities and that is quickly and completely absorbed into the body, it will require constant refrigeration and its shelf life is variable and unpredictable. On the other hand, its flavor is relatively easy to mask in an animals food. If you wish to use flax for digestive purposes, you will need the seeds. The seeds will keep for several months if refrigerated, but must be ground into powder each time they are used— if you grind them ahead of time, they will quickly spoil. The freshly ground seeds can be used as an EFA supplement, but it’s difficult to gauge the amount of actual EFAs your animal will be receiving with each feeding, because as the seeds age their EFA content progressively deteriorates. Another problem with the seed option is palatability— many animals don’t like the flavor of ground flax seeds, and getting an appreciable amount of the powder into a finicky animal can be challenging. The solution: buy a natural pet product that contains stabilized flax seed. Stabilized flax seed is treated with zinc and vitamin B-6, which helps prevent the EFA-containing oil from becoming rancid and makes the seed taste better. If you are buying a stabilized flax seed product that is designed especially for animals, follow the manufacturer’s feeding instructions. Or, you can buy stabilized flax seed that is intended for humans and prorate the recommended dose up or down to your animals body weight. Human doses are generally based on the needs of a 150 pound man, therefore if a recommended daily dose for humans is one teaspoon and you have a 50 pound dog, you will need to feed the dog 1/3 of a teaspoon. In the resource appendix of this book you will find a balanced herbal supplement for dogs and cats, formulated by Greg Tilford, that contains stabilized flax seed. I know this sounds like a shameless plug, but the intent behind this formula is to solve the problems that we have presented here (i.e., we’re not getting rich!).
If you don’t wish to use a stabilized flax seed product and have access to a source of fresh flax seed (don’t buy seeds that have been sitting on a store shelf for six months or more), buy weekly supplies and grind one-half teaspoon of the seed into fine powder for each 20 pounds of your animal’s body weight. Sprinkle the powder onto the companion’s food each day, and be sure that your companion has plenty of water to drink with her meal, as the seed absorbs water and gains mass while in the stomach. This swelling action is due to the combined fiber, mucilage, and oil content of the seed. These qualities make flax seed an excellent herb for colic, constipation, and other digestive problems. The oily mucilage of the seed helps lubricate the digestive tract while the swollen fibers serve as a safe but very efficient intestinal cleanser (it works the same way as psyllium husks do). For cases of constipation, one teaspoon of ground flax seed can be thoroughly mixed with four ounces of cool water. Allow the mixture to stand for an hour, or until it becomes thickened— you should be able rub a drop between your thumb and forefinger to feel it’s oily nature. If the mixture doesn’t feel slippery, add more powder and let it stand again. The idea is to ‘activate’ the flax seed before putting it into your companion’s body— thus alleviate any possibility of expansion-related discomfort (see “Cautions & Comments). Once you get a good, slippery consistency, two teaspoons of the mixture can be fed for each 30 pounds of the animal’s body weight (start with 1/2 tsp. in cats). If possible, the slurry should be fed on an empty stomach, so the mixture can work it’s way throughout the digestive tract.
Propagation & Harvest: Flax is very easy to grow from seed. Simply scatter the seeds as thinly as possible, rake them into the top eighth inch of soil, and water thoroughly. Sprouts will usually emerge within seven days. Flax is a very pretty border plant, but in all honesty it really isn’t a practical herb to grow for medicinal purposes— at least not in the average garden. It takes several plants to yield a useful quantity of seed, which must be thrashed and separated from the stems, leaves, and seed capsules. Without special equipment, this is a tedious task for a handful of seeds that can be purchased for few cents at the health food store.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and black current seed oil are also excellent sources of essential fatty acids. Flax seed oil can be combined with cod liver or other fish oils to make a rounded supplement of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
For digestive problems, psyllium husks, plantain, and marshmallow serve as good alternatives.
Cautions & Comments: Dry flax seeds should be fed with plenty of water, otherwise digestive upset and discomfort may result from rapid expansion of the seed fibers in the digestive tract. The best way to avoid this possibility is to premix flax seed with water prior to feeding, or to use a balanced flax seed formula that is specially designed to be used in powder form.
1. Bourre JM, Bonneil M, Chaudiere J, et al. “Structural and functional importance of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids in the nervous system.” , INSERM, Unite 26, Hopital Fernand Widal, Paris, France: Adv Exp Med Biol. 318:211-229, 1992.
2. Bourre JM, Dumont O, Clement M, Durand G. “Fatty acids of the alpha-linolenic family and the structures and functions of the brain – their nature, role, origin and dietary importance – animal model.” , Hosp Fernand Widal,INSERM,Paris,France: Corps Gras Lipides. 2:254-263, 1995.
3. Merchant, S. “Advances in veterinary dermatology.” Compendium, 16:445, 1994.
4. White, P. “Essential fatty acids: use in management of canine atopy.” Compendium, 15:451, 1993.
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i.GARLIC; Allium sativum Lily family
Appearance: Need we describe garlic? This is the stuff that makes Italian dishes worthwhile. This is the aromatic bulb that repels vampires, yet entices the hungry traveler to leave the street to seek the source of his nose-tantalizing, mouth-watering arousal. Yet, while most of us can readily identify a head of garlic as it appears in the supermarket, relatively few of us are familiar with the living, green plant. Garlic is a member of the Allium genus— a branch of the lily family which also includes hundreds of varieties of onions, leeks, chives, and shallots. In terms of appearance, the numerous varieties of garlic are differentiated from what we know as “onions” by the nature of their bulbs (commonly known as “heads”), and their leaves. Commercial varieties of garlic produce heads which are divided into segments (known as “cloves”), whereas onion bulbs are comprised of singular, multi-layered globes. The leaves of the garlics are characteristically flat and almost grass-like, whereas most onions tend to be hollow and erect. Shallots, well, are kinda in between. Regardless of all of this, it is important for the purposes of holistic healing to know that all of the Alliums come from the same source— Nature. All are of the various colors and shapes of onions, garlic, and onion-garlic relatives have originated from wild Alliums that range throughout the world. On the slopes surrounding my Montana home, several species of wild Alliums are among the first greens to emerge from the receding snows of early spring. With their emergence comes winter-weary bears, grouse, deer, elk, and moose, — all of whom wish to indulge, if only briefly, in a snack of garlic-like, wild onions. As one watches these animals while they browse, it soon becomes apparent that they eat wild onions and garlic for instinctive purposes other than to address hunger— they pick and choose only a few select plants, then move on to others. Could it be they know something we don’t? Certainly! From watching the animals (as countless herbalists have over the centuries) it is obvious that nature put Alliums here for reasons far deeper than Epicurean delight. Fortunately for those who cannot forage the wilds of North America on behalf of their pets, the “supermarket varieties” of garlic are of optimum medicinal potency.
Habitat & Range: It has been theorized that garlic’s wild ancestors originated from west-central Asia. It’s use as a medicine dates back at least 5000 years, and since then, hundreds of cultivars have been propagated worldwide. In North America, dozens of varieties can be found in open forest clearings and grasslands at foothill to subalpine elevations. Most are montaine residents.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Although commercial varieties are typically harvested during their first year of growth (when the bulbs are prime) most Alliums are self-seeding perennials which bloom in mid-summer.
Parts Used: The bulbs (cloves).
Actions: Antibacterial, immunostimulant, anticancer, nutritive, antioxidant, expectorant, hypotensive, antitumor, antiviral, antifungal, tonic.
Affinities: Liver, blood, cardiovascular, immune system.
Preparation: Fresh, dried, tincture, or oil infusion.
Specific Uses: Garlic contains considerable amounts protein, fiber, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, taurine, zinc, riboflavin and dozens of other nutritive compounds— and a single clove of fresh garlic may contain as much as 100 sulfur compounds, all of which have been shown to possess medicinal qualities1.
Most of us who read the ads and labels surrounding garlic preparations or supplements at the health food store are continually reminded of allicin— a volatile oil constituent of garlic. Once believed to be the definitive factor in garlic’s healing abilities, we now know that allicin represents only a segment of garlic’s complex, medicinally-versatile chemistry. This is not to say that allicin is not useful; actually it is one of the most impressive, broad spectrum antimicrobial substances available in nature, with dozens of scientific studies to back up this claim. Researchers have found that allicin may be more effective against harmful microbes than tetracycline; a frequently prescribed antibiotic drug2. And, unlike conventional antibiotics, garlic works against many forms of virus, and won’t compromise populations of beneficial flora in the digestive tract when ingested in the appropriate amounts.
Despite its clear value as a healing agent, allicin is not the only healing agent in garlic worth considering. In fact, the presence of allicin in garlic preparations is not required at all in many situations where garlic may prove beneficial. At least 30 other compounds contained in garlic have been shown to be useful for conditions ranging from skin disorders to cancer.
Allicin is a very unstable compound that dissipates very quickly when exposed to air, moisture, or heat. This means that unless measures are taken to preserve the allicin content by one of several special processes, its presence in many preparations will be nil by the time it reaches the person or animal who needs it. To confront this dilemma (and admittedly, to make some big money), several garlic preparations which have been “standardized to allicin” are available on the market. These extracts, powders, capsules, or tablets have had a certain percentage of allicin added in the laboratory to “guarantee their potency”. Such formulas are safe and effective when used properly for specific, antimicrobial purposes, but are generally unnecessary and expensive for use in most other instances where garlic is indicated. And, despite the label claims of many manufacturers, there is really no way of telling if the allicin content in a standardized preparation still exists at the time of use. Unless a laboratory analysis is performed after the product has reached store shelves, there’s no way of telling whether or not the allicin has vanished from the formula. Before you use a standardized formula, try to find out how the manufacturer can guarantee the allicin content in the product after it leaves their lab. If their answer meets your satisfaction, then bear in mind that many of garlic’s other medicinal constituents may be absent or overpowered by an unnatural abundance of allicin, and that you will be using garlic in a manner beyond nature’s design. Regardless of what the manufacturer might say, nature endows garlic with a purposeful limitation of allicin, grouped with hundreds of other compounds that serve unified purposes. When we isolate a single constituent away from the whole plant, we are no longer working within a natural context, and we limit the healing potential of that plant to the confines of what we know, as opposed to what might be possible. While science is beginning to understand how single chemical elements and compounds work in or on the body, we still know very little about how they work in a synergistic capacity. In this realm, just beyond our understanding, a great many healing secrets are waiting to be discovered. Any good herbalist will tell you: the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
The chemical complexity of garlic is good news for the self-reliant herb user, because in addition to allicin, garlic contains a multitude of compounds that are very stable, and easy to use for the do-it-yourself herbalist. However, despite its widespread recognition as a healthy food for humans, garlic demands some added respect, caution, and therapeutic consideration if it is to be used effectively in the care of animals. Here are three general rules of proper use:
1) The first rule of effective garlic use is to remember that allicin is essential in applications where garlic is to be used as a natural form of antibiotic, but may not be necessary if you are using garlic for general health maintenance or other purposes.
2) The second rule is to remember that if you wish to employ garlic in the capacity of an antibiotic, you will need to use raw garlic, or raw garlic juice within three hours of chopping or pressing the fresh cloves; or you will need a good garlic extract from a reputable source. A properly dried garlic powder may be useful for internal antibiotic applications as well, even though only a residual trace of allicin remains in the powder until it is used. In this case, two compounds called alliin and allinase meet with enzymes to form allicin as they enter the mouth. The allicin then does its work within the body… from the inside out!
3) If you decide to use garlic as a topical antibiotic, bear in mind that raw garlic juice is very, very strong, and may cause acute reddening and irritation to skin and mucous membranes if applied in undiluted form. Cut the juice with some olive oil, vegetable glycerin, or water; at a starting rate of one part of pure garlic juice to two parts of inert liquid (oil, water, etc.). If irritation still occurs, dilute it more. All of this can be avoided by infusing fresh cloves directly into olive oil— more on this in a minute.
4) Rule three—If you are looking to use garlic as a cancer-inhibiting/antioxidant agent, immune-enhancer, blood-thinning agent, cardiovascular tonic, or nutritional supplement, chances are any form of garlic will bring the desired results. Perhaps the only exceptions here are preparations of garlic which have been subjected to heat: pickled, sautéed, boiled, roasted, or otherwise hyper-heated cloves have likely been depleted of their medicinal potential and a considerable percentage of their nutrients.
Used properly and in the correct form, garlic is valuable for treatment of virtually any form of internal or external bacterial, viral, fungal infection, including parasites (such as tapeworms) and protozoan organisms (such as Giardia). Fresh garlic or properly dried powder (from a reputable market source) can be fed as part of your animal’s diet to fight infections of the mouth, throat, respiratory tract, stomach, or intestines. In sheep, goats, and cows, it is said to help alleviate mastitis. Freshly crushed garlic, or juice can be infused or diluted into olive oil for use as a topical antiseptic for minor injuries, ear infections;, or mites. The rule here is to be sure the garlic is diluted sufficiently— the volatile oils are very strong and can cause burning irritation if applied to the skin in concentrated form. Never… never apply essential oil of garlic to any part of the body; it’s too concentrated. And never use garlic preparations in the eyes.
To use garlic in topical applications, you don’t need much… just enough to impart a mild garlic odor to the oil. To make a garlic oil, crush two or three cloves of garlic, wet them with vodka to help release the oils, and cover the mixture with four ounces of olive oil. Shake it vigorously and let it stand in the refrigerator for an hour before using. The oil should have an obvious garlic odor… but not overpowering. Within three to twenty-four hours, the allicin will begin dissipating from your oil, and its usefulness for killing microbes will be diminished. But don’t discard it— it still possesses immune-supporting, disease-preventative qualities, and it can be added to your pets’ meals, one-half to one level teaspoon per pound of food per feeding; depending on its strength. Keep your garlic oil in the refrigerator; in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. On the safe side, expect it to keep for no more than a month. Contrary to what many believe, garlic will not act as its own preservative, and old garlic oil may develop botulism— a bacteria that can be deadly to animals and people (remember – allicin diminishes quickly). The added alcohol (vodka) is not in enough concentration to prevent botulism either, but 1/4 tsp. of vitamin E oil, added to the oil before it goes into the refrigerator, will help extend shelf life while adding a new element of nutritional support to the formula. As you can see, all of this justifies the task of making your own oil— many commercially-prepared oils which are produced from raw garlic afford us no way of knowing how long they will remain fresh and medicinally viable.
Scientific studies have shown that various compounds in garlic stimulate immune functions in the bloodstream at levels of activity that are unparalleled by any other herb (yes – even echinacea!). Perhaps the most intriguing of these actions is garlic’s effect on the body’s natural killer cells; those which seek out and destroy cancer cells and invading microbes. In a study conducted with human subjects who had AIDS, garlic was found to increase killer cell activity three fold3. Similar animal studies have been conducted with similar results. Given the fact that these studies were done on subjects with depressed immune functions to start with, it stands to reason that companion animals with healthy immune functions may benefit from the added measure of immune support which is supplied through moderate garlic supplementation in their diets.
A 1988 study found that diallyl sulfide, a garlic constituent, prevented tumor formation in rats4, and several other studies have shown that garlic inhibits various forms of cancer growths in the body. This may be attributable to the liver strengthening actions of at least six garlic constituents. In this capacity, garlic gently enhances overall liver function, and triggers enzyme responses to help break down waste materials before they go into the bloodstream. In other words, garlic helps the liver at its job of cleansing the body, and thus helps prevent toxic accumulations that may lead to cancerous growths. Garlic also helps to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, making it useful for Miniature Schnauzers, Beagles, and other breeds that may be predisposed to hyperlipidemia — a condition which may lead to chronic seizures (JAVMA, Vol 206, No. 11, June 1, 1995).
Any form of uncooked garlic will perform these functions, and its use is as simple as sprinkling it onto the animals’ food— 1/8 to 1/4 of a teaspoon (powdered or fresh-chopped) per pound of food fed, once per day is usually a sufficient dose for most animals.
We have seen very good results from the use of garlic against tapeworms. Used in powdered, fresh, or extract forms, garlic might not kill these persistent parasites, but it will make their living quarters much less desirable. Intestinal parasites don’t like volatile oils or sulfur compounds, and if fed to an animal in correct dosages over a period of one to two months, garlic will help to drive these nasties out. In my experiences with dogs, an increase in visible tapeworm segments in the animals’ stool will likely occur after two to three weeks of daily garlic ingestion. After about two months, populations of these parasites are usually back to acceptable levels, or they may disappear completely.
Garlic works in a similar fashion against protozoan infections, such as Giardia, but in these cases you really need a strong presence of allicin to be effective. Use fresh garlic, and add Oregon grape to your animals’ diet. This will add an antimicrobial ”double punch” against these tough and nauseating organisms.
Garlic is one of the best, all-around cardiovascular tonics in the plant world. In studies conducted in collaboration with the New York Department of Health, a constituent found in both fresh and dried forms of garlic (called ajoene) was found to be very effective at preventing the formation of blood clots in the vascular system. In some provinces of France, race horses suffering from blood clots are routinely fed garlic in their grain feed, and as a result, the clots sometimes disappear in a matter of days5. In fact, many researchers believe that garlic may be as useful as aspirin in this capacity. This is especially promising for use in cats, as they cannot tolerate the salicylate constituents of aspirin. Garlic has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and the occurrence of atherosclerosis (fat build-up in the arteries) in both animals and humans, thus reducing the possibility of stroke or heart attack6. All of these attributes, combined with the immune-supportive, liver-strengthening capabilities of garlic, make this herb an excellent multi-system tonic for older animals— especially dogs— who tolerate regular feeding of garlic better than cats do.
Garlic’s effectiveness as a systemic flea or mosquito repellent is the subject of a great deal of debate among those who have tried it. Some people claim good results, others believe that the usefulness of garlic in this capacity is largely unfounded. For more on fleas, see “The Fight Against Fleas”.
Availability: Supermarkets, health food retailers, etc.
Propagation & Harvest: Garlic is easy to grow. When sown in the fall, the plants thrive in even the harshest of winter climates, usually producing bulbs by late summer. A sandy loam with a slightly alkaline pH level is the best growing medium. In areas where winters are mild, the cloves can be pressed about one inch into the soil in late fall, for an early summer crop. In northern climes (like where we live in Montana, plant your cloves four inches deep, as late as you can still work the soil in fall. Mulch your planting with at least six inches of mulch. Expect to see sprouts shortly after the last hard frost. Garlic should be harvest in mid to late summer; after the tops of the plants have died back. Dig the bulbs, then allow them to dry in the sun for two or three days before you store them in a cool, dry place indoors.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For topical treatment of bacterial infections, look at Oregon grape, St. John’s wort, bee balm, thyme, and chamomile as alternatives. For immune system/antioxidant support, investigate echinacea, astragalus, licorice, alfalfa, red clover, and burdock as adjuncts or alternatives. For treating Giardia and E-coli infections, garlic combines very well with Oregon grape or organically-raised goldenseal.
Cautions & Comments: Although toxic side effects from consumption of garlic are rare in animals and humans alike, the possibility of harming your dog, cat, or herbivore with garlic does exist, and there is a growing controversy about how much garlic is enough and how much is too much. At the root of this controversy is a dangerous misconception: the notion that more garlic is always better. This is seriously untrue. Despite all of the grand attributes we have just described to you, moderation ; the cardinal rule of herb use, applies very strictly to garlic— particularly when used in cats.
When misused excessively or over an extended period of time, garlic may cause Heinz-body anemia ; a potentially life-threatening blood disease. Scientists theorize that two chemical compounds contained in garlic may be attributable to this disorder: S-methyl cysteine sulfoxide , and/or n-propyldisuldhide. These compounds are believed to deplete a naturally occurring glucose enzyme called Glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase, (or G6PD … don’t worry, there won’t be a test!). G6PD has a special function of protecting the cell walls of red blood cells. Depletion of G6PD causes oxidative damage to the cells, thus forming “Heinz bodies”, and triggering the body to reject them from the bloodstream (usually via dark-colored urine). If left unchecked, this process will continue until numbers of red blood cells are lowered to the point that the animal becomes anemic and eventually dies.
Fortunately, this nightmare is easily prevented with some common sense and a few precautions. And, aside from the worst case scenario I have just described, other side effects of garlic are more predictable and less threatening: digestive upset and gas when ingested (cut back on the dose and relieve the gas with chamomile); redness and irritation when applied to the skin (usually indicative of a preparation that is too concentrated).
First , it stands to reason that animals with pre-existing anemic conditions should not receive garlic internally; in any quantity. And— puppies don’t begin reproducing new red blood cells until after six to eight weeks of age. Until then, they need every red blood cell they are born with, so a diet which includes garlic is out for young puppies.
In healthy adult animals, it’s important to know that the entire Heinz-body scenario is dose dependent— i.e.., the more garlic fed, the greater the chances of developing a problem. While the question remains of exactly how much is too much, most recorded instances of Heinz-body anemia in animals involved the ingestion of large quantities of onions and other garlic relatives, many of which are likely to contain much larger percentages of enzyme-depleting constituents than a typical dose of garlic. Recorded cases of Allium poisoning typically involve onion doses exceeding 0.5% of the subject animals’ body weight— this means that a healthy, 60 pound dog would have to eat a whole, five ounce onion, or several cloves of garlic, just to start the Heinz-body process. And, since red blood cells are regenerated very quickly from the bone marrow, this grotesque overdose would probably have to be repeated several times on a frequent basis to cause permanent harm. And, in further defense of garlic, several other foods can cause Heinz-body anemia as well— large amounts of turnips, kale, rape, or anything rich in vitamin K may lead to the disorder; especially in herbivores7.
Small doses of garlic added to your companion animals’ food, three or four days per week, perhaps 1/8 of a teaspoon of garlic powder per pound of food fed, is probably going to be of great benefit to the overall health of your pet. Just don’t over do it!
Cats are much more sensitive to the side effects of garlic than dogs, so they require more caution and attention with its use. Watch for digestive upset and behavioral changes. And if your cat simply doesn’t want any garlic, don’t force it. Your cat’s behavior may be more than just a finicky attitude— animals know their needs better than we do.
It all boils down to common sense, moderation, and respect for garlic as more than just a table condiment. Remember that no two animals are alike; one person’s miracle cure is another one’s poison. If you wish to use garlic in a therapeutic capacity, get to know your animal first, then consult a professional (or at least read the label) before you proceed.
1. Block, Dr. Eric; State University of New York, Albany. “The Organic Chemistry of Garlic Sulfur Compounds”, First World Congress on the Health Significance of Garlic and Garlic Constituents, Washington D.C., 1990.
2. Shashikanth, K.N., S.C. Basappa, and V. Sreenivasa Murthy. “A comparative study of raw garlic extract and tetracycline on caecal microflora and serum proteins of albino rats” Folia Microbiol (Praha) 1984;29:348-52.
3. Abdullah, T.H., D.V. Kirkpatrick, and J. Carter. “Enhancement of natural killer activity in AIDS with garlic” Dtsch Zschr Onkl 1989;21:52-53.
4. Wargovich, M.J., C. Woods, V.W. Eng, L.C. Stephens, and K. Gray. “Chemoprevention of N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-induced esophageal cancer in rats by the naturally occurring diallyl sulfide.” Cancer Res., 1988 Dec. 1;48(23):6872-5.
5. Block, Dr. Eric; State University of New York, Albany. “The Chemistry of Garlic and Onions”, Scientific American, 3/25, (252:114).
6. Jain, R.C., M.D.; Dept. of Pathology at the University of Benghazi, Libya, in his article in The Lancet British Medical Journal, May 31, 1975; p.1240 and Kritchevsky, David; Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, Philadelphia, in his article in Artery, (1:319-23) 1975.
7) The Merck Veterinary Manual, seventh edition, Pg. 20 &25.
GINKGO Ginkgo biloba Ginkgo family
Appearance: Characterized by its unique, fan-shaped leaves, ginkgo is a slow-growing tree which may grow to 100 feet in height. Ginkgo is one of the oldest plant medicines on earth. In fact, it is one of the oldest trees still in existence. A healthy tree can live to be 1000 years old.
Habitat & Range: It is estimated that the Ginkgo genus once included several hundred varieties that spanned the globe for over two million years. Today however, there is only one species, Ginkgo biloba, a native to China that has been introduced into North America and most of Europe and Asia for ornamental and medicinal purposes.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Ginkgo is a deciduous tree which blooms in early spring; just as the leaves are beginning to develop into their fan-like shapes. Fruits (known as “ginkgo nuts”) develop and ripen by mid-summer. The leaves turn yellow and begin falling to earth in early to late fall.
Parts Used: Although ginkgo nuts were used almost exclusively for thousands of years, the fall-harvested leaves are of primary interest to contemporary herbalists.
Actions: Vasodilator, anticoagulant, antioxidant, tonic.
Affinities: Brain, circulatory system, eyes.
Preparation: Tincture, tea, capsule.
Specific Uses: Over 400 scientific studies have been conducted to validate ginkgo’s effectiveness in both animals and humans. In fact, in Germany and other European countries, Ginkgo biloba extract (commonly known as GBE) is among the most frequently prescribed drugs of commerce.
For a long time it was thought that almost all of ginkgo’s medicinal activity could be attributed to two groups of chemical constituents: flavone glycosides and terpene lactones. Dozens of human and animal studies have shown that these two groups of constituents act to improve blood circulation in small capillaries, a trait which makes it especially useful in the treatment of various forms of vascular deficiency— including the effects of old age. However, current research now indicates that these compounds represent only a small part of a very complex array of interactive components. Specifically, ginkgo inhibits platelet aggregation factor (PAF), the mechanism which causes slow moving or obstructed blood to become “sticky” and begin forming into clots. Ginkgo does this especially well in small capillaries that are particularly susceptible to blockage, and which serve tissues that are not reached by larger vessels, such as areas of the brain, ears, and extremities1. Ginkgo also serves to help regulate the tone and elasticity of blood vessels, making them stronger and less susceptible to degenerative disease2. These actions make ginkgo a first choice cerebrovascular tonic for older animals. Increased blood flow in capillary-rich tissues of the brain means that the brain is better fed and oxygenated, which in turn can reduce likelihood of stroke, and may equate to a longer, higher-quality of life for your pet. In fact, several studies have shown that the cerebrovascular activities of ginkgo may even be beneficial in treating degenerative, age-related cases of chronic depression or abnormal behavior. This stands to reason— if the brain is not getting the blood it needs, mood and behavior will likely be effected— and Rover might start getting kinda snippy in his old age.
Most of the current hoopla surrounding ginkgo is focused on its use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but its effectiveness as a vascular tonic in other parts of the body deserves equal consideration. Ginkgo works as a an effective vascular tonic throughout the body, especially in smaller, peripheral capillaries of the legs, ears, and rectum. This makes it useful in a wide variety of circumstances where circulation has been impaired by trauma, chronic or degenerative disease, or surgical intervention. By opening up and strengthening the structural integrity of small capillaries in impaired areas, circulation is improved and the body is allowed to heal itself more effectively. This, my animal-loving reader, is the primary goal of using herbal tonics.
Ginkgo also has been used for hundreds of years as a tonic for weak kidney function. While relatively little research has been conducted to validate such use, ginkgo’s effectiveness in this capacity is likely attributable to the same, vascular tonic activities. The kidney is a very blood-dependent organ— in fact, its vulnerability and demise in the event of diminished blood supply is second only the brain. In recent months, I have heard from veterinarians and pet owners who have been using an herbal combination that includes ginkgo and hawthorn in the treatment of early stage renal failure. These anecdotal reports claim a general improvement in kidney function. This makes sense, as the hawthorn acts to reduce blood pressure as it increases circulation within the larger arteries, while the ginkgo serves to open and tonify the smaller vessels.
In addition to its vascular actions, ginkgo also works as a nervous system tonic in the brain. Although the mechanisms of its neurological activity are complex and still hold many mysteries, studies indicate that ginkgo somehow increases energy levels in the brain, and that it stimulates the release of various neurotransmitters, many of which regulate constriction of important smooth muscle tissues throughout the body— such as those of the heart, bladder, and uterus2. The fact that ginkgo works to influence brain function in ways that are exclusive of its circulatory activities makes for a very broad scope of therapeutic usefulness. In many cases, urinary incontinence, seizures, various forms of neuralgia, skin problems, chronic digestive upset, cardiac arrhythmia, and behavioral disorders (to name just a few) may be the result of cerebrovascular or neurological dysfunction that might be improved upon with proper use of ginkgo.
Many studies suggest that ginkgo extracts have been standardized to contain at least 24% ginkgolides. However, in my opinion, excellent results can be obtained from any high quality extract of the leaves. A typical dose for elderly animals or those which exhibit early signs of cerebrovascular deficiency, kidney failure, or impaired circulation in the extremities is anywhere between 0.25ml and 0.75ml of the liquid extract, 2 or 3 times daily, for each 50 pounds of the animal’s body weight. Exact dosage will vary according to the exact circumstances of disease, size of the animal, potency of the extract, and duration of use. In other words, you are advised to seek a qualified holistic practitioner for a complete work-up of your animal before proceeding with ginkgo therapy.
Availability: Widely available through health food stores and herb retailers. Ginkgo trees are available through landscape nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Ginkgo trees are not difficult to grow— all they need is room to spread their roots, a moderate climate (hardy to zone 5), and some water from to time. The problem is, they are very, very slow, with yearly growth often measured in fractions of inches. However, if you are lucky enough to have access to a mature ginkgo tree, there is no reason why you cannot take advantage of the fresh leaves (which are far superior than the dried leaves that are available from the bulk herb containers at herb stores). Analysis of ginkgo leaves indicate that the broadest diversity of medicinal constituents are found when the leaves are just beginning to turn yellow (in fall). Gather the leaves just as they are turning yellow; before they fall from the tree and in advance of any evidence of mold on the leaf surfaces. The leaves can then be used fresh; for making tincture, or they can be dried for future use. The dried leaves will keep for about one year.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Combines well with hawthorn for cardiovascular or kidney disorders. For use as a general vascular tonic, ginkgo can be combined with garlic, cayenne, or yarrow.
Cautions & Comments: By most standards, ginkgo is very safe. However, because of its ability to inhibit platelet aggregation in the blood, its use may be contraindicated in the presence of blood-thinning drugs, or in animals which have blood-clotting disorders. While ginkgo is useful to improve the body’s ability to heal after surgery, its use should be delayed until all risk of post-operative hemorrhage has passed. Remember this: the purpose of platelet aggregation in a properly functioning body is to stop bleeding— in circumstances where active bleeding is present, ginkgo should not be used. Excessive doses in healthy animals can result in restlessness, diarrhea and/or nausea. Ginkgo should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation.
1. Kleijnen J., Knipschild P., “Ginkgo biloba”, Lancet, 340:1136-39, 1992.
2. Allard, M. “Treatment of Old Age Disorders with Ginkgo biloba extract – From Pharmacology to Clinic”, Rokan (Ginkgo biloba) – Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic. New York, Springer-Verlag, 1988: 180-211.
GOLDENROD Solidago species Sunflower family
Appearance: Goldenrod is a common wayside weed that is easy to identify by its terminal, spire-shaped or triangular clusters of tiny, bright goldenrod-yellow flowers. The alternate leaves of the most common species are narrowly lanceolate and may or may not have serrated edges. Plants are erect and range anywhere from 2″ (i.e., S. multiradiata – “Mountain Goldenrod”) to 70″ in height (i.e. S. canadensis; S. occidentalis; S. gigantea – illus. ). Most species share very similar appearances… this is especially true of the larger species, which may only differ in leaf texture or the presence of stem hairs.
Habitat & Range: The Solidago genus can be divided into two categories: those which grow in moist soils; and those which prefer drier habitats. Generally speaking, most of the smaller mountain varieties are found in dry soils, often at the edges of forest roads or in open meadows. The larger varieties are common to riparian habitats, irrigated fields, drainage ditches, etc.; from below sea level to about 4000′ in elevation. Several species are widespread throughout North America, with Solidago canadensis (Canada Goldenrod) perhaps the most common.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Perennial; sometimes annual. Blooms throughout the summer months.
Parts Used: The entire flowering plant— roots and all.
Actions: Astringent, tonic, diuretic, anti-catarrhal, anti-inflammatory, nephritic, antilithic, antibacterial, antifungal, hemostatic.
Affinities: Respiratory, urinary tract and kidneys.
Preparation: Dried herb, tincture, tea.
Specific Uses: Like many common, “wayside weeds”, goldenrod’s usefulness is usually overshadowed by other herbs which have greater mass-market appeal. This is very unfortunate, because while many people spend their hard-earned money on the latest herb sensation, a better alternative may be growing, in profuse abundance, just behind the house. Goldenrod is one such herb— it is extremely useful, but far less marketable than many others— simply because it is too abundant to give notice to.
Goldenrod is an excellent anti-catarrhal ; an herb which helps to reduce the production of mucus in the bronchi by reducing inflammation of the mucous membranes that are producing it. While the production of mucus is essential in the body’s holistic efforts to eliminate pathogens and waste products from the respiratory tract during bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, reducing the irritation of swollen membranes helps comfort the sufferer while making the overall, healing effort more productive. For dogs and cats, a teaspoon or two of the flower or leaf tea (made with a teaspoon of the dried herb in eight ounces of water, cooled to lukewarm), will often bring quick relief to a wet, persistent cough. Horses and other large herbivores can be fed a handful or two of the fresh herb for the same purposes.
Although relatively little scientific research has been conducted into goldenrod’s usefulness as a kidney tonic, it has been used successfully in this capacity for hundreds of years. Specifically, goldenrod is said to boost renal function very quickly, making it especially useful for acute cases of nephritis, especially where anuresis (an inability to pass urine from the kidneys) is a prevalent symptom1. Goldenrod can also be useful in preventing or assisting in the elimination of kidney stones2. However, the activities of goldenrod may be contraindicated in advanced, chronic cases where stimulation of renal function may cause added stress to over-worked kidneys. The various mechanisms and pathologies of kidney disease are very difficult to accurately assess, and finding the correct approach should be left to your holistic veterinarian. For more on holistic approaches to kidney disease, see the chapter on Urinary Tract Disorders.
In topical applications, goldenrod has remarkable hemostatic qualities, especially when the dried and powdered flowers are used. The powder can be used liberally, to stop bleeding and inhibit bacterial infection of minor cuts and abrasions.
Goldenrod may be useful for moderating immune responses to airborne pollen and other allergens if taken for several weeks prior to the onset of hay fever season. The theory behind this use is similar to those behind homeopathic medicines— by introducing a measured quantity of goldenrod—a potentially allergenic plant— into the body just before the onset of hay fever system, the body begins building its anti-allergen defenses before the real onslaught, and is better prepared for that first field trip.
Availability: Available through herb retailers; profusely abundant in vacant lots and forests throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
Propagation & Harvest: Harvest the entire plant when it is full bloom. The entire plant can then be chopped and made into tincture, or it can be dried for later uses, in teas.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For upper respiratory infections, goldenrod combines especially well with echinacea and Oregon grape. Look at mullein, coltsfoot, wild cherry, marshmallow, slippery elm, and grindelia as adjuncts or alternatives for coughs. Dandelion, couchgrass, corn silk, ginkgo, uva-ursi, marshmallow, echinacea and hawthorn should be investigated for treating urinary and kidney disorders.
Cautions & Comments: Goldenrod has no known toxicity, but may be contraindicated in certain forms of kidney disease. Although goldenrod is not as allergenic as once thought (often it is blamed for allergies caused by ragweed and various other plant neighbors), it should be used with caution in animals that are predisposed to pollen allergies. When harvesting this plant from wild areas, keep in mind that it is generally regarded as a “weed”, and may have been sprayed with herbicides. Never gather this plant from margins of roadways, cultivated fields, or waste areas where pollutants may be present.
1. Weiss, Rudolf-Fritz. Herbal Medicine. pp.241-43. Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield Publishers, Ltd.
2. Bissett, Wichtl. Herbal Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994.
GOLDENSEAL Hydrastis canadensis Buttercup family
Appearance: Goldenseal is a perennial which may grow to 12 inches in height. The main stem of the plant is typically forked to produce two nearly circular 2-6″ wide leaves, one of which is usually larger than the other. The leaves are deeply lobed, 5-7 times; with toothed margins. the plant may require three or more years of growth before it will bloom, then it produces a single, whitish-green flower that has no rays; only sepals that are arranged in a concentric cluster. In mid-summer, the flower will develop into a single, raspberry-like red fruit that contains 10-30 small seeds. Stems are hairy. The rhizomatous root is thick and woody, with numerous smaller rootlet branching away from the main root stalk. All parts of the root have deep goldenrod-yellow inner tissues.
Habitat & Range: The range and population of this North American native are rapidly diminishing. The original range of goldenseal once included most of the Eastern North America; from Minnesota and Vermont south… all the way into Georgia. Today, most remaining stands of wild goldenseal are isolated in the central and northern reaches of the Appalachians, and to a lesser extent, the Ozark Mountain range.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A long-lived perennial which blooms in early spring.
Parts Used: Primarily the root; to a lesser extent the leaves.
Actions: Antimicrobial;, anti-catarrhal;, tonic,; astringent, cholagogue, anti-parasitic;.
Affinities: Mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, lower urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, mouth and eyes.
Preparation: Tincture, tea, or poultice.
Specific Uses: Like it’s neighbor, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), wild goldenseal is vanishing because of greed, sensationalism, and misinformed use. The greatest misnomer about goldenseal is that it acts as an herbal antibiotic in the body, coursing its way through the body systems via the blood stream to attack any pathogenic microbes in its path. This is untrue… goldenseal does not act as an antibiotic— in fact, the antimicrobial alkaloids of this plant (namely berberine; and hydrastine only act to inhibit bacteria, fungi, and parasites, and protozoan bodies that they come in direct contact with in the mouth, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. These infection-fighting compounds are not absorbed into the blood stream, they simply act as contact disinfectants. With this in mind, goldenseal can be used against a broad spectrum of pathogens, including Streptococcus sp., Staphylococcus sp., Shigella dysenteriae, Salmonella, and several others1.
As an anti-inflammatory, goldenseal is effective for ulcers and irritations of the mouth, upper respiratory tract, eyes, and to lesser avail, the digestive and urinary tracts. For conjunctivitis which is secondary to bacterial or fungal infection in dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, rodents, horses, or reptiles, a goldenseal eyewash will serve as a strong antimicrobial agent which also acts quickly to reduce inflammation and redness. To use goldenseal in this capacity, make a strong tea from the chopped dry root, then add 12-20 drops of the dark golden yellow fluid into one ounce of sterile saline— the stuff marketed for people with contact lenses. A few drops in each eye (or a fraction of a drop in small birds, rodents, and such) two or three times daily, will usually bring relief very quickly. Internally, we like to use goldenseal in conjunction with garlic for ridding our dogs and cats of tapeworms, and we have received good reports from veterinarians we work with who find this combination useful for treating giardiasis or Escherichia coli (E-coli) infections in dogs, cats, and larger animals. Studies of the active component, berberine, substantiate these claims2,3.
A poultice made from the powdered root can be applied directly to infections or ulcers in the mouth— results are often seen within hours of application.
Wild goldenseal is one of the most endangered wild medicinal plants in North America, and it is still being exploited by bad apples of the herb industry. Fortunately, goldenseal can be substituted (in most cases) with Oregon grape root (Berberis [Mahonia] aquifolium), a naturally abundant member of the Barberry family which also contains an impressive amount of the active constituent, berberine. The continued survival of wild goldenseal is totally dependent on human conscience and responsibility— if you think you need goldenseal, give Oregon grape a try first. Chances are, you will be pleased with the results. If you still see a need for goldenseal, spend the extra money to buy goldenseal roots or goldenseal preparations which have come from certified organic (cultivated) sources. If you use “wildcrafted” goldenseal, you will be contributing to the rapid demise of a great healing treasure that can never be replaced.
Availability: Herb retailers. PLEASE— ONLY BUY GOLDENSEAL WHICH IS FROM A CULTIVATED SOURCE!!!
Propagation & Harvest: If you have a piece of ground that will support goldenseal, then please grow some! The future success of this plant will likely be measured by how actively caring people are willing to become involved. The best place to plant goldenseal is under the shade of a dense, hardwood canopy of a north facing hillside. The plant requires deep, compost-rich, well drained soil with a pH level between 5.5 to 6.5. With the use of shade cloth and the right soil amendments, it can be propagated in the garden as well.
Goldenseal can be propagated from stratified seed or from rhizome; spaced four inches apart in rows that are twelve inches apart. Planting should occur in fall. Goldenseal requires at least four to five years (preferably seven) to reach maturity. For more detailed information, please contact one of the resources I have provided in the Appendix of this book.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: In many applications where an antimicrobial or anti-catarrhal is indicated, any number of plants which contain the yellow alkaloid berberine can be employed in place of goldenseal. Choices include Oregon grape; (Berberis species;), Twin leaf; (Jeffersonia diphylla;), or Yerba mansa ;(Anemopsis californica;). However, before employing any of these herbs, a fundamental question of holistic responsibility should be addressed in the minds of all earth-conscious herb users: By using a wildcrafted substitute for a over-harvested herb, am I benefiting the future of wild medicinal plants, or am I simply deferring my impact onto another species? The fact that Oregon grape is an abundant, wild substitute is beside the point of this question… humanity is very efficient at screwing up or depleting virtually anything on Earth, and when we elect to abandon one natural resource for another in absence of proactive, holistic thinking, we are only contributing to a continuum of human impact. With this in mind, we should elect to use wild substitutes only when cultivated goldenseal is not available. Coptis sinensis, a species of “goldthread” which is widely cultivated in China, may also serve as an excellent substitute for goldenseal. A small portion of goldenseal, added to echinacea, will serve as a direct-intervention “double-punch” for infections of the mouth, urinary tract, and gastrointestinal tract, while the echinacea does its job at boosting the immune system.
Cautions & Comments: Animal studies have shown that berberine calms the uterus, but in other studies it shows that it stimulates uterine contractions, so it is inadvisable to use goldenseal, Oregon grape, or other berberine-containing plant medicines in pregnant animals. Goldenseal lowers blood sugar, so don’t use it in animals that are hypoglycemic. Goldenseal also may alter the liver metabolism and may have the potential to be hypertensive. Long term, internal use of goldenseal may over stimulate the liver and trigger excessive production of bile— a situation that will likely result in vomiting. Cats are especially prone to this side effect. In light of this, goldenseal should not be used continuously, in excess of seven days without a break. For proper dose, duration of therapy, and to ascertain if internal use of goldenseal is indicated for your animal, consult a holistic veterinarian.
1. Pizzorno, JE, Murray, MT. “Hydrastis canadensis, Berberis aquifolium, and other berberine-containing plants.” In: Textbook of Natural Medicine. Seattle, WA: John Bastyr College Publications, 1985.
2. Gupte, S. “Use of berberine in treatment of giardiasis”, American Journal of Diseases of Childhood. 129, 866, 1975.
3. Preininger, V. “The pharmacology and toxicology of the Papaveracea alkaloids.” The Alkaloids, Vol. 15, Manske RHF, Holmes HL eds. New York: Academic Press 1975, p.239.
GOTU KOLA Centella asiatica Parsley family
Appearance: Gotu kola produces nearly circular, dark green, 1-3 inch leaves and purple flowers that are atypical of the parsley family. The leaves have long petioles and leathery, smooth surfaces that give the plant an appearance similar to what lily pads would look like if they grew on land instead of in water.
Habitat & Range: A native of India, South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Philippines. Gotu kola inhabits drainage ditches, stream beds, and moist waste areas, often in ground-covering abundance.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms in summer.
Parts Used: Leaves.
Actions: Antidermatitic, peripheral vasodilator, antirheumatic, antioxidant, vulnerary, diuretic.
Affinities: Skin, nervous system, circulatory system.
Preparation: Tea or tincture, or any variety of topical preparation (salves, lotions, poultices, etc.).
Specific Uses: Gotu kola is especially useful for burns, skin injuries, or dermatitis that involves vascular insufficiency or accumulation of subcutaneous edema. When taken internally it increases peripheral blood circulation and serves as a mild diuretic, thus assisting with the body’s natural ability to cleanse and heal the epidermis. When applied externally, it serves as an antioxidant and speeds the healing process by stimulating regeneration of skin cells1, and has been shown to accelerate the production of healthy scar tissue after surgery2. It is also known to promote hair and nail growth. Gotu kola is also useful in treating mycobacteriosis (leprosy); an ulcerous bacterial infection of the skin which can occur in dogs, cats, and other animals. In these cases, it is believed that a terpene compound called asiaticoside breaks down the protective waxy coating of the disease-causing bacteria, leaving the invading microbes vulnerable to the body’s immune system. Recent studies also suggest that the betulinic acid content of gota kola is active against melanoma— a life-threatening form of skin cancer2.
Gotu kola is said to improve mental clarity, and acts as a mild sedative and nervine in animals. In a study where rats were trained in simple tasks, gotu kola was shown to improve learning and memory. Researchers correlated this finding to a deceleration of neurotransmitter reproduction in the brain— in other words, memory was retained because the process of neurotransmission remained less interrupted3. This makes gotu kola a potential candidate for treating senility in aging animals. Gotu kola may also be useful in the treatment of epilepsy.
For animals with arthritis , gotu kola improves circulation in the legs and helps to reduce inflammation. It has also been shown to promote healing and reconstruction of connective tissue in the joints1.
For external applications, gotu kola can be used as a skin rinse, poultice compress, or fomentation . Salves and oil infusions work well too, especially when vitamin E oil is added. For internal uses in dogs and cats, a tea from the dried leaves (1 tsp. of herb to 8 ounces of near-boiling water) can be fed directly or on the animals food— one tablespoon of the cooled tea per 30 pounds of the animal’s body weight, once daily. Or, a tablespoon of the fresh leaves can be finely chopped and added to each pound of an animal’s food (the young, light green leaves are delicious in salads). Horses can be fed a handful of the leaves each day, as a dietary adjunct. A low alcohol tincture is yet another option— 0.5 to 1 milliliter per day for each 30 pounds of a dogs body weight, 0.5ml daily for cats, added to food.
Availability: herb retailers and a few specialty seed and plant suppliers.
Propagation & Harvest: Although gotu kola is seldom grown in North America, its cultivation is certainly not impossible. The plants must be kept warm— at tropical temperatures— throughout their life, meaning that they will need a greenhouse or a consistently warm, sun-lit place indoors in order to flourish in most of North America (if you live in Florida, you’re on easy-street!). The plants like nitrogen-rich soil, a mix of shade and sunlight, and room to spread.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For external treatment of skin problems, look at calendula, chaparral, aloe, comfrey, and chamomile as alternatives or adjuncts. For internal treatment of skin problems or arthritis, gotu kola combines with alteratives such as burdock, red clover, or yellow dock. Diuretic, nutritive, and cholagogue herbs, such as dandelion leaf and root, Oregon grape, cleavers, and nettle should be considered as well. Licorice, devil’s claw, or yucca root serve as anti inflammatory adjuncts. For vascular problems, gotu kola combines with ginger, cayenne, peppermint, ginkgo, yarrow, or hawthorn. To improve mental clarity and circulation in the brain, add ginkgo to your gotu kola.
Cautions & Comments: Excessive doses of gotu kola may have narcotic effects in animals, may cause photosensitivity, and may interfere with hypoglycemic therapies. It is been shown to have abortifacient activities, and should not be used in pregnant animals.
1. Morriset T et al. “evealuation of the healing activity of hydrocotyle [gotu kola] tincture in the treatment of wounds.” Phytotherapy Res 1987; 1: 117-21.
2. Wren, RC. Potter’s New Encyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations (revised, Williamson EW, Evans FJ) Saffron Walden: Daniel, 1988.
3. Nalini K, Aroor AR, Karanth KS, and Rao A. “Effect of centella asiatica fresh leaf aqueous extract on learning and memory and biogenic amine turnover in albino rats.” Fitoterapia, LXIII(3), 232-237, 1992.
GRINDELIA Grindelia squarrosa Sunflower family
Appearance: When grindelia is first encountered in the field, two things often come to mind: this is a weed, and it’s obviously a member of the sunflower family. Grindelia has strong but flexible 1 to 3 foot tall stems, alternate saw-toothed leaves, and bright yellow flowers which are presented one per stem. Beneath the yellow rays, the flowers have distinctive curved bracts, which a sticky, gum-like substance which has earned the plant the common name of “gumweed”.
Habitat & Range: Several species of Grindelia range throughout the western two-thirds of North America. All share similar appearances, and most are inhabitants of wide open plains or dry, sunny forest clearings.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A biennial or short-lived perennial which reproduces by seed.
Parts Used: The flowers and leaves.
Actions: Expectorant, sedative, antitussive, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive.
Affinities: Respiratory and skin.
Preparation: For internal uses: tincture or tea. For contact dermatitis: tea (skin rinse), salve, lotion, ointment, or liniment (an externally-applied tincture).
Specific Uses: Very little scientific attention has been directed toward grindelia, but it’s effectiveness and usefulness as a respiratory herb is well-known among western herbalists— especially those who have a deep respect for the herbal wisdom that has been passed to us by Native American cultures— they used it for everything from tuberculosis and pneumonia, to gonorrhea and post-partum pain. From a scientific perspective, we know that the gummy substance secreted from the flower heads contains at least 20% resins, which are composed of grindelic, oxygrindelic, 6-oxygrindelic, and 7-alpha-8 alpha oxodihydrogrindelic acids1. These substances serve to stimulate mucus secretion and reduce inflammation in the upper respiratory tract— making a dry, hacking cough more productive. Adding to grindelia’s expectorant qualities are sedative and antispasmodic activities which serve to calm a spastic cough by relaxing smooth muscles of the upper respiratory tract while dilating the bronchioles. This makes grindelia useful for relieving the symptoms of asthma in dogs and cats— especially when it is administered at the early onset of an attack. We also find it useful for easing the symptoms of bordetella (i.e.., “kennel cough”). To determine whether grindelia is appropriate for your pet, and to determine a proper dosage, talk to a holistic practitioner.
Many North American Indian Tribes used decoctions or simple teas of grindelia leaves and flowers as a soothing skin rinse for poison ivy induced dermatitis, and in recent years, grindelia lotions have started to appear in European markets for the same purpose2. A simple home made decoction or tincture will serve this purpose— apply as needed, once or twice daily to the affected areas (also see the section on poison ivy in the Skin Ailments chapter of this book).
Availability: Grindelia herb or herbal preparations are available through herb retailers. The seed is available through specialty seed catalogs listed in the Appendix.
Propagation & Harvest: Grindelia tolerates poor soil and can be propagated easily from seed. Harvest the flowers and leaves when the plants are in full bloom.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For asthma, grindelia can be combined as a lesser ingredient with nettle. Look at lobelia as a possible adjunct or alternative. For kennel cough and other respiratory infections and irritations, check out horehound, coltsfoot, comfrey, mullein, and wild cherry as possible alternatives or adjuncts.
Cautions & Comments: Internal use of grindelia may have a relaxing effect on the heart muscle, and may cause a decrease in blood pressure. Therefore, grindelia may be contraindicated in animals with heart or other circulatory problems. Excessive doses of grindelia are believed to cause renal irritation, and therefore grindelia may be contraindicated in animals with renal failure or other forms of kidney disease. Although it is generally regarded as “non-toxic but unpalatable” to livestock and other animals, very little research has been done on the effects of grindelia. It’s use should be limited to what the holistic pet care community has learned through clinical experience. See your holistic veterinarian before administering this herb internally. Barring allergic sensitivity, external applications are generally safe for home treatment of poison ivy dermatitis on most animals.
1. Pinkas, M., Didry, N, Torck, M, Belanger, L., and Cazin, J.C. “Phenolic Components from Some Species of Grindelia.“ Annuals of Pharmaceutical Franceise, 36: 97-104.
2. Duke, James. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 1985.
HAWTHORN; Crataegus species; Rose family
Appearance: Hawthorn is a small deciduous tree or large shrub (up to 16′ tall) that is easily recognized and quickly remembered by its nasty 1″-3″ curved thorns, which are strategically spaced along the branches… often at eye-level!. The alternate leaves of most species are narrowly fan-shaped or ovate and are presented on short petioles. The margins of the 1″-2″ long leaves are toothed; with tips all pointing distinctly forward . The white 1/4″ flowers are presented in flat, terminate clusters; each blossom with five petals and numerous stamens. When in full bloom, the blossoms often have an unpleasant “dead” odor. In late summer the flowers are replaced with clusters of red to black berries; each contain 2-5 seeds.
Habitat & Range: The Cratageus genus is large and varied, with hundreds of species (all of which readily hybridize) in North America. Most species are found in riparian thickets or moist meadows, where they serve as important forage and nesting habitats for birds and other wildlife. Alaska and British Columbia southward into California; and widely distributed eastward throughout the western interior at valley and foothill elevations. Cratageus douglasii (Black Hawthorn - illus.) is one of the most common and widespread species.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Deciduous perennial; blooms sometime between April and June.
Parts Used: Fruits (berries), and/or flowers and leaf buds.
Actions: Tonic;, hypotensive;, vasodilator;, nutritive;, antioxidant
Preparation: Fresh or dried berries, tincture, tea, decoction.
Specific Uses: Hawthorn berries have been considered one of nature’s best and safest heart and vascular tonics for thousands of years. A great deal of scientific study has validated hawthorn’s usefulness in this capacity, and both herbalists and researchers agree that hawthorn benefits the heart and arteries in at least three ways:
1) Hawthorn dilates both coronary vessels and vessels of the brain, helping to increase circulation and the transport of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. It accomplishes this in a very effective and unique fashion— while it acts to dilate major vessels, it also increases blood flow from the heart to compensate for any reduction of arterial blood volume. In other words, it helps the body push more blood around by increasing cardiac output and decreasing blood flow resistance in the arteries, i.e., more blood flow at less pressure. This has been shown in studies performed with dogs1, especially when used in small doses over an extended period of time.
2) Hawthorn possesses antioxidant properties— it scavenges free-radicals; that are known to rob the blood of oxygen, and which may lead to various forms of vascular disease.
3) Hawthorn acts to steady and strengthen a weak or erratic heartbeat;. In fact, it has been shown to act as a possible alternative to the drug digitalis;, and may actually serve as a potentiating adjunct to this cardiac drug.
All of these activities are largely attributable to the vast array of flavonoid constituents; held in hawthorn. Flavonoids are typified as red pigments found in many kinds of fruits and vegetables, and hundreds of studies have indicated that these compounds are essential in maintaining disease resistance and the integrity of smooth muscle tissues throughout the body. It so happens that hawthorn may be the richest natural source of these vital nutrients. In a recent study using unfortunate rats, the flavonoid constituents held in hawthorn were shown to help prevent myocardial damage in situations where the heart muscle was subjected to physiological stress2. This means that animals such as race horses or working dogs who are constantly under cardiovascular stress will likely find preventative benefits from daily supplements of hawthorn berries in their diets. It stands to reason that this cardiovascular tonic is useful in the daily care of older animals, especially in older dogs, cats, horses, birds or other critters who suffer from chronic heart problems such as congestive heart failure;, post-surgical dysfunction;, or cardiac anomalies; that have resulted from heartworm;, bacterial or viral infections;;, or protracted chemotherapy;. Hawthorn, when combined with herbs that strengthen kidney function;, may also serve as a good adjunct therapy in the early treatment of kidney failure;—as its vasodilator and hypotensive actions may help to improve blood circulation through the renal arteries and smaller vessels of the kidneys without the added stress of increased blood pressure.
One of the nicest things about using hawthorn in animals is the fact that is tastes pretty good, and is one of the easiest herbs to feed to your pet. If you are lucky enough to have a tree near your home and an animal that likes red fruit, you can pick the ripe berries and feed them as tonic treats. When the berries become fully ripe, they can be picked, dried on a clean sheet of paper, and ground with a mortar or pestle (be forewarned… they burn-out small coffee grinders!) into a course powder. The powder can then be added to your pets’ diet… 1 teaspoon per pound of food fed each day. If your animal won’t eat the berries either way, try making a tea and pouring it over the pet’s food. If that doesn’t work, you can use gel caps wrapped with expensive, imported brie cheese (just kidding!), or better yet, you can use a low-alcohol hawthorn extract.
The berries of hawthorn are the commonly used and marketed part of this plant, probably because they make such pretty and palatable medicine. But in early spring, before the berries are available, the flowering branch ends (leaves, flower buds, twigs, thorns and all) can be clipped into small pieces and made into a decoction (a simmered tea). Good luck getting it into your animal though, unlike the berries, the “twig tea” tastes awful!
Availability: Hawthorn berries and the dried leaves and flowers are available through herb retailers. Various hawthorn preparations are available at health food stores.
Propagation & Harvest: A few species of hawthorn are available through nurseries, particularly those which specialize in native plants. Hawthorn is not difficult to grow— all it really requires is plenty of water. However, it tends to be a slow grower. Gather the berries when they are completely ripe— this is usually in mid-summer. Depending on the species, the berries will be red or blue-red (almost black in the case of Crataegus douglasii). The berries can then be used fresh, or they can be dried for future use. When properly stored, they should keep for at least a year. The flowering end-twigs should be harvested (leaves, thorns and all)and used as soon as the blossoms open in early spring.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: When combined with a good natural diet and other tonic herbs, hawthorn will act exactly as an herbal heart tonic ;should… to fill the special cardiac needs in the golden years of an animal’s life. Other tonic herbs can be used in combination with hawthorn to round out the supplemental needs of older animals. These might include ginkgo; or yarrow; (for strengthening capillary walls;), garlic ;(for added antioxidant and immune system support), alfalfa; and red clover; (to nourish the blood, increase appetite;;, and raise energy levels), dandelion leaf ;(to assist in the removal of excess water and lend tonic support to the kidneys) and oatstraw; (as a nervous system tonic).
Cautions & Comments: Hawthorn is very safe. In fact, in the hundreds of animal studies that have been conducted with this herb over the past 100 years, hawthorn has shown extremely low toxicity in every animal tested. We place the toxicity potential of hawthorn berries on the same level as rose hips;, raspberries;, or blueberries;… in other words, hawthorn is a medicinal food.
1. Kovach, A.G.B., Foeldi, M and Fedina, L. “Die wirkung eines extraktes aus crataegus oxycantha auf die durchstroemung der coronarirkung von hunden.” Arzneimittel-Forschung, 9(6), 378-79, 1959.
2. Al Makdessi S; Sweidan H; Müllner S; Jacob R, “Myocardial protection by pretreatment with Crataegus oxyacantha: an assessment by means of the release of lactate dehydrogenase by the ischemic and reperfused Langendorff heart.” Arzneimittelforschung, 1996 Jan, 46:1, 25-7. Institute of Physiology II, University of Tübingen, Germany.
HOPS ; Humulus lupulus Mulberry family
Appearance: Hops is a beautiful, trailing vine, with deeply-lobed leaves reminiscent of those of grape vines.
Habitat & Range: Originally a Eurasian plant, several cultivars of hops are grown throughout the world. Many varieties have escaped cultivation, and now adorn waste areas, railway easements, and moist ravines throughout North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial which blooms in mid to late summer.
Parts Used: The strobiles.
Actions: Sedative, diuretic, bitter.
Affinities: Nervous system, urinary tract, digestive.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, fresh strobiles.
Specific Uses: Unlike many of the “calming herbs” we refer to as “herbal sedatives”, hops is truly sedative in nature. It works as a mild but reliable nervous system depressant and hypnotic1, whereas most other calming herbs work more as muscle relaxants. Provided it is used with prudence and respect (See Cautions & Comments, below), hops serves as an excellent general purpose calming agent in cases of acute anxiety— such as the dreaded trip to the groomer or a long, horse trailer ride on the interstate. Provided they accept the bitter flavor, a handful or two of the fresh or dried strobiles can be fed to horses, llamas, mules or other herbivores just before or during and emotional crisis. A few drops of the tea or tincture can be fed to dogs and cats, just before the carpet cleaning crew arrives— or in anticipation of a terrifying thunder storm. Hops is also good for separation anxiety, and for helping to calm down episodes of hyperexcitability which are subsequent to traumatic events— like the intermittent episodes of insomnia, whining, and restlessness which haunt an adopted pet who is recovering from physical or emotional abuse. Ten to twenty drops added to each quart of the animal’s drinking water usually serves this purpose well. Hops is also good for helping an animal to relax in the presence of physical pain, especially when it is combined with valerian. While hops will not lend appreciable pain-killing activities, it will assist the animal in dealing with pain naturally (animals are much better at this than we are). One-eighth of a teaspoon for each twenty pounds of the animals weight, no more than three times daily, will usually suffice for pain or acute anxiety problems. However, while hops may help to relieve the severity of a painful or emotional crisis, it is important to remember that it cannot approach the deeper causes of behavioral disorders. Hyperactivity and excitability may be symptoms of a nutritional deficiency, a metabolic imbalance, an infection, or hyperthyroidism. Look deep into your animal’s crisis, from as many perspectives as you can— even if hops seems to be solving the problem, it may only be masking the symptoms of a serious disease.
Animal studies have also confirmed that the humulone and lupulone constituents in hops are active against many forms of gram-positive bacteria2, as well as some of the troublesome fungi, including Candida species.3 Human studies have also shown very promising results from the use of hops in treating gallbladder inflammation4 and urinary incontinence5. In the latter study, 772 of 915 human patients who received a formula containing hops, uva-ursi, and vitamin E experienced excellent results.
Availability: Dried hops are available through herb retailers, or wherever beer-making supplies are sold. Avoid the compressed pellets or strobiles, and the concentrated hop syrups used for brewing. What you want is the whole, dried strobiles. The compressed pellets and syrups are very concentrated and may have a serious, toxic reaction in your animal. Ideally, of course, you should grow your own hops.
Propagation & Harvest: Hop vines are easy to grow, cold hardy, and are very attractive when trained to climb a trellis or the garden archway. The plants need moist, rich soil and full sun in order to thrive and bloom. Plants and root cuttings are available through nurseries.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For pain and post-traumatic irritability, hops combines especially well with valerian. If the pain is attributable to nerve trauma or dysfunction, consider skullcap, oatstraw, or St. John’s wort as possible adjuncts or alternatives. For anxiety and restlessness that is characterized by trembling or hyperexcitability to touch or a sudden sound (the animal jumps when surprised), hops can be combined with skullcap or passion flower.
Cautions & Comments: At the time this book was written, the National Animal Poison Control Center had recorded eight instances of dogs dying from hops that had been used and discarded during the process of brewing beer. All of these dogs succumbed to malignant hyperthermia— an acute, uncontrollable fever, the first symptom of which is heavy panting, followed by rapid heartbeat and a rapid and continued rise in body temperature. Seven of these dogs were greyhounds, and it appears that this breed is especially susceptible to this problem. It should be noted that these deaths were from the spent hops after being used in making beer, not from the medicinal quality hops used in tinctures. From this, it appears that the problem stems from three common denominators: 1) the chemistry of, or manner by which spent (post-brewing) hops are metabolized by greyhounds may be quite different than how fresh or dried strobiles are processed by the same animals. It is evident that the chemical and biochemical relationships between hops, malt syrup, various kinds of sugars and other elements of beer-making may be responsible for the sum-total results of these occurrences, and should be investigated . Heat raises yet another question— the process of boiling the “wort” is likely to change the chemistry of the hops and the entire beer-making combination. 2) The hops used may have been compressed, and therefore would have been very concentrated. 3) While we still don’t know why, it appears that greyhounds are especially predisposed to this problem, and therefore should never be fed hops.
In light of this problem, a subsequent study was conducted and published in the January 1, 1997 issue of The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 6 The study found that all of the greyhounds which had been examined in an emergency clinic for the disorder had ingested approximately 250 milliliters of spent hops— that’s about two measuring cups full (i.e.., alot of hops!). Spent brewing hops are sweet and tasty— making them a target for gluttony and toxic excess. DON’T ALLOW ACCESS OF YOUR SPENT HOME BREW HOPS TO YOUR PET, ESPECIALLY IF YOUR PET IS A GREYHOUND. Limit your use of hops to small quantities of a high quality formulation that is designed for animals, or use unadulterated fresh or dried hops with moderation.
1. Wohlfart, R. et al. “The Sedative-hypnotic principle of hops.” 4. Communication: Pharmacology of 2-methyl-3-buten2-ol. Planta Medica, 1983; 48: 120-23.
2. Schmalreck, AF et al. “Structural features determining the antibiotic potencies of natural and synthetic hop bitter resins, their precursors and derivatives.” Canadian Journal of Microbiology, 1975; 21: 205-12.
3. Mizobuchi, S., Sato, Y. “Antifungal activities of hop bitter resins and related compounds.” Agric. Biol. Chem. 1985; 49: 399-405.
4. Chakarski, I et al. “Clinical study of a herb combination consisting of Humulus lupulus, Mentha piperita, Cichorium intybus in patients with chronic calculous and non-calculous cholecystitis.” Probl Vatr Med 1982; 10: 65-9.
5. Lenau, H. et al. “Wirksamkeit und Vertraglichkeit von Cysto Fink bei Patienten mit Reizblase und/oder Harninkontinenz. Therapiewoche 1984; 34: 6054.
6. Duncan, Karen L., Hare, William R., Buck, William B. “Malignant hyperthermia-like reaction secondary to ingestion of hops in five dogs.” JAVMA, Vol.210, No. 1, Jan. 1, 1997.
HORSETAIL 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.
Availability: A common plant throughout most of the world. The dried herb and tincture is available through herb retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: For medicine of optimum quality, harvest E. arvense in mid to late spring; while the leaves of the bottle brush-like plant still point skyward. Later, as the leaves spread horizontally, they become less water soluble, and therefore do not make as good a medicine. Clip the plants just above ground level, and spread them out on a piece of newspaper to thoroughly dry before use. Do not gather this plant from roadsides or other areas which may contain toxic residue— horsetail is known to pull heavy metals and other contaminants out of the soil and into its tissues.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Combines well with marshmallow, cleavers, plantain, chickweed, cornsilk, or couchgrass for urinary tract problems. To help in the healing of bone and connective tissue injuries, horsetail tincture combines well with comfrey or nettle, and serves as an excellent adjunct to glucosamine and chondroiton sulfate supplements (see the chapter on arthritis). For nervous system support of older animals, horsetail serves as an excellent adjunct to hawthorn and ginkgo.
Cautions & Comments: Do not use in cases of hypertension or cardiac disease. May cause breast milk to change flavor during lactation. If there is a history of silicate stones of the urinary system, caution should used. Do not gather this plant from areas that are downstream of commercial farming as it may contain inorganic nitrates which are metabolized into abnormal nicotine-like alkaloids. Livestock have reportedly been poisoned by eating large quantities of horsetail, possibly due to the alkaloid (equisetonoside) interfering with either the production or use of vitamin B1.
1. Carlisle, E.M. “Silicon as an essential trace element in animal nutrition.” Silicon Biochemistry, Wiley, Chichester (Ciba Foundation Symposium 121), pp 123-139, 1986.
2. Piekos, R.u.S. Palslawaska: Planta Medica, 27, 1975, 147; as cited in Weiss, Rudolf Fritz, Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Publishers, Ltd., pp. 238-40.
3. Frohne and Pfander, A Color Atlas of Poisonous Plants, 1984, p. 104)
4. Loeper, J.E., et al. “Fatty acids and lipid peroxidation during experimental atheroma. Silicon’s action.” Pathol. Biol., 32, pp. 693-697, 1984.
5. Solomons, N.W. “The other trace minerals.” Absorption and Malabsorption of Mineral Nutrients, A.R. Liss, Inc., New York, pp. 283-285.
JUNIPER Juniperis species Cypress family
Appearance: There are over 130 species of Juniper worldwide; about 26 of these are native to North America. The berries of all are useful, but Juniperis commonis (Common Juniper) has a reputation among herbalists and wild food epicureans as having the strongest berries.
Generally speaking, species of this large genus of evergreens are differentiated by their size (trees or low-growing shrubs) and the specific characteristics of their leaves (needle-like or scale-like). The most widespread variety is Common Juniper (Juniperis commonis – illus.), a ground-hugging shrub with sharp, 1/4″-1/2″ “needles” that are arranged in whorls of 3. Of the tree varieties, Western Juniper (J. occcidentalis), Rocky Mountain Juniper (J. scopulorum) , and Utah Juniper (J. osteosperma) are common to their respective habitats in the western US., often standing as the predominant foliage of the landscape. These leaves of these varieties are of the “scale-like” variety (see photo of J. osteosperma ). All Junipers can be easily identified by their foliage and cones (commonly called Juniper “berries”), which have a strong and distinctive gin-like aroma. The conspicuous 1/4″-3/8″ female “berries” have a dusty-blue appearance, and grow from leaf axils (where leaves join branches) where they may remain for 2-3 years before ripening and falling to the ground. The small male cones usually remain unnoticed by the eye and are borne alone at the tips of the branches.
Habitat & Range: Common Juniper is generally a mountain shrub which can be found on rocky hillsides and forest clearings up to about 10,000′. It is widespread from Alaska to California and throughout much of temperate North America. The aforementioned tree varieties are high-desert dwellers of Eastern California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Evergreen, producing fruits which take two to three years to ripen.
Parts Used: The fruits (berries) and the leaves (often called the “needles”).
Actions: Astringent, diuretic, antimicrobial, nephritic, hypoglycemic, tonic.
Affinities: Genitourinary system (including the kidneys), skin.
Preparation: Decoction of the leaves or berries, tincture (berries), or the whole (dried or fresh) berries can be fed directly or as a food additive.
Specific Uses: Recent scientific studies conducted at the College of Medicine at the Taiwan National University1 and the Universidad de Granada in Spain2, have shown that juniper offers new hope in the treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In the study conducted in Spain, a decoction (a strong tea made by slow simmering) of ripe Juniper berries was administered to both diabetic and healthy rats. In both test groups, the decoction was found to lower blood glucose levels by increasing glucose uptake in the diaphragm, while at the same time increasing the release of insulin from the pancreas. The result: a lower mortality rate in animals with insulin dependent diabetes and new hope for those with other forms of diabetes. In the study conducted in Taiwan, a compound derivative of the berries called 14 acetoxycedrol was found to have anti-coagulant effects in the blood and a relaxing action on vascular tissues… actions which should prove very useful in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in both man and animals.
In the minds of modern herbalists, these wonderful new discoveries only add to Juniper’s long history as a healing ally. During the black plague many European physicians would carry three or four Juniper berries in their mouth at all times to prevent infection. Medical instruments were soaked in a disinfecting decoction of the berries. American Indians used every part of the shrub for a variety of ailments ranging from sore throat to dandruff, sometimes bathing their horses in the root tea to improve their coat. In fact Juniper has been used as a food and medicine for thousands of years by cultures the world over, and remains an ingredient in several mainstream over-the-counter diuretic and laxative remedies today. The berries remain a valuable culinary commodity as well, as they are used as the primary flavoring agent in gin and as a rather expensive seasoning for gourmet dishes (I like to use them in place of bay leaves in chili and wild food dishes).
Modern day herbalists use juniper to treat edema, arthritis, acute and severe cystitis and other infections of the urinary tract. Juniper is also known to stimulate kidney function by increasing the rate of glomerulus filtration (i.e., the process by which the kidneys filter out impurities and cleanse the blood). In lay terms this means that it increases urine production and elimination of waste. This is accomplished by an irritant action which is attributable to Juniper’s generous content of volatile oils ( especially one which is called terpineol). Because of these irritating effects, Juniper should never be used in animals with pre-existing kidney problems, nor should it be used over long periods of time. Also, Juniper is known to have a vasodilating action in the uterus and was once used to promote menstrual flow. Therefore, it should never be used in pregnant animals. Fortunately, all of this sounds more ominous than it really is… many stimulatory herbs work through their abilities to selectively irritate the body. When used over a very short period of time in the correct dosages, and in non-pregnant animals with healthy kidneys, the effects of Juniper can safely increase renal circulation and boost overall kidney function.
The antiseptic and astringent properties of the berries or leaves may be useful in relieving itchiness and infections of the skin when applied topically in the form of a cooled, dilute rinse. Since the plant is not very water soluble, you will first need to make a simple decoction (see the section on making herbal preparations). After the decoction has cooled, dilute it with enough cold water to give it the appearance of a weak tea… you should be able to look through a clear 8 oz. glass of the liquid. Now you can pour it over your dog (and as long as you’re not a hemophiliac, your cat) until the animal is thoroughly soaked. Avoid getting any into your animals eyes, or discomfort may occur.
Before using Juniper in a rinse, be sure that the decoction is well diluted. While problems seldom occur when using Juniper as a skin rinse, the volatile oils in the plant can be irritating if the solution is too strong, especially if your animal has sensitive skin to start with. (By the way… this applies to peppermint, pennyroyal, and eucalyptus rinses as well.)
After rinsing, your dog (or angry cat) will smell like a conifer forest on a warm spring day!
Availability: Juniper berries are available at the supermarket, but they are ridiculously expensive considering how common the shrubs are. Juniper leaf and berry extracts are available through herb retailers. Several shrub and small tree varieties are available from landscape nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Several species of Juniper have been domesticated and are available at your local nursery. Common Juniper (J. commonis) is frequently used as a low-growing landscaping shrub, and is an excellent choice for walkway borders and flowerbeds. Junipers are very easy to grow, but tend to grow slowly. Once established they are very cold-hardy (especially J. commonis ) and drought tolerant, and require minimal maintenance. Soil quality is of little concern to these plants, but they do appreciate at least a slightly acidic pH level… so if necessary, amend your soil with some redwood compost. When you visit the nursery, remember that only the female plants bear the sought after berries, and that you will need at least two plants (a male and a female) to produce fruit.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For inflammations of the urinary tract, look toward couchgrass, gravel root, corn silk, plantain, and uva-ursi before using juniper. Marshmallow adds soothing and lubricating protection when added to juniper. For urinary tract infections, look at echinacea, sage, thyme, and oregon grape as alternatives or adjuncts. For treating flea bites and other skin irritations, juniper combines well in a skin rinse with calendula, chamomile, or peppermint (or for that matter, any kind of mint).
Cautions & Comments: Do not use juniper internally in animals with pre-existing kidney disease, nor in pregnant or lactating animals (see “Specific Uses”, above). The key rule with juniper is one which applies to all herbal remedies… use with caution and always in moderation. And remember this: what may be deemed “excessive” for one animal may be inadequate for another. Proper use of Juniper is entirely dependent upon an accurate assessment of your companion’s individual needs and medical condition. Please see your holistic veterinarian first.
1. Teng, C.M., Lin, C.H., Kuo, Y.H., Lin, Y.L., and Huang, T.E.. “Antiplatelet and Vasorelaxing Actions of the Acetoxy derivative of Cedranediol isolated from Juniperis squamata”, Planta Med. Vol 60 (1994), pp. 209-213.
2. Sanchez de Medina, E., Gamez, M.J., Jimenez, I. , Jimenez, J., Osuna, J.I., and Zarzuelo, A. “Hypoglycemic activity of Juniper Berries”, Planta Med., Vol 60 (1994), pp. 197-200.
LAVENDER Lavandula angustifolia; Mint family
Appearance: With its delicate, spike-like flowers, narrow silvery leaves, and its sweet fragrance, lavender is a beautiful adornment to any garden. There are several cultivars of Lavandula, the one most commonly found in nurseries in English lavender(Lavandula angustifolia).
Habitat & Range: A Mediterranean native that is in cultivation throughout much of the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms in early to mid-summer.
Parts Used: The flowers, leaves, and stems.
Actions: Anti-depressive, sedative, antibacterial, astringent, analgesic, antispasmodic, tonic.
Affinities: Skin, nervous system, respiratory, joints.
Preparation: Diluted essential oil, tea, dried flower bunches, sachets, etc.
Specific Uses: For use in animals, the essential oil of lavender works wonders toward calming a nervous or excited animal. In depressed or aggressive animals, lavender can be used to lift the spirit and ‘adjust attitude’ into a happier state of mind. In these applications, the oil is not applied to the animal itself, but is used as aromatherapy— an open bottle of the oil is waved under the animal’s nostrils, or a few drops are put on a piece of cardboard that is placed near the animal’s bedding, under a car seat, or on the outside of a travel carrier. The sweet aroma will help the animal, and its human guardian, to relax during an otherwise restless experience. Often times the effects are instantaneous. A small sachet bag can be filled with lavender flowers and placed near the animal for the same (but less reliable) effect.
In addition to its use as a calming mood-elevator, a few drops of the essential oil can be added to some water and placed in a vaporizer (or a potpourri simmering pot) and used to treat coughs and respiratory infections. When placed in a room, within close proximity of the animal, the vapor will help open respiratory passages, stimulate expectoration, and will inhibit bacterial reproduction in the lungs.
For joint inflammation, stiffness, or pain, ten drops of the essential oil can be added to one ounce of apricot kernel or almond oil (these absorb into skin more readily than olive oil)— the mixture is then liberally massaged into the affected area to bring relief. The oil mixture is also useful for insect bites and stings, and is an excellent addition to first aid salves.
A good tick repellant oil can be made from 300ml of olive or other oil, 500ml of essential oil of Terebinth, 100ml of St John’s wort infused oil, and 100ml of essential oil of lavender.1 These amounts will make about a liter of the oil. It can be massaged on affected areas to help the ticks drop off, and as a preventative it can be massaged on areas of the dog that are most likely to come into contact with ticks.
A tea of the fresh the fresh or dried flowers, leaves, and stems can be used as an external skin rinse for relief from pain and itching that is caused by seborrhea, contact dermatitis, or flea bites. The rinse will help fight bacterial infection as well. Be sure the rinse is well diluted (see “Cautions & Comments”)— the water should be slightly tinted, but still very fragrant. For more on the use of skin rinses, see the “Skin Problems” chapter.
Availability: The essential oil can be purchased through natural products retailers, as can the dried flowers. Plants are available through most nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Lavender is winter-hardy, drought resistant, and easy to grow from transplants. Plants prefer well-drained, sandy soil with a pH between 6.4 and 8.3 (acid soil should be amended with hydrated lime or soft rock phosphate).
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For joint problems lavender combines with yarrow, arnica, St. John’s wort, or cayenne. For respiratory infections, try adding yarrow to the vaporizer. For calming effects, lavender aromatherapy used in conjunction with an internal dose of passion flower, skullcap, valerian, or hops can be very effective.
Cautions & Comments: The volatile oils contained in lavender can be very hard on the liver and kidneys of animals, so internal use of this herb is best avoided. Under no circumstances should the highly concentrated essential oil be ingested. The oil should not be used on the skin in undiluted form, as it may cause irritation.
1. Grosjean, Nelly. Veterinary Aromatherapy, The C.W. Daniel Co, Ltd.
LICORICE Glycyrrhiza glabra & G. lepidota Pea Family
Appearance: Licorice is a member of the Pea Family, and can be characterized by its greenish-white, pea-like axillary flowers, pinnately divided pea-like leaves (divided into pairs of lance-shaped leaflets), and its inclination to climb and tangle among other plants. At first glance, licorice looks like any one of thousands of wild legumes. Fortunately, our wild American licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota - illus.) politely presents us with characteristics that make it entirely unique and easy to identify. It is a very large legume (3-7′ tall when mature) with an exceptionally stout, reddish main stem. But even more distinguishing are its 1/2″ long, tightly clustered seed pods, which are distinctively covered with conspicuous hooked spines (see photo). No other legume in North America presents this characteristic, and since the pods are usually visible on dead stalks from previous years throughout the plants’ growth cycle, G. lepidota really stands out in its habitat. But don’t expect much flavor or aroma from G. lepidota; American licorice has little or no licorice-like odor, and the roots are only faintly sweet when fresh. As the roots dry, they become more aromatic, but never as strongly as the cultivated varieties. This limits G. lepidota’s use as a flavoring agent, but like its cultivated cousins, it remains very useful as a medicine.
Habitat & Range: The vast majority of licorice root sold in North America is Glycyrrhiza glabra, a native of southeast Europe that probably came over with the first Anglo settlers. Of the 25 or so species that can be found worldwide, we have only one native species in North America: Glycyrrhiza lepidota. All others have been naturalized from Europe or Asia. American licorice occurs sporadically across North America, and like its alien relatives that in many areas have escaped cultivation, it is generally found in moist ravines, roadside ditches, waste areas, and along the banks of irrigation canals where soils are rich and deep. When you find licorice in such areas, beware of herbicides and vehicular residues which may have been absorbed by the plants.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A biennial or short-lived perennial which reproduces by seed. Blooms in mid-summer.
Parts Used: The root.
Actions: Expectorant, alterative, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, adrenal agent, mild laxative, tonic, immunostimulant.
Affinities: Respiratory, digestive, endocrine
Preparation: Fresh or dried, chopped root, tea, tincture.
Specific Uses: Numerous studies have confirmed that licorice is a very effective and fast-acting anti-inflammatory agent. In fact, many herbalists regard it as Nature’s answer to hydrocortisone, and claim that it potentiates the effectiveness of other herbs when added to compound formulas. All of this is primarily attributable to licorice’s glycyrrhizin content; a compound with a chemical structure very similar to the corticosteroids that are naturally released by the body’s adrenal glands. Glycyrrhizin effectively stimulates the adrenals into action, and is considered specific for treating Addison’s disease. Adding to this activity, licorice provides anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, immunostimulant, and corticosteroid-like actions to the body— thus helping to relieve pain, itching, and inflammation without completely bypassing the body’s normal anti-inflammatory functions, and without seriously compromising the immune system1. This makes licorice useful for a wide variety of inflammatory diseases. In a study where arthritis was induced into rats through injections of formaldehyde (I know this is terrible!), a by-product of glycyrrhizin called glycyrretic acid was produced in the body and was shown to have obvious anti-arthritic actions which are comparable to those of hydrocortisone2. Glycyrrhizin has also been shown to potentiate the effects of cortisone-like drugs in the body, which makes licorice a useful adjunct in hydrocortisone therapies. The theory here is that the potentiating effect of licorice will allow for lower drug dosages without compromising therapeutic effectiveness3. Used in this capacity, licorice should help reduce the debilitating side effects of steroid drugs in long term therapies, and may also be useful in assuring safe withdrawal when the patient is weaned off of the steroids.
The anti-inflammatory properties of licorice root are also useful when topically applied. Licorice tea, salve, or oil infusion can be used to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of various skin disorders, such as psoriasis, eczema, contact dermatitis, and flea allergies4. Used in this capacity, licorice provides a degree of relief while long term holistic therapies are underway… such as a detox/allergy therapy consisting of internal doses of burdock, dandelion, alfalfa, or other alterative herbs. In this example, the animal is receiving relief from suffering, but the underlying metabolic causes are also being addressed through tonification of the involved body systems.
To make a simple oil infusion all you need is some chopped, dried licorice root (available at any good herb retailer) and some olive oil. Put the root into a glass jar and cover it with enough oil to leave a 1/2″ layer of liquid above the herb. Cover the jar tightly, put it a warm (55-75°F) place, away from sunlight, and forget about it for one month. After a month, strain the oil through a sieve, then squeeze what you can from the herb by wrapping it in unbleached muslin or cheesecloth. You now have a sweet-tasting licorice oil that will keep for several months if refrigerated. Use it as needed, but expect your companion to lick it off… it tastes like candy!
In addition to its powerful anti-inflammatory actions, licorice root is also useful in the treatment and prevention of many forms of liver disease. Over the past two decades, medical researchers in China and Japan have found (through animal studies) that extracts of licorice root are useful in the treatment of chronic and chemically induced hepatitis, and that the herb has liver-protectant qualities which are no less significant than those offered by the popular liver herb, milk thistle (Silybum marianum). However, the mechanisms by which licorice root works in the liver are quite different from those of milk thistle— While milk thistle has been shown to resist liver cell destruction largely through protection of the cell walls and by antioxidant actions, licorice works through a broader diversity of effects. In addition to a protectant action that glycyrrhizin has upon the liver cells5, licorice also enhances interferon and T-cell production; two natural actions which are critical to liver repair and general resistance to disease. In Chinese medicine, licorice is commonly used as a “liver detoxifier” in the treatment of obstructive jaundice. And in several studies licorice has been shown to benefit animals which are suffering from liver damage due to absorbed or ingested toxins, such as carbon tetrachloride.
In a very recent study, the root of Glycyrrhiza uralensis (an Asian species of licorice) was found to have a potentiating effect on the reticuloendothelial system; the body’s first line of defense against infection. In essence, the reticuloendothelial system is comprised of specialized cells whos jobs are to seek out and eliminate invading microbes and dead blood cells, and licorice helps to stimulate these little bloodstream warriors into action.
Licorice is also an excellent, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, and expectorant remedy for the gastrointestinal and upper respiratory tracts. It is especially useful for healing ulceration of the stomach and reducing the gastric acid secretions which often contribute to the severity of ulcers. For bronchitis, licorice works well at reducing inflammation while adding antiviral, antibacterial, and soothing demulcent actions to any variety of other respiratory herbs which are employed (such as mullein, coltsfoot, grindelia, etc.).
When using licorice in your animal, you are likely to find the best results when using liquid extracts (tinctures). Feeding dried, chopped roots to herbivores is fine if tolerated, but dogs and cats have very short digestive tracts that may not absorb the active constituents quickly and completely. Herb tinctures are free-form medicines, with active constituents which are readily available and quickly assimilated early in the digestive process. This means that less active material will be lost during digestion, and more will end up in your cat instead of her litter. Dosage is entirely dependent upon individual needs and circumstances and should be determined by a trained practitioner, but 12-20 drops per 20 lbs. of body weight, 2x daily, of low-alcohol licorice extract is a conservative starting point for dogs, cats, and other small animals. Horses can be fed the equivalent of 10-30 grams (up to one ounce) of the dried root, or about 1/4 ounce of the tincture, daily. You can triple the liquid dosages if you are using a cooled tea (1 tsp. of the root to a cup of water).
Availability: Licorice can be planted from root cuttings or seed, both of which are available from various nursery catalogs that specialize in herbs.
Propagation & Harvest: To grow licorice in your garden, plant it in moist, deep, well-drained, nutrient rich sandy loam with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Although it is adaptable to various climates, licorice does best in areas with long, warm growing seasons. If you can’t meet these demands, don’t worry… this plant is adaptable just about anywhere.
Dig the perennial roots during the fall of their third or fourth years of growth… younger roots won’t be as potent. After digging, cut the roots into small pieces and dry them on newspaper, away from sunlight. The completely dried roots will keep for one to two years if properly stored in plastic bags in a cool, dry, dark place.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For stomach ulcers and other gastric disorders which are secondary to bacterial or parasitic infection, licorice combines with Oregon grape. To provide secondary anti-inflammatory relief in gastrointestinal or urinary tracts, consider corn silk, couchgrass, or uva-ursi as adjuncts. For respiratory problems, look at elecampane, coltsfoot, grindelia, mullein, slippery elm, plantain, marshmallow, and wild cherry bark as possible substitutes or adjuncts. For liver problems, look toward milk thistle, dandelion root, Oregon grape, red clover, and burdock as possible adjuncts.
Cautions & Comments: Like all herbal medicines, the primary rule is moderation and insight when using licorice. Throughout its long history as a medicine, licorice has been the subject of controversies. When used in large, highly concentrated doses (especially over long periods of time), several hydrocortisone-like side effects may occur… water retention, hypertension, loss of potassium, sodium retention and other symptoms of adrenal hyperactivity. In human studies, the large majority of these side effects have been observed following the excessive consumption of European licorice candy, which is made from a very concentrated, pressed extract of the root. (American produced Licorice candy contains absolutely no real licorice, but instead an artificial flavoring or the extracts of other plants which taste similar.) Most herbalists and practitioners will agree that the risks of adverse side effects from licorice are limited to those who recklessly abuse it. I have never seen a case of licorice-induced toxicity. Nevertheless, licorice should not be used with reckless abandon or in normal doses for periods exceeding two weeks without the instructions of a qualified practitioner. If a licorice therapy does exceed two weeks, then diet should be adjusted to accommodate increased needs for potassium, and to eliminate excess sodium. Dandelion would be well indicated here, as it works as an effective diuretic to prevent water retention while providing an excellent source of supplemental potassium. Animals with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions should not be given licorice without professional guidance.
Licorice may elevate blood sugar levels, and should be used with caution in diabetic animals. It has also been shown to have estrogenic properties which may effect uterine functions. Therefore, licorice should not be used in pregnant or nursing animals.
1. Takagi, K., Watanabe, K. and Ishi, Y. “Peptic Ulcer Inhibiting Activity of Licorice Root”, Proc.Int. Pharmacol. Meeting7(2), 1-15, 1965.
2. Tangri, K.K. et al., “Biochemical Study of Antiinflammatory and Anti-arthritic Properties of Glycyrretic Acid”. Biochemical Pharmacology 14; 1277-1281, 1965.
3. Chen, M.F., et al. “Effect of Glycyrrhizin on the Pharmacokinetics of Prednisolone following low dosage of Prednisolone Hemisuccinate”. Endrocrinol, Japan. 37: 331-341, 1990.
4. Nasyrov, K.M. and Lazareva, D.N. “Study of the Anti-inflammatory Activity of Glycyrrhizin Acid Derivatives.” Farmacol. i Toksiko., 43(4), 399-404, 1980.
5. Ju HS, Li XJ, Zhao BL, Han ZW, Xin WJ., “Effects of Glycyrrhiza Flavonoid on on Lipid Peroxidation and Active Oxygen Radicals”, Yao Hsueh Hsueh Pao, 24 (11):80712, 1989
MARSHMALLOW Althea officinalis Mallow family
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.
To use marshmallow root internally, a tea or low-alcohol tincture is usually the best choice. However, the dried or fresh root may be a better choice for problems that are deep within the digestive system, such as colitis. This is because marshmallow’s mucilage is highly water soluble, and may not reach the lower end of the digestive tract unless it is carried there in a solid container, namely the chopped or ground root.
If you opt to use a tincture of this herb, make sure that it doesn’t contain more than 20% alcohol (actually, none is needed). The mucilage constituents don’t take well to alcohol, and if too much is used in the tincture-making process, the end product will cause nausea when ingested. We like glycerin tinctures of this herb, not only for this reason, but because the glycerin itself adds soothing, protective qualities to the medicine. Marshmallow “glycerite” can be squirted directly into an animal’s mouth— 1 ml (about 1/4 tsp.) per 20 pounds of the animals body weight, three times daily or as needed. Or, a tea can be made by steeping a teaspoon of the dried, chopped root (or 2 tsp. of fresh root) in eight ounces of very hot water. Stir the tea frequently, until it has cooled to lukewarm. You should be able to feel the slippery-oily nature of the mucilage when you rub a few drops of the tea between your thumb and index finger. If not, add more marshmallow root. One teaspoon of the tea is a good starting dose for dogs. Cats will usually benefit from half a teaspoon— it’s also very good for lubricating and expelling fur balls. For lower gastrointestinal problems or to help relieve constipation (in a manner similar to that of psyllium husks), the dried powdered root can be added to an animals’ food, at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon for each pound of food fed (1/4 teaspoon is good for cats and other small animals), once or twice daily. For horses, one ounce of the powdered root can be added to feed each day, to aid in cases of cystitis, colitis, or chronic spasmodic colic.
For problems that are very close to the rectum (such as a swollen anal gland that is irritated by bowel movements), a small gel cap might be necessary to carry the root powder through the digestive tract to the problem area, or a small amount of the cooled tea or glycerite can be administered as a suppository, using a soft plastic pipette or ear syringe.
Marshmallow has been shown to have hypoglycemic activity in animals2. More research is warranted, but this suggests that it might be useful in treating certain forms of diabetes— but see your holistic veterinarian before trying it in this capacity.
Availability: Marshmallow plants are available through most nurseries. Marshmallow root and various preparations are available through herb retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: Marshmallow is very easy to grow. It can be propagated by seed, root cutting, or transplants. Although it requires ample water to flourish, it’s not picky about soil and is both hardy and drought tolerant once it is established. Planting should occur in early spring. The roots will be ready to harvest anytime during their third year of growth and every year thereafter. You do not have to kill your plant to dig some of the root— simply divide what you need from the existing root system, and give the plant extra water until the roots regenerate.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For urinary problems, marshmallow combines well with couchgrass, horsetail, uva-ursi, corn silk, echinacea, ginkgo, or any of the diuretic herbs. For coughs and upper respiratory irritations, marshmallow combines with mullein, coltsfoot, elecampane, or grindelia. For digestive problems, look at licorice, chamomile, calendula, cleavers, fennel, dill, or any variety of mint as herbs to combine with marshmallow. In horses, a combination of marshmallow, valerian, slippery elm, and licorice is good for a spastic colon. For infections or irritations of the skin, calendula, mullein flower, garlic, comfrey, and aloe are all complimented by marshmallow.
Cautions & Comments:
Marshmallow has long been used as a food plant, and its safety is substantiated by many years of use in both humans and animals. However, marshmallow is known to lower blood sugar levels, and therefore should be used with caution in hypoglycemic animals. It may also retard the intestinal absorption of some drugs.
1. Recio, MC et al. “Antimicrobial activity of selected plants employed in the Spanish Mediterranean are, part II.” Phytotherapy Res. 1989; 3: 77-88.
2. Tomodo, M. et al. “Hypoglycemic activity of twenty plant mucilages and three modified products.” Planta Medica, 1987; 53: 8-12.
MILK THISTLE Silybum marianum Sunflower family
Appearance: From a distance, milk thistle looks very much like any other thistle— deeply-lobed, alternate, often spiny leaves; stout, often spiny stems; and large (up to 2″ wide) white to purple disk flowers, each resembling a miniature artichoke ( (( another thistle!). However, closer inspection of milk thistle reveals a web-like pattern on the surfaces of the leaves; a characteristic that sets it apart from its many cousins. Milk thistle may grow to seven feet tall.
Habitat & Range: A native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, milk thistle has become naturalized in many portions of North America. In many areas it has earned the reputation of an invasive weed. Milk thistle is cultivated throughout much of the world, for its medicinal seeds.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual or biennial that blooms June-July.
Parts Used: The ripe seeds.
Actions: Hepatoprotective, tonic.
Preparation: Alcohol tincture, or a standardized powder extract(usually contained in gel capsules).
A high concentration of alcohol is required to extract the active constituents from the ground seeds— be skeptical of milk thistle tincture products which claim “low alcohol” on their labels.
Specific Uses: Milk thistle has long ethnobotanical history that places it as much more than a liver herb. It has been used to treat every thing from cancer to poor milk production in nursing mothers, but really— its most effective use is to protect and regenerate the liver.
Most of milk thistle’s usefulness can be attributed to its silymarin constituent. Dozens of studies have confirmed that silymarin and its related compounds support and protect the liver during crisis, by accelerating the rate of protein synthesis and stimulating production of new cells to replace those which have been damaged. These compounds work as powerful antioxidants and strengthen liver cell resistance to toxic compounds, while at the same time stimulating cellular reproduction. Much of what we know about these activities stems from the discovery that silymarin can be used to antidote Amanita (“death cap”)mushroom poisoning. When intravenous silymarin is administered within 24 to 48 hours of ingestion, toxic compounds that would normally destroy liver cells are prevented from penetrating the cell walls, and liver damage is greatly minimized. Scientific research has also confirmed that milk thistle protects the liver from the harmful effects of various other (non-mushroom) toxins.
Specifically, milk thistle is useful for protecting your animal’s liver during a toxicity-related crisis (such as exposure to toxic chemicals or potentially harmful drug therapies), or to help your animal through a liver damage or disease crisis. It can be used in dogs, cats, horses, goats, ferrets, and rodents, and is useful for liver or kidney damage, hepatitis, jaundice, leptospirosis, and parvovirus recovery. Milk thistle may prove helpful for treating liver tumors, cancer, and skin problems that are secondary to liver disease. Animals that have been on allopathic drugs, heartworm medication, dewormers, vaccinations, anticonvulsive drugs, or chemotherapy might benefit from this herb as well. Milk thistle can also help block the potential liver-damaging effects of anesthesia and is often used both pre- and post surgery in Germany. Medical and biological studies support its use in lessening the toxic effect of heavy metals, if taken soon enough.
Despite much of the hype that has been generated about this wonder herb, milk thistle should not be used as a daily food supplement. Milk thistle is a medicine that is best reserved for situations where the liver is already under abnormal stress. Many herbalists believe that it can actually slow the metabolic functions of a healthy liver— when used in absence of pre-existing stress, milk thistle probably won’t do any harm, but on the other hand it might cause digestive disorders or it might impair other body-cleansing functions of the liver. In any case, milk thistle is unnecessary in absence of a real and present need, and its use as a dietary supplement constitutes waste.
Alcohol tinctures are best because they allow quick and complete absorption of silymarin into the body. However, in cases where severe liver damage might be compounded by alcohol, or in animals with alcohol hypersensitivity, a standardized powder extract (formulated to contain 60-80% silymarin) might be the better choice. In cases where stress upon the liver is suspected but not yet serious, the alcohol extract can be administered at a starting dose of 1 milliliter (1/4 tsp.) per 20 lbs. of the animal’s body weight. Before feeding it to your animal, dilute each dose with an equal amount or more of water— this will make the tincture more palatable and minimize the astringency and burning sensation of the alcohol. The tincture can then be added to the animal’s food.
In any suspected case of liver disease, a holistic veterinarian should be consulted before proceeding with the use of milk thistle or any other herb.
Availability: Available through herb retailers, in various formulations.
Propagation & Harvest: Milk thistle is easy to grow, but the small yield of seeds per plant make cultivation a pointless endeavor— unless of course you own a farm, not just a garden. Harvest must be done when the seeds are completely ripe and dry, but before they leave the plant with a gust of wind. In other words, leave it to the people who farm it!
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Licorice is another excellent liver-repair herb that possesses a broader spectrum of medicinal activities than milk thistle. For mild to moderate liver disorders that are believed to be toxicity related and that are signified by chronic constipation, indigestion, or skin problems, milk thistle can be combined with dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, red clover, Oregon grape, or turmeric.
Cautions & Comments:
Avoid during pregnancy. May alter liver enzymes (SGOT/SGPT readings). Without an ongoing stress, using Milk Thistle, or standardized Silybum, may actually result in depressed liver function. Studies with laboratory animals given high doses of silymarin for long periods of time display no toxicity, although choleretic effects may cause gastrointestinal irritation and loose stools.
1. Schoen, Allen M, Wynn, Susan G. Complimentary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, Principles and Practice. pp. 351-52. St. Louis: Mosby, 1997.
MULLEIN Verbascum thapsus Figwort family
Appearance: This conspicuous plant is recognized during its first year of growth as a basal rosette of large (up to 12″ long), broadly lance-shaped, profusely fuzzy leaves. During its second and final year of growth, Mullein heads skyward with a stout, central stalk which may exceed six feet tall. The numerous yellow flowers are then presented in a terminate, cob-like inflorescence. As the flowers dry, each forms a capsule which contain multitudes of tiny seeds (each about the size of a table salt granule). There are several species of mullein in North America. Verbascum thapsus is the most common and widespread.
Habitat & Range: Mullein is a Eurasian import that has made itself at home in any variety of disturbed sites throughout North America. It is common to clearcuts, burned areas, and partially developed lands in the West, where it often serves as an important “Earth-Regenerator;”; helping to regain biological balances and prevent erosion.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A biennial that blooms throughout the summer.
Parts Used: Leaves, flower heads, roots (each part represents different medicines).
Actions: Expectorant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antitussive, demulcent, astringent, tonic.
Affinities: Respiratory, urinary, skin and ears.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, oil infusion, compress, poultice.
Specific Uses: This “wayside weed” is extremely useful, providing safe and effective medicine for a wide variety of ailments. The leaves are well known for their ability to ease a spasmodic cough, while reducing inflammation and increasing mucus production in the bronchi— making the coughs more productive and allowing the sufferer to rest easier. These qualities combine with antimicrobial and antiviral properties, making it an herb of choice in the treatment of canine tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) and various other forms of respiratory distress in animals. Scientific studies have shown that a synergy of compounds contained in mullein leaf actively inhibit reproduction of herpes simplex virus(HSV)1,2. This activity, combined with the antitussive and expectorant qualities of the plant, might prove useful in treating canine herpes virus (CHV) and feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR). Although more study is needed to ascertain the effectiveness of mullein against HSV infections in animals, the safety of this plant and its demonstrated ability to relieve many of the discomforts of these diseases justifies giving it a try. A strong leaf tea can be used (10ml per 30 pounds of a dog’s body weight, twice daily; 5ml twice daily for cats), or a glycerin tincture can be given directly into the mouth; 1-2 milliliters per 20 pounds of an animal’s weight, twice daily. Mullein leaf is also useful in the treatment of asthma, especially when it is combined with elecampane, grindelia, or lobelia(please see the Lobelia section for cautions about this herb).
The large leaves of mullein also make an excellent antimicrobial and astringent poultice for minor wounds and insect bites— just mash up a few fresh or dried leaves with some water, and apply it directly to affected area.
The flowering tops of mullein are well-known for antimicrobial properties that have a special affinity toward infections of the ears, including ear mites. The best way to use the flowers is in the form of an oil infusion (refer to the chapters on medicine making and ear care). (NOTE: Ear problems are another sign of chronic disease in an animal who is on a commercial “junk food” diet.) The flowers also contain rotenone and a synergy of other insecticidal compounds, making mullein useful in the fight against fleas and mange (see the chapter on parasites).
Some herbalists maintain that a tincture of the root is useful for urinary incontinence. Although little scientific validation exists to support this claim, we believe that it strengthens the trigone (base) muscle of the bladder, making urination more controllable. Urinary incontinence can be from estrogen or testosterone deficiencies, neurogenic dysfunction, anatomical abnormalities, or paradoxical obstruction from urethral calculi or neoplasia, so contact your holistic vet to find the cause before proceeding with the use of mullein root.
Mullein leaf is also said to lower the acidity of urine, making it useful in the treatment of various urinary disorders where urine pH levels are too low.
Availability: An abundant weed in much of North America. The seeds are available through specialty seed catalogs (see the appendices).
Propagation & Harvest: The leaves of mullein can be harvested anytime, provided they look healthy. The flowers do not appear until the plants’ second year, and should be plucked from the flower heads when they are wide open (we prefer to use them fresh). The first year roots should be dug in fall; whereas the second year roots should be dug in the spring, before the biennial plant begins to die.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For kennel cough and other respiratory problems, mullein leaf combines well with elecampane, grindelia, or horehound. For use in the ears, nothing compares to a combination of garlic and mullein flower oil. St. John’s wort oil and vitamin are also great adjuncts here. Other herbs to consider for urinary incontinence (alone or as adjuncts) include corn silk, uva-ursi, couchgrass, St. John’s wort, and horsetail.
Cautions & Comments: The rotenone contained in mullein is toxic to aquatic life— KEEP MULLEIN AWAY FROM FISH AND AMPHIBIANS! Because this plant grows in waste areas and is considered a “weed” by most people, be very cautious of where you harvest it— it may have been sprayed with an herbicide.
1. McCutcheon A.R., Roberts T.E., Gibbons E., Ellis S.M., Babiuk L.A., Hancock R.E., Towers G.H., “Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants.” Jour. Ethnopharmacol, Dec., 1995; 49(2):101-10.
2. Slagowska A., Zgorniak-Nowosielska I., Grzybek J., “Inhibition of herpes simplex virus replication by Flos verbasci infusion.” Pol J Pharmacol Pharm ,1987 Jan-Feb; 39(1): 55-61.
NETTLE Urtica dioica Nettle family
Appearance: Stinging Nettle is an erect plant that may grow as high as 7′ where conditions permit. It reproduces largely from its shallow rhizomes, and is often found in dense colonial patches. Opposite leaves are broadly lance-shaped with coarsely toothed margins. Flowers are borne at the leaf axils and appear as inconspicuous, brownish, drooping clusters. Stems are covered with fine, stinging hairs. Young plants often emerge a reddish color, later turning green as they mature.
Habitat & Range: Several species of nettle inhabit drainage ditches, stream banks, and other moist soils throughout North America and much of the northern hemisphere.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial, annual, or biennial (depending on species and climate) that blooms in early summer.
Parts Used: Leaves and stems of the pre-flowering plant, and to a lesser extent the root.
Actions: Nutritive, antihistamine, astringent, tonic, alterative
Affinities: Genitourinary, blood, skin, and eyes.
Preparation: Dried herb (direct fed), tea, poultice, tea, tincture.
Specific Uses: All of species of Urtica cause an instantaneous contact dermatitis that is characterized by tiny blisters and a burning sting. But fortunately, nettle’s unpleasant, self-initiated introduction is usually short lived, and those who can learn to accept Nettle’s personality are bound to realize the precious gifts this somewhat obnoxious plant has to offer. Despite its unruly behavior toward people, I recognize this plant as one of nature’s best nutraceuticals. Ironically, nettles are actually quite delicious, nutritious, and rich with healing opportunities.
Although gloves and a long sleeved shirt must be worn when gathering the greens, complete drying or cooking neutralizes the plants’ antigenic proteins and formic acid compounds; the constituents responsible for the plants’ sting. These compounds break down quickly when exposed to air and/or heat, and when correctly prepared, the leafy greens of young nettle plants are delicious and contain a vast array of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In fact, 100 grams of dried, pre-flowering nettle plant contains up to 30.4 g (30% by weight) of crude protein, 2970 mg. of calcium, 680 mg. of phosphorus, 32.2 mg. of iron, 650 mg. magnesium, 20.2 mg. beta-carotene, and 3450 mg. of potassium1; along with vitamins, A, C, D, and B-complex… all contained in a highly palatable form which can be effectively assimilated into the body without adding excess stress upon the liver, kidneys, or digestive tract. This makes nettle an excellent addition to food for animals which need extra trace minerals and vitamins in their diet, but not necessarily in huge, multi-vitamin doses. This applies to animals which are already on a natural diet, or those who are sensitive to excessive vitamin or mineral supplementation because of chronic digestive disorders, existing systemic toxicity, or urinary tract problems. The completely dried herb can be sprinkled directly onto the animals’ food, 1/2 tsp. for each pound of food fed, or 1/3 tsp. per meal for cats. Herbivores can be fed the dried greens in their usual diet, and many will relish it as a special treat. In Sweden and Russia, where the problems of producing nutrient rich feeds is compounded by a very short growing season, winter-hardy nettles are sometimes cultivated, and later dried, as fodder crops.
For finicky pets that despise anything but what their humans are eating , try cooking the fresh young plants, with enough water to cover, until they are entirely soft and tender. The cooked greens are excellent with butter, and after your furry friend has watched you relish them for awhile, you can stir some into their food.
Although many herbal preparations for the eyes typically use a plant called “Eyebright” (Euphrasia species) as a primary anti-inflammatory agent, many herbalists are becoming concerned about the increasing scarcity of this wild harvested herb. Fortunately, nature always provides us with a diversity of herbal options — all that is required is for us to set market sensationalism aside and embrace our less compromised plant allies. As an alternative to Eyebright, nettle comes to my mind almost immediately.
Nettle leaf tea is also an excellent skin and coat rinse which will nourish your animal’s fur and provide symptomatic relief for itchy skin and flea bites.
Many herbalists who suffer from seasonal allergies have found that nettle leaf helps lessen their symptoms if taken on a regular basis in tincture or tea form, starting before hay fever season. In a recent study involving 69 patients who suffer from allergic rhinitis, 58% found relief after taking a freeze-dried preparation of the leaf2.
Although the theories behind the medicinal actions of nettle is varied, I believe that part of the basis for nettle’s anti-allergenic usefulness may lie in the plant’s histamine content, which may be working in a like-versus-like manner, similar to the concepts of homeopathy. By introducing a substance into the body which acts mildly as an allergenic antagonist, the body is triggered into protecting itself from what it believes to be an inevitable, all-out attack of allergens. In short, nettle may prompt the body into preparing itself. For animals with predictable, seasonal occurrences of allergies, dietary supplementation with dried nettle leaf may help.
Nettle root may be useful in the treatment of prostate enlargement, especially at early onset of the disorder. Although swollen prostate is not as common in animals as in humans, this disorder is sometimes secondary to a chronic or acute infections, poor diet, inflammatory disease, or injuries of the urinary tract— especially in older animals. In a study conducted on human subjects who suffered from prostatic adenoma (a degenerative enlargement of the glandular part of the prostate which typically results in frequent urination during the night), subjects who had mild cases or early onset of this disorder, the fluid extract (tincture) of nettle root was found to reduce the duration and volume of urine retention, and thus the need to urinate throughout the night was reduced as well. The active constituent in this case is believed to be ß-Sitosterol, a phytosterol which is known to possess mild anti-inflammatory activity. Although this action is not likely to reduce the formation of scar tissue within the urinary tract and prostate, it is believed to relieve symptoms through reduction of swelling in surrounding tissues.3 Given the safety of this herb and functional similarities between the prostates of animals and humans , nettle is certainly worth a try. However, large doses of nettle can be irritating to the kidneys if given over an extended period of time; particularly if an animal has pre-existing kidney disease or if the herb was gathered too late in its’ growth cycle.
Availability: Available wherever bulk herbs are sold.
Propagation & Harvest: Nettles can be transplanted from root cuttings, but the plants tend to be somewhat independent about where they choose to grow. Although we know exactly where the plants should thrive, our efforts to introduce nettle have met with a less than 50% success rate. In other words, you are probably better off finding a healthy patch of wild plants to collect your stash from. Gather the plants before they bloom— the younger the better. Mature plants begin to develop cystoliths, tiny crystalline particles in the leaf tissues which can cause irritation to the urinary tract and kidneys when ingested in large enough quantities. After gathering, you can boil the greens and serve them as you would spinach, or you can spread them onto clean newspapers and allow them to dry in a well-ventilated, sunlight-free location until they are crispy-dry. If a leaf or stem manages to sneak under your shirt sleeve, try this: grasp a piece of the stem and squeeze some of the nettle juice onto the affected area. The stem juice is rich in lecithin, which is believed to antidote the sting. We manage to get stung by this plant several times each spring, and we find relief from this method in many of our adverse encounters.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For anti-inflammatory eye and skin washes, alternatives include raspberry leaf, chamomile, dandelion, calendula, or oxeye daisy. For conjunctivitis which is secondary to bacterial or fungal infection, nettle combines well with a small part of Oregon grape (see the chapter on “Eye Problems”). Nutritive adjuncts include spirulina, flax seed, red clover and alfalfa. For allergies, nettle combines well with elecampane, coltsfoot, goldenrod, lobelia, or licorice as lesser adjuncts. For urinary incontinence and inflammations of the urinary tract, look at couchgrass, corn silk, cleavers, uva-ursi, goldenrod, and marshmallow.
Cautions & Comments: Touching the live plant will result in a painful, blistering sting. Thorough drying or cooking neutralizes the toxic constituents. Use this plant before it flowers— mature plants contain gritty particles that can irritate the kidneys. Animals that are predisposed to plant allergies may be sensitive to nettle— proceed with care.
1. Duke, James A., Urtica Dioica, CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, CRC Press, Florida, 1985.
2. Mittman, Paul. Randomized, Double-blind Study of Freeze-Dried Urtica Dioica in the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis, Planta Medica 56, 1990.
3. Belaiche, P. and Lievoux, O. Clinical Studies on the Pallative Treatment of Prostatic Adenoma with Extract of Urtica Root, Phytotherapy Research, Vol. 5, 267-269, 1991.
OATSTRAW Avena sativa Grass family
Appearance: Oats look very much like any other tall grass, and positive identification can be difficult if you’re not familiar with fine details specific to the various cultivars of the Avena genus. Wild oat (Avena fatua), a common and often hated weed, has the same medicinal attributes as its cultivated relatives. The leaves of the seedlings and seeds of this 1 to 4 foot tall plant have two unique features that differentiate it from its cultivated cousins and most other wild grasses. First are the leaves— early in growth, the leaves have a counter-clockwise twist in them, and as the plant matures, the leaves progressively straighten out. The second unique characteristic are the plants’ seeds, which at maturity are presented in loosely arranged drooping spikelets. Each of these spikelets contain two or three foxtail-like seeds that have proportionately long hair-like awns, each of which have a right angle kink in them— giving the appearance of crimped cockroach feelers.
Habitat & Range: Several cultivars of Avena sativa are commercially grown throughout the world. Wild oat (Avena fatua) is a native of Europe that has been introduced into meadows, pastures, and waste areas throughout much of North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual that blooms from June to August. The seeds of wild oat can remain dormant in the soil for more than eight years, making it difficult to eradicate from areas where it isn’t wanted.
Parts Used: The post-flowering tops are used before the seeds are fully matured. This is called the “milk stage” of the plant. Herbalists refer to these parts as “oatstraw”.
Actions: Nervine, tonic, nutritive, anti-inflammatory.
Affinities: Nervous system.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, fresh or dried herb.
Specific Uses: Oatstraw is perhaps the best nervous system tonic for aging or debilitated animals. Not only does the herb contain considerable amounts of protein (gluten), vitamins, and minerals (especially calcium, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc1) that are essential to the maintenance of health, but it contains various alkaloid, sterol, and flavonoid constituents that act together to safely optimize nervous system functions while stabilizing the highs and lows between nervousness and mental lethargy. For instance, when fed in moderation to animals with chronic nervousness, it tends to have a calming effect, but when fed to debilitated animals, it tends to stimulate the nervous system2. Oatstraw tea or tincture is an excellent choice for animals recovering from exhaustion, or for those suffering from depression disorders. It is known to improve nerve transmission, and can be useful in problems such as epilepsy, tremors, paralysis and twitching. It is a very good tonic for nourishing the body and strengthening nerve function following periods of sedation or anesthesia.
Dried oatstraw brews into a delicious tea that can be poured directly onto dog or cat food as a quickly assimilated tonic supplement. Infuse a heaping teaspoon in eight ounces of hot water. One ounce of the cooled tea is a good daily amount for cats and animals of similar size. Two to four ounces will suffice for most dogs. Glycerin tinctures are also very good, and can be added to your companions diet at a daily rate of 1-2 milliliters (1/4-1/2 tsp.) per 20 pounds of the animals body weight. Oatstraw is highly water soluble, so there is no point in using alcohol-based tincture if non-alcohol alternatives are available.
Of course, oats are a well-known feed for horses and other herbivores, and should be included as part of their daily diet. In terms of tonic value, fresh oat greens are vastly superior to what is purchased in grain bags, but must be fed in moderation. A few large handfuls can be added to the daily diet, but too much may cause hyper-excitability.
Oatmeal can be included as part of your companion’s natural diet. It can also be used externally as a soothing bath for skin problems (see the skin problems chapter).
Availability: Oatstraw is available through health food stores.
Propagation & Harvest: Oat is easy to grow, but it takes up a great deal of garden space. If you opt to grow it, harvest the top six to twelve inches of the plants after the seeds have formed but before the plants begin to dry.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For depression disorders, oatstraw can be combined with St. John’s wort, passion flower, or chamomile (but look at diet first— see the chapter on nervous system disorders). For treating epilepsy, oatstraw combines with skullcap, valerian, or kava kava. In animals who are recovering from anesthesia or sedation, alterative and diuretic herbs should be combined with oatstraw to help cleanse and nourish the blood and eliminate systemic waste. Possibilities include red clover, dandelion leaf, alfalfa, garlic, and nettle. For older animals that need continuous nervous system support, oatstraw combines especially well with nettle, red clover, alfalfa, and spirulina.
Cautions & Comments: Too much oatstraw may cause excitability and/or vomiting. If this occurs, simply reduce the amount being fed.
1. Mabey, Richard. The New Age Herbalist. pp. 60-61; New York: Collier Books, 1987.
2. Bundeesanzeiger. (Cologne, Germany) German Commission E Monograph on oats, October 15, 1987.
OREGON GRAPE Berberis (Mahonia) aquifolium Barberry family
Appearance: At first glance, Oregon Grape looks very similar to American Holly (Ilex opaca)… the stuff we deck the halls with during the holidays. The almost plastic-like leaves of this perennial evergreen plant are divided into several opposing pairs of ovate to lance-shaped, 1/2″ to 3″ long leaflets. The leaf edges have conspicuous, sharp spines. Flowers are yellow, and are borne in clusters at the end of a sturdy, central stalk. By mid-summer , the flowers develop into clusters of juicy, purple, 1/4″-1/2″ fruits which resemble tiny grapes. The fruits are edible but very, very sour.
Habitat & Range: Three species of Oregon Grape are common in the coniferous forests of western North America, ranging through the mountains of Central California and New Mexico northward into Canada. Tall Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium) is a tall (up to six feet) variety which is abundant in the coastal forests to the west slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Berberis repens and Berberis nervosa are smaller (up to 12″ tall), ground-hugging versions which are widespread through out their range. A fourth, less common species (B. pinnata) inhabits the mountains of Baja Mexico and California. All share very similar appearances, with the primary differentiating factor being their size.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Perennial evergreens that bloom in late spring.
Parts Used: The root.
Actions: Antimicrobial, cholagogue, anti-inflammatory, tonic.
Affinities: Liver and digestive system, mucous membranes.
Preparation: Tincture, tea, decoction, oil infusion, powdered root.
Specific Uses: For most intents and purposes, Oregon grape serves as an excellent alternative to goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) ; an herb that is currently at risk of going extinct from the pressures of over-harvest and loss of habitat. Fortunately Oregon grape remains common and abundant over a much wider range than its over harvested counterpart, and it is much easier to cultivate. So, unless you have access to a cultivated source of goldenseal, please use Oregon grape instead!
Like goldenseal, a bitter yellow alkaloid called berberine is primarily responsible for the strong antimicrobial activity of Oregon grape.
The antibacterial properties of berberine have been shown to be more effective than some forms of prescription antibiotics, including chloramphenicol, when used against various forms of staphylococci 1 . Berberine has also been shown to be active against infections of Escherichia coli (E-coli) and other gram negative-type bacteria2. It is even effective against giardiasis3 ; a parasitic infection of the digestive tract which is reputably very difficult to remedy. And also like goldenseal, Oregon Grape extract is especially useful in the ears, eyes, and the mucous membranes of the vagina and urinary tract, where it combats various fungal infections as well.
For bacterial ear infections or ear mites, an oil infusion of the fresh or dried root works best. To make oil infusion , cut up the root as finely as possible and place it into a food processor or blender which has a glass or stainless steel blending vessel (the roots are tough; plastic might crack). Cover the chopped roots with enough olive oil to leave a 1/2 inch deep film above the herb. Put the lid on and blend until the oil is a vibrant, goldenrod-yellow color (about 10 minutes). Strain the chopped roots out through a fine sieve, and you have a nice, antimicrobial ear oil. If you don’t wish to use your blender, the same process can be used by letting the chopped herb/olive oil mixture stand in a covered jar for one month before straining. The finished product will keep for several months; sometimes years, if refrigerated.
To use the oil, apply 1-10 drops at a time in each ear; until the infection is gone. It is also very useful as a general topical antibiotic for stings, insect bites, cuts, abrasions, puncture injuries of the paws, and other injuries.
Oregon Grape is very effective in the treatment of conjunctivitis, where it serves to fight infection and reduce inflammation. To use Oregon grape in your companion’s eyes, dilute 4 drops of the alcohol tincture (available at your favorite herb store), or eight drops of a root decoction, into one ounce of sterile saline (available anywhere contact lens supplies are sold). Place a few drops into the infected eye, taking note of any discomfort which may result from the berberine and/or the alcohol content of the tincture. Some animals are more intolerant than others. If the solution appears to further irritate the problem when applied, dilute it down with more saline and flush the eye with plain saline before reapplying.
Oregon grape root is also noted for its ability to stimulate liver function. It is particularly useful in cases of chronic constipation that are associated with poor protein or fat metabolism— situations which often lead to itchy, flaky skin and a dull coat in animals. Used under these circumstances Oregon grape extract can bring very fast and dramatic results, and it does so while confronting the crisis from a deep level of the problem. In holistic medicine the goal is always to find the root cause of a problem and work outward toward the symptoms. This is absolutely opposite of most conventional medical practice, which confronts disease by suppressing symptoms without much regard to their cause. And generally speaking, from a holistic perspective, many forms of dermatitis are symptoms of an underlying liver dysfunction. If the liver cannot eliminate excess toxins or is functionally compromised by blockages that reduce bile flow or production, the digestive tract will fail at its job of eliminating waste, and one of the first places the body will often try to force elimination is via the skin (for more on this, refer to the “Skin Problems” chapter). Oregon grape will work in the liver much like a strong version of dandelion— bile production and flow will be increased, and digestive efficiency will be improved. However, unlike dandelion, Oregon grape stimulates liver function much faster, working by irritating the organ into working harder. For this reason, Oregon grape should not be used in animals with acute liver disease or existing liver injuries without the supervision of a trained professional. And although Oregon grape is safe when used properly, it will likely over-excite the liver of most animals if used excessively. If this occurs, your animal will probably vomit because of excessive bile in the stomach. In this case, stop using Oregon grape— it’s time to consider a gentler herb (like dandelion). In any case, it is best not to give any herbal medicine every day of an animal’s life. Instead, give whatever herbs you are using 4-5 days per week, then let the animal’s system rest for two or three days before proceeding. This break time will also give you an opportunity to monitor changes which may be occurring as a result of your therapeutic efforts.
The bitter principles of the alkaloid constituents in Oregon Grape make this herb a very useful digestive aid. When a drop or two of the root tincture is placed on the tongue, or a leaf is chewed, an instantaneous salivary response occurs. At the same time, mechanisms are triggered which release bile and various other enzymes and acids into the digestive tract. The result: a digestive system which has been primed into action before the food arrives. This bitter tonic principle is an excellent holistic approach toward treating chronic indigestion and malabsorption in a safe, daily manner. If you or your animal have problems with excess gas, or with foods that tend to pass through undigested, try using a small dose of Oregon Grape before each meal. The results will probably amaze you!
Oregon Grape can also be used as an antibacterial in the urinary tract, and is regarded by herbalists as an effective remedy for infections of the bladder, kidneys, and urethra. Again, the antibacterial effect of Oregon Grape in the urinary tract is attributable to the berberine, which holds its chemistry well enough to reach deep into the body. Since most infections of the urinary tract are associated with uncomfortable inflammation, combining this herb with the soothing effects of marshmallow, licorice, or plantain is a good idea. Generally, a formula made with one part Oregon Grape to two parts of other, soothing herbs is a good infection-fighting/pain-relieving approach.
When combined in small proportions with echinacea, Oregon grape serves to combat the infection directly while the immune system plays catch-up with invading pathogens. At the same time, Oregon grape will help support the liver at its job of keeping the body clean through elimination of waste; a process which is critical in maintaining balanced body functions while the body heals. This is unlike conventional antibiotic therapies, which tend not to discriminate between beneficial microbes and bad ones. With a properly proportioned, berberine-containing herbal support formula, the body is allowed to fight infection by natural mechanisms without compromising its own microbial warriors. Instead, it receives a measured degree of outside support and is gently stimulated into working harder toward victory.
A formula which is proportioned with 10% Oregon Grape to 90% echinacea is generally appropriate.
In addition to its liver and disinfectant benefits, berberine is known to possess mild but useful sedative qualities, and may be effective as an anticonvulsive remedy. It has also been shown to help lower blood pressure, and is believed to slightly elevate blood sugar levels in hypoglycemic animals.
Availability: Plants are available through landscape nurseries. Oregon grape root is available in a variety of forms from herb retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: Oregon grape is widely adaptable into gardens throughout most of North America. Tall Oregon Grape (B. aquifolium) is the most common variety in commerce, and is becoming very popular as a landscape shrub. It is quite easy to grow from root cuttings, seed, or by transplant. These plants are drought-tolerant and very winter hardy… all they essentially need is slightly acidic soil and plenty of redwood compost, but they flourish when afforded at least three hours of shade each day and a good weekly watering. Roots can be dug from mature plants, anytime during the year. They can be dried and kept in plastic bags for two or three years.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: In ear oils, combine with garlic and vitamin E oil. For liver congestion and to improve digestion, dandelion root serves as a weaker alternative. For Giardia and worms, Oregon grape combines with garlic. In eyewashes, Oregon grape combines especially well with raspberry leaf. For urinary tract infections, marshmallow, plantain, or licorice serve as soothing adjuncts.
Cautions & Comments: Like many herbs which act as strong alteratives in the body, Oregon grape is contraindicated during pregnancy and in nursing mothers. Oregon grape should not be used in animals with acute liver disease or existing liver injuries without the supervision of a professional. It has been shown that too much berberine may inhibit B vitamin assimilation.
1. Kowaleski, Z., Kedzia, W. & Mirska, I. ” Effect of berberine sulfate on stapphylococci.”, BArchives of Immunology and Experimental Therapeutics, 20(3), 353-360, 1972
2. Orzechowski, G. ”Antibiotics from Higher Plants”, Pharmazie in unserer Zeit, 10, 42-54, 1981.
3. Gupte, S. “Use of berberine in treatment of giardiasis”, American Journal of Diseases of Childhood. 129, 866, 1975.
OXEYE DAISY Chrysanthemum leucanthemum Sunflower family
Appearance: It brings us satisfaction to tell you about useful plants that can be easily grown in any garden— but it brings us special joy to tell you about useful plants that grow on the edges of drive ways and in vacant lots. Oxeye daisy is such a plant. To the herbalist, a “weed” is simply a plant with attributes that have yet to be realized. When the usefulness of such plants is discovered, we find ourselves reconsidering our approaches to weed control, and this usually means that less toxic herbicide ends up in the environment.
Oxeye daisy is a wild relative of pyrethrum daisy (Pyrethrum species) , which is cultivated for its insecticidal properties. Oxeye daisy looks very similar, in fact at first glance it looks like any other white daisy. But close examination of this plant’s unique leaf characteristics makes it easy to differentiate from all others; during any stage of its perennial growth cycle. The basal leaves have proportionately long petioles (leaf stems) and are spoon-shaped with rounded teeth at their margins. The leaves of the upper plant lack petioles, and the flowers are typically daisy-like; white with yellow centers and up to 3″ wide (illus.). The entire plant may reach 3′ in height.
Habitat & Range: Oxeye Daisy is a Eurasian import that is now common to roadsides and dry waste areas throughout the northern half of North America, up to about 6000′ in elevation.
Cycle & Bloom Season: First in early summer, then often remaining in bloom until fall.
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers.
Actions: Antihistamine, insecticidal (fleas), diuretic, hemostatic.
Affinities: Respiratory, skin.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, or dried powdered herb.
Specific Uses: The leaves are recognized by some contemporary herbalists for their diuretic; and hemostatic; qualities; and clinical research suggests that the leaf tea may also be useful as an antihistamines; medicine that slows the body’s responses to allergens while helping to reduce excess secretions of mucus. The flower tea is especially useful for helping to relieve seasonal hay fever that is characterized by sneezing and watery discharges from the nose and eyes. In dogs, one tablespoon of the strong tea can be fed as part of the daily diet, throughout the crisis period. Cats and other small mammals will only need a teaspoon. Horses and other herbivores can be allowed to eat the fresh plants from their pasture, rabbits can be given a stem or two of the flowering plant each day.
Like its cultivated cousins, the flowers of oxeye daisy contain useful amounts of pyrethrin,; a natural insecticide that is useful for flea control. To use oxeye daisy in this capacity, make a skin rinse from the fresh, chopped flowers— or apply the dried flowers as a mildly effective, but safe and natural flea powder (see the chapters on parasites and medicine making);.
As a diuretic, it is useful for increasing urinary output and diluting urine that is over-concentrated, strong-smelling, and too acidic, and it lends weak but measurable astringent and antimicrobial properties to inflamed urinary membranes.
Oxeye daisy is often abundant on the margins of horse and stock trails, making it readily available as a first aid remedy for minor cuts, fly bites, and such. The fresh leaf poultice can be applied directly to the site of injury, to help stop bleeding. Combine it with one of many antimicrobial herbs that grows nearby (such as yarrow or bee balm), and you have an excellent, broad spectrum field dressing.
Availability: A widely distributed weed. Pyrethrum daisy is available through nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Easy to grow from seed or transplants, drought tolerant, winter hardy, and adaptable to any soil. All oxeye daisy really needs is full sun.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: As a flea-fighting alternative, try feverfew. For seasonal allergies, oxeye daisy can be combined with or replaced by nettle. Dandelion leaf is a much more effective diuretic.
Cautions & Comments: Some animals may be highly allergic to this plant— test a small amount of the tea on your companions skin before using. If redness or any other response occurs, don’t feed it to your animal! Do not gather this plant from the margins of roadways, or anyplace else where toxic residues might be present. Always beware of the possible presence of herbicides.
1. Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. Santa Fe: Red Crane Books, 1993.
PARSLEY Petroselium crispum Parsley family
Appearance: There are numerous cultivars of this familiar herb— their primary differences are leaf size, and root variations. The most common varieties have tightly curled leaves, whereas Italian parsley (P. crispus var. neapolitanum) has leaves that are more like those of celery. Hamburg parsley (P. crispum var. tuberosum) has a thick, turnip-like taproot and fern-like leaves. All produce terminate umbel flowers. Most will grow to about three feet tall.
Habitat & Range: Originally a native of Southeast Europe and West Asia, parsley is now cultivated world wide.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms in mid-summer.
Parts Used: The leaf, seeds, and roots.
Actions: Carminative, hypotensive, nutritive, diuretic, antirheumatic, emmenogogue, insecticidal, and antimicrobial.
Affinities: Digestive and urinary tracts, joints.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, or the fresh or dried herb.
Specific Uses: Parsley is much more than a plate garnish— in fact it is one of the most versatile medicinal plants around— it is an absolute ‘must have’ in the home herb garden.
Parsley root is known by herbalists as an excellent diuretic that is especially useful in the treatment of rheumatoid conditions. In the treatment of humans, it is considered a specific remedy in the treatment of gout, in which it is believed to help with the elimination of uric acid that would otherwise contribute to the buildup of painful crystals in the joints. In animals, parsley root is very useful in cases of arthritis that are compounded, or perhaps even caused by poor waste elimination— a problem which is often the result of a poor diet. For these purposes, dogs and cats can be given a tea of the dried or freshly grated root (1 tsp. of the strong tea per day for cats; 1-2 tbs.. for dogs) or a tincture can be used (1-2 ml per 30 pounds of the animal’s body weight). Horses can be fed a few handfuls of the entire fresh plant (leaves, roots and all) each day, or a cup of the dried herb as part of their daily ration. Parsley root is especially effective when combined with alteratives, hepatics, and anti-inflammatory herbs (see the chapter on arthritis).
The leaves and stems of parsley are very nutritious, containing up to 22 percent protein, and impressive amounts of vitamin A, C, B1, B2, and K, as well as fiber, calcium, riboflavin, potassium, iron, magnesium, niacin, and phosphorous1. This makes it a useful nutritive in the treatment of anemia. The leaves also contain apiol and several other volatile oils that have antiseptic qualities, making the herb useful for urinary tract infections. And because parsley is diuretic, it may be helpful for boosting kidney function in cases of non-inflammatory, early onset renal failure (see “Cautions & Comments” below). Apiol also has a stimulant and strengthening effect on intestinal and uterine muscles2, making it useful for improving uterine muscle tone after a difficult pregnancy. In the digestive tract, this tonic activity combines with parsley’s carminative properties, making it useful in the treatment of flatulent dyspepsia and colic.
Perhaps the best way to use parsley leaf for gastric or urinary disorders, or for its nutritional qualities, is to juice it. If you don’t have a vegetable juicer, pack an electric blender halfway full with the fresh leaves and add just enough water to liquefy the leaves into a dark green soup. The juice or “blender soup” can be fed directly (the best option), or added to your companions drinking water (second best) or food— one teaspoon per 20 pounds of the animal’s body weight. The juice (or a few drops of the leaf tincture) also serves as an excellent breath freshener.
Availability: Plants are available through nurseries. The herb is available in various forms through health food and herb retailers everywhere.
Propagation & Harvest: Parsley is very easy to grow from seed or transplants. If given rich, well drained soil it will return year after year. If allowed to go to seed, it will show up all over the garden.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For rheumatoid conditions, shepherd’s purse serves as an effective substitute. For urinary infections, look at corn silk, couchgrass, echinacea, uva-ursi, and horsetail as alternatives or adjuncts. For colic and other digestive disorders, fennel, dill, slippery elm, plantain, marshmallow, plantain, cleavers, and licorice should all be investigated. Raspberry leaf or nettle serve as alternative uterine tonics or nutritives.
Cautions & Comments: Parsley has uterine stimulant properties, and the volatile oils it contains can be absorbed into the placenta. Therefore, don’t use this herb during pregnancy. After birthing it will help in the healing process, but it may also reduce lactation, and should be used very conservatively in nursing mothers. Parsley should not be used during inflammation of the kidneys.
The seeds of parsley contain the highest concentration of volatile oils, including a considerable amount of myristicin . Myristicin can have strong hypotensive and hallucinogenic effects (especially in cats), and may cause liver damage or photosensitivity if ingested in large enough quantities3,4. Although such instances are rare, and it’s very unlikely that an animal could eat enough parsley seed to cause such problems, it’s best to be safe by using only the leaves, stems, and root of the plant. These parts contain much lower concentrations of myristicin.
1. Murphy EW, March AC, Willis BW. “Nutrient content of spices and herbs.” Jour. Amer. Dietetic Assoc., 72:174, 1978.
2. Opdyke, DLJ. “Parsley seed oil.” Food Cosmetics Toxicol, 1975; 13 (supplement): 897-8.
3. Petkov V. “Plants with hypotensive, antiatheromatous, and coronarodilatating action. Am Jour Chin. Med. 1979; 7: 197-236.
4. Buchanan RL. “Toxicity of spices containing methylenedioxybenzine derivatives: A Review.” Jour. Food Safety, 1978; 1: 275-93.
PLANTAIN Plantago species Plantain family
Appearance: Common plantain (Plantago major) is characterized by its low-growing rosette of broad leaves and its rather drab but distinctive flower cluster. The succulent but sturdy leaves are on proportionately long petioles (leaf stems) and have distinct parallel veins that contain strong fibers. Flowers are very small and inconspicuous, borne in tightly arranged sausage-shaped spikes atop leafless stalks that reach well above the rest of the plant. Ten or more species of the Plantago genus inhabit western North America, with Common Plantain (P. major) by far the most widespread and abundant. Leaf configurations vary between species… from egg-shaped (P. major) to narrowly linear(P. patagonica; P. psyllium; P. elongata) . But in general, most share a similar appearance; especially in their terminate flowers atop leafless stalks.
Habitat & Range: Common plantain prefers high impact areas, and is frequently found growing in the center of dirt roads, walkways, and even the cracks in highways. It is widespread throughout most of North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual or perennial that blooms March-August.
Parts Used: All parts of the plant are useful.
Actions: Demulcent, emollient, astringent, anti inflammatory, antihemorrhagic.
Affinities: Digestive and urinary tracts; skin.
Preparation: Tincture, tea, poultice, or dried seed husks.
Specific Uses: Plantain is one of many useful plants that have been forgotten by virtue of its abundance and its reputation as a weed. Many of us will step on it while enroute to the vegetable garden, unaware that it may be more nutritious than the vegetables we tend. Plantain is very high in vitamins C, A, and K.
In essence, plantain can be used in the same ways as slippery elm. The mucilaginous and astringent qualities of plantain make it an excellent remedy for reducing inflammations inside and outside of the body. The aucubin and saponin constituents of plantain have been shown to have antibacterial properties, especially against Micrococcus flavus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus subtilus 1,2. All of these activities combine to make plantain useful in a wide range of urinary, digestive, and respiratory ailments.
In the urinary tract;, plantain can be used to help stop minor bleeding, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain that is secondary to bacterial infection or the passing of small stones (gravel). In the digestive tract plantain is useful for relieving diarrhea and the symptoms of various types of inflammatory bowel disease. Its lubricating properties and anti- inflammatory activities make it useful for treating irritations of the stomach and intestinal tract that are caused when an animal eats something that is difficult to pass— like pine needles, a bottle cap, or a brand new sequined hand bag. Plantago psyllium ; is widely known for its seeds and husks, which are used as an effective laxative; and a source of dietary fiber;.
In the upper respiratory tract, plantain helps soothe raspy coughs, such as those caused by inhaled dust or canine tracheobronchitis (kennel cough).
Plantain is best used fresh. If you have an electric juicer, liquefy the entire plant, roots and all. Otherwise, chop the washed plants as finely as you can, pack them loosely into a blender, add just enough warm water to cover the herb, and blend the mixture into a dark green, gooey soup. Don’t use boiling water, because it will destroy hydrolytic enzymes that have antibacterial properties3. You might end up with a tangle of the strong leaf fibers wrapped around the blades of your machine— this is OK. Strain the liquid through a sieve, and refrigerate it in a sealed glass jar until you need it. It will keep for about two weeks in a very cold refrigerator. To use the juice for internal problems, one teaspoon can be fed for each 20 pounds of a dog’s body weight, once or twice daily. Cats can take up to a teaspoon of the juice, twice daily. It’s best to administer the juice before a meal, and with as little added water as possible. If this isn’t possible, the juice can be added to your companion’s food. For colic, the removal of sand in the digestive tract, and other digestive problems in horses or other large animals, a handful or two of the fresh plants can be fed as part of the daily diet.
A poultice of the plant is one of the best topical first aid remedies for insect bites, stings, minor burns, and site-specific contact dermatitis (such as minor bouts with stinging nettles);. An oil infusion or salve of the fresh or dried plant can be used for the same purposes.
Availability: A widely distributed weed. Psyllium husk is available through any respectable health food store, and several psyllium products are now being produced specifically for use in animals. The seeds of several varieties can be purchased through specialty catalogs (see appendices).
Propagation & Harvest: Plantain is easy to grow— all it needs is ample water during its germination. Sow the tiny seeds as sparsely as you can under 1/8″ of soil, and keep wet until they sprout. Voile!— the plants can be harvested and used anytime, but the mature second year and older plants make the best medicine.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Plantain can be used as a substitute for slippery elm; a hardwood tree that is being over-harvested for its medicinal inner bark. Marshmallow root contains far more mucilage that plantain, and it serves as a more effective alternative in cases where digestive or urinary tract lubrication is needed. In situations where the astringency and mucilage content of plantain are not enough to bring relief to urinary irritations, try combining marshmallow with a stronger astringent, such as uva-ursi or rose bark.
Cautions & Comments:
Side effects are rare with this plant, but some animals may be allergic to it. If your companion is predisposed to plant allergies, test for sensitivity by applying a small amount to its skin. Watch for a reaction— if none occurs, proceed with a very small internal dose (a few drops), and watch for sneezing, watery eyes, or other signs of allergic response.
1. Tarle D. “Antibiotic effect aucubin, saponins and extract of plantain leaf.” Plantanginis lanceolata. Farm Glas 1981; 37: 351-4.
2. Lin YC, et al. “Search for biologically active substances in Taiwan medicinal plants. I: screening for for antitumor and antimicrobial substances.”Chin Jour Microbiol 1972;5: 76-8.
3. Wichtl M. Dtsch Apotheker Zeitung (Supplement Videopharm) 125(38):20, 1985.
RASPBERRY Rubus species Rose family
Appearance: Raspberries are generally categorized by color— red or black. Leaf and stem characteristics vary between species of this widespread genus of shrubs. Most have pinnately divided leaves, and 5-petalled flowers which range from white to crimson in color. They are generally found and remembered as tangled masses of thorny, trailing biennial stems that yield a tasty reward to those brave enough to reach the choicest berries. Although flavor quality and size varies between species, the fruits of all species look essentially the same as the cultivated, market varieties; and in most instances, are borne from axially or side-branch flowers. All species are medicinally useful.
Habitat & Range: As one travels northward through the Rocky Mountains or the coastal states of the West, the diversity of species and the number of roadside “bramble patches” encountered progressively increases. Many species of Rubus are regarded as invasive weeds. They are a common and often abundant inhabitant of pastures, roadside ditches, and riparian habitats. This genus often cross-pollinates, making exact identification of species difficult in many areas. Many species have escaped cultivation, and it is any body’s guess where one of these plants might pop up next. Red raspberry (Rubus idaeus ;- illus.) is one of the most common indigenous species found throughout North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Perennials which bloom and produce fruit from second year canes.
Parts Used: Dried leaves and of course, the delicious fruits.
Actions: Astringent;, uterotonic;, nutritive;, diuretic;, laxative;, mild sedative;.
Affinities: Female reproductive system, eyes, skin.
Preparation: Infusion, poultice, tincture.
Specific Uses: Raspberry leaf is a very safe and gentle medicinal food. Aside from its nutritional value (it is especially high in vitamin C;), raspberry leaf tea has mild astringent qualities that make it useful for a wide variety of remedial and tonic therapies. Taken internally, the tea is useful for treatment of minor digestive tract inflammations; and can be used as a remedy for mild cases of diarrhea. In such instances, a strong infusion (tea) can be fed at a dose of 2 ounces per 20 pounds of an animal’s body weight (or one ounce for cats), twice daily as needed for relief, or the dried leaf can be used: 1 teaspoon per twenty pounds of the animal’s weight daily, sprinkled onto food. For bleeding or inflamed gums, the powdered leaf can be applied directly to the site of the problem, or the tea can be applied to the gums with a cotton swab.
Traditionally, the leaf tea is perhaps that most widely used “female tonic;” in existence. It acts to improve the tone and elasticity of smooth muscle tissues in and around the uterus;. It is useful as a pre-pregnancy tonic, and in pregnant or post-partum dogs, cats, horses, and other animals during their second and final trimesters of pregnancy (see “Cautions and Comments”). The dried leaf can be sprinkled onto the animal’s food, at the previously mentioned dose, as a daily tonic— or it can be fed as a tea. Make the tea by steeping one teaspoon of the dried leaf (in a tea ball) in eight ounces of hot water. The tea can be added to the animal’s drinking water to a point where the water is noticeably colored. The animal can then drink at will.
Raspberry leaf is especially useful in the form of a saline eyewash;, for symptomatic relief of conjunctivitis;. To make an eyewash, infuse one teaspoon of dried raspberry leaf in eight ounces of hot, distilled water. Allow the tea to cool, strain it through a coffee filter, then combine it with enough sterile saline; (the stuff that is used for soaking contact lenses) to produce a slightly tinted solution (see the “Ears, eyes, nose, and mouth” chapter). The cooled, full-strength tea can also be used as a soothing scalp; or skin rinse;— its astringency will help relieve minor itchiness (see “Skin Problems”).
Availability: Raspberry leaf is available at health food stores. The plants, sold as “canes”, are available through most nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Raspberries are very easy to grow. Transplanted canes will produce an abundance of leaves and their first fruits during their second year of growth and every year thereafter. The plants like moist, potassium-rich soil and full sun. Harvest the leaves just before the plants bloom in spring or early summer. Dry them on a clean, non-metallic surface until they are crispy dry. The leaves can be stored in plastic bags for a year or more.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Raspberry serves as a less threatened substitute for eyebright; (Euphrasia arctium;), a plant that is currently at risk of disappearing from over-harvest. The leaves of strawberry; (Fragaria sp;.) can be used as a substitute for raspberry leaf. As a “female tonic”, nettle leaf; tea will serve as a better substitute, because it contains a much richer array of vital nutrients. Nettle can also be used in eye and skin washes. For conjunctivitis or inflammations of the mouth that are secondary to bacterial or fungal infection, raspberry leaf combines very well with Oregon grape and echinacea. If the problem appears to be of viral origin, mullein leaf of St. John’s wort may serve as effective adjuncts. For more information, see the “Ears, eyes, nose, and mouth” chapter.
For diarrhea and internal bleeding, stronger alternatives include uva-ursi, horsetail, plantain, or cayenne.
Cautions & Comments:
Never use raspberry leaves that are not completely dry. As the leaves wilt, they temporarily develop toxins that can be nauseating to your animal.
Although no toxicity has been recorded for this herb, it can cause uterine contraction if used in excess. This activity, combined with the presence of tannin constituents, warrants caution and moderation when used in pregnant animals, especially those that are in their first trimester. In the authors’ opinion, use of raspberry leaf (and most other herbs) should be discontinued during the early stages of fetal development.
RED CLOVER Trifolium pratense Pea family
Appearance: Red Clover was introduced from Europe for agricultural purposes, and has since escaped cultivation to make itself at home throughout North America. It is characterized by the predominantly tree-lobed leaves of the Trifolium genus, of which there are dozens of species and cultivars distributed throughout the West. The differences between these many choices may be very minute, and positive identification of a specific Trifolium can be very challenging. As a starting point, the identification of Red Clover can begin by recognizing its red, globe-shaped flowers and its softly hairy stems. Secondly, we can see that the flower stems (pedicels) are shorter in length than each of the leaf stems (petioles). And finally… Red Clover has a taproot, whereas many clovers have rhizomes. If all of this fails to satisfy the question of identity, cheat… find some that has been cultivated and formulate some personalized notes for future reference.
Habitat & Range: Widespread in cultivated fields, road margins, gardens, and any other variety of disturbed areas where the plant has largely been introduced through agricultural activities.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A short-lived perennial which blooms in early summer.
Parts Used: Flowering tops.
Actions: Alterative, diuretic, expectorant, tonic, antispasmodic, nutritive, antitumor, estrogenic.
Affinities: Liver, blood, and skin.
Preparation: Tea, dried or fresh herb, or tincture.
Specific Uses: Although red clover has been traditionally used and highly acclaimed as a “blood purifying” alterative and anti-cancer agent for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, very few scientific studies have been conducted to substantiate these claims. Regardless, thousands of herbalists and an equal number of people who have witnessed red clover’s potential as a healing agent and preventative are likely to be on to something— the authors just happen to be two of those people. At the root of red clover’s attributes (and what it makes it so attractive to the herbalist), is the impressive array of protein, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and B-complex it holds— all of which are joined with a complex assortment of flavonoids, saponins, isoflavanoids, and dozens of other compounds which are known to be of medicinal value. In the mind of a holistically-oriented herbalist, all of these components synergistically amount to an excellent remedy for psoriasis, eczema, and other skin disorders— especially those which are believed to be secondary to excess waste materials in the blood stream. For such disorders, red clover may be used internally and/or externally. Internally, a flower tea or tincture gently stimulates the liver and gallbladder to help optimize digestion and replenish the blood. Externally, a cooled tea or poultice can be applied to dry, flaky, itchy skin, for symptomatic relief. As a preventative measure, a small amount of dried red clover can be added to the daily diets of dogs (just a pinch), cats (a tiny pinch): horses, llamas, and sheep (a handful), rabbits (a flower or two), and other animals— but like any herb, moderation is the single-word, golden rule (See “Cautions and Comments”, below).
In horses, red clover is sometimes fed to speed recovery from viral infections of the respiratory tract, especially when a persistent cough or catarrh seem to be slowing the healing process by adding stress to a run-down animal. One-half to two cups of the flower heads are fed daily as part of the animal’s feed. Or, if tea is a better option, three or four heaping tablespoons of the dried flowers, steeped into a pint of water, can be fed daily.
Much of red clover’s reputation as an anti-cancer herb stems from its inclusion in the famed but highly controversial “Hoxsey Formula”, and the still popular “Essiac Formula”. Both of these formulas have been used extensively during the past 75 years, and many cancer sufferers, practitioners, and pet owners have claimed near-miraculous results from them. In addition to these formulas, red clover is often used by itself— again, with many favorable claims. As I mentioned a moment ago, scientific evidence to support these claims are scarce— but certainly not non-existent. In 1988, a study published in The Journal of Cancer Research (48 (22): pp.. 6257-61) indicated that the anti-cancer activity of red clover may in fact be a scientific reality. Specifically, it was found that the flavonoid constituents in red clover blossoms serve to inhibit the harmful activities of a carcinogenic substance called benzopyrene, a compound which is present in charbroiled foods, while in the body. And, in an earlier, 1970 study which was published in the same journal, the flavonoid quercetin was shown to prevent benzopyrene from becoming active in the liver and small intestines. While these studies fall short of identifying the breadth of red clover’s activity against various other carcinogens, they certainly warrant further research and add credibility to what holistic practitioners have been telling us all along.
In animals with cancerous lesions of the skin or extremities, a poultice of red clover flowers can be applied in the form of a compress, for several hours each day, until the animal’s condition (hopefully) improves. Internal doses of the flower tea or tincture can be used in dogs, cats, horses, and other animals as well. In the fight against cancer, anything which can be applied safely (see “Cautions & Comments”, below) and without contributing stress to an already stressed body is certainly worth a try. In the minds of the authors, red clover is at the top of the list.
Availability: Seed catalogs, feed stores, health food stores, and other herb retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: If you have rich, moist soil and a section of the garden you wish to delegate to the spreading, strong-rooted nature of red clover, it can be easily propagated from seed. Harvest the flowers during dry weather, in early summer. Use them fresh, or dry them indoors on a piece of clean paper. The dried flowers will keep for a year if properly stored.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For skin problems which are secondary to poor liver metabolism or excessive systemic waste, red clover combines well with yellow dock, alfalfa, burdock, dandelion root, or nettles.
Cautions & Comments: When properly used, red clover is a very safe herb— but like many plants, its use does demand some attention and respect. First, do not use red clover in clotting disorders or in the presence of internal or external bleeding. This plant contains the compound coumarin, which has blood-thinning qualities. Also bear in mind that these qualities may interfere with preexisting anticoagulant and hormonal therapies. Red clover is also known to contain estrogenic isoflavone constituents that may prove toxic to livestock and other animals if fed in very large quantities. Cases of acute skin and digestive disorders have been reported with horses, sheep, cattle, and other animals who have been allowed to excessively over-graze on fresh red clover. Red clover also possess some phyto-estrogenic principles which contraindicate it’s use in pregnant or lactating animals. Red clover also contains a very small amount of salicylic acid, the anti-inflammatory precursor to aspirin which is potentially toxic to cats. While only a harmless trace of this compound exists in a reasonable dose of red clover, extra caution is warranted if relatively large doses of concentrated red clover extracts are to be administered as a cancer treatment for cats. In these cases, see your holistic veterinarian before proceeding with the use of this herb.
ROSE Rosa species Rose family
Appearance: Most people are familiar with roses. Hundreds of cultivars adorn flower beds to please the senses and stir the emotions of millions of people world wide. In addition to the healing power of their beauty, all roses are medicinally useful. The wild species (of which there are dozens in North America ), offer the best-tasting, most nutritional “hips”. Wild roses look and smell very much like their domesticated counterparts, except that they have smaller flowers and leaves. Characterized by their white to pink (sometimes yellow), 5-petalled flowers, thorny stems, and bright red to purplish fruits (rose hips), this plant represents a safe, easy-to-identify, delightful introduction to Nature’s pantry and apothecary.
Habitat & Range: Wild roses like consistently moist soils, and are often found standing in dense thickets at road margins, irrigation ditches, and especially… as the “defensive edge” of riparian habitats, up to about 6000′ elevation. Several species are native throughout North America. Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii- illus.) represents one the most widespread pink-flowered species of western North America. Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora - illus.) is profusely common throughout the midwest United States and eastern Canada, where it forms dense thickets and is often considered a troublesome weed.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms June-August.
Parts Used: The fruits (hips), flower petals, leaves, stems, and bark.
Actions: Nutritive, astringent, bacteriostatic.
Affinities: Digestive system, urinary tract, skin.
Preparation: Fresh or dried hips, petals, leaves, or bark. Tincture, tea, or decoction.
Specific Uses: When we think of roses as medicine, we tend to remember “Vitamin C with Rose Hips” on product labels . But actually, the nutritive value of rose hips represents only a small fraction of the healing attributes this plant has to offer. American Indians used all parts of Rosa species in a wide variety of applications. The seeds were cooked and ingested for relief from muscular pains. The roots were used as a general-purpose astringent; for diarrhea;, sore throat, conjunctivitis;, and to stop bleeding;. The flower petals were employed as a bacteriostatic;, protective bandage on burns; and minor wounds,minor;; and as a treatment for colic; and heartburn;. A poultice of the leaves was used for insect stings; and bites. All of these uses can be safely applied to animals.
Each part of a rose plant represents a different level of astringency. The flower petals are mildly to moderately astringent, and can be made into a sweet-smelling rinse for animals with dry, itchy skin. The petal tea is also useful for mild to moderate cases of colic, diarrhea, or for minor irritations of the mouth and stomach. Making a tea is simple— infuse a handful of the fresh petals in a cup of near-boiling water. After the tea has cooled, it can be fed to dogs and cats at a dose of one tablespoon per 20 pounds of the animal’s body weight, as needed. If necessary it can be added to your companion’s drinking water. The cooled and strained tea is also useful as an anti inflammatory eyewash, especially in cases where redness and eye rubbing is attributable to dust or other environmental irritants.
The leaves are stronger than the flower petals, and can be decocted for use as a rinse for contact dermatitis or inflamed flea or fly bites. Internally the leaf decoction is useful for cystitis and acute digestive tract inflammations that may be secondary to bacterial or parasitic infection. Dose: one-half teaspoon for each 30 pounds of the animal’s weight, once or twice daily, for no longer than four days. The bark and stems offer the strongest astringency, and may be useful for acute cases of urinary or digestive tract inflammation that involve labored or painful urination, gushing diarrhea, or minor bleeding. However, care must be taken to avoid feeding sharp rose thorns to your companion (see “Propagation & Harvest”). Dose is the same as for a leaf decoction, but the maximum duration of use is shorter— it should not be used internally for more than two days (see “Cautions & Comments”).
Rose hips are very high in vitamin C, and serve as a tasty and nutritious treat for animals. Our dogs harvest and eat them as trail snacks! The whole hips can be fed either fresh or dried, or the latter can be ground in an electric coffee grinder and added to your companion’s food as nutritional supplement. One-half to one teaspoon of the ground hips per cup of food fed is usually sufficient for dogs and cats. Horses and other large herbivores can be fed a handful or two each day. Because of the ascorbic acid, too much rose hips will cause stomach upset or diarrhea. If this happens, cut back on the amount in your daily feedings.
Availability: Hundreds of varieties are available through nurseries. The best are the smaller-flowered wild species that are available through nurseries that specialize in native plants.
Propagation & Harvest: Easy to grow. Roses like moist, slightly acidic soil. Leaves and flowers can be harvested any time— as long as they look healthy. The hips are harvested in the fall, after they turn bright red but before they shrivel. The hips can be dried indoors on a clean piece of paper. They will keep for several years if stored in a glass jar and kept away from direct sunlight. Don’t grind the hips until you need them, otherwise you will greatly reduce their shelf life. Harvest the stem bark when you prune your roses each year. Most domesticated varieties have large thorns that can be individually snapped off. If this isn’t possible, use the small thornless end-stems and peduncles (the stem part just beneath the flowers and hips). The small stems can be cut into small segments with pruning clippers or chopped with a sharp knife. The stems can then be decocted, just like the bark.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Raspberry leaf, nettle, and chamomile serve as alternatives where a mild urinary or digestive astringent is indicated. For acute cystitis or colic, rose leaf or bark combines with marshmallow, licorice, or slippery elm. Skin rinse alternatives include calendula, chamomile, uva-ursi, and juniper. For conjunctivitis, raspberry leaf serves as a replacement, and Oregon grape serves as an excellent antimicrobial adjunct (see “Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat and Mouth”).
Cautions & Comments: The high tannin content in the bark can cause irritation to the urinary tract and kidneys and can trigger uterine contractions. Therefore rose bark is contraindicated in pregnant animals or those with preexisting kidney problems. Internal use should be limited to acute disorders and short term therapies (two days or less). Call your veterinarian immediately if internal bleeding is evident, diarrhea is persistent, or urination is labored.
ROSEMARY Rosmarinus officinalis Mint family
Appearance: A creeping or erect shrub that can grow to six feet tall, rosemary is characterized by its piney fragrance; narrow and leathery, densely arranged opposite leaves; and its white, pink, or blue 3/8 inch long flowers, which are borne on whorled racemes at the upper leaf axils.
Habitat & Range: A native of the Mediterranean region, several cultivars of rosemary are grown world wide.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms any time from early spring to late summer, depending on climate.
Parts Used: The leaves, stems, and flowers.
Actions: Tonic, anti-depressant, stimulant, nervine, analgesic, carminative, antispasmodic, emmenogogue, astringent, antioxidant, antimicrobial, insect repellent.
Affinities: Nervous system, digestive, circulatory, respiratory, and skin.
Preparation: Tea, tincture.
Specific Uses: Rosemary is an extremely useful herb. At the top of its of medicinal attributes are nervine, anti-depressant, antispasmodic, and carminative properties that combine to make rosemary an excellent remedy for flatulent dyspepsia1 and other digestive problems that are secondary to general nervousness, excitability, or irritability. Adding to rosemary’s usefulness as a calming agent isborneol and an assortment of volatile oils that are known to have antispasmodic activities upon the heart and other smooth muscles of the body2,3. These activities not only help moderate cardiac arrhythmia, but serve to strengthen heart function, making rosemary especially useful in situations where an animal is recovering from a fearful or traumatic experience, or even shock4. The rosmarinic acid contained in the plant is also believed to have pain-killing properties. In any of the aforementioned instances, 0.5 ml. (about 1/8 tsp.) of the tincture can be given orally, as a starting dose, for each 20 pounds of an animals body weight, up to three times daily. Horses and other large herbivores can be fed a handful of the fresh stems and leaves daily.
In addition to uses as calming agent, rosemary can be employed as general cardiovascular tonic, where it not only serves to moderate and improve heart function, but also helps to strengthen capillary structures5. And when added to your companion’s food, rosemary will help mask the flavor of less palatable herbs and will serve as a natural barrier against food-borne bacteria. The ursolic acid and carnisol constituents have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that are effective against Pseudomonas flourescens, Rhodoturula glutinius, and other pathogens that contribute to food spoilage. In fact, rosemary’s effectiveness is comparable to that of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) or butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)6; two chemical preservatives that can be harmful to animals. To serve this purpose, one-quarter teaspoon of the powdered herb can be added to each pound of a dog or cat’s home made diet.
Rosemary also has excellent antimicrobial properties inside or on your companion’s body. Scientific studies have shown that it is active against various types of fungi, as well as numerous Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, including Staphylococcus albus, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Vibrio cholerae, and corynebacteria7. This makes rosemary useful in antibacterial skin and eye rinses, minor cuts and burns, and for fighting infections of the mouth, throat, and the urinary and digestive tracts. For in-depth information about dose and preparation, turn to each relative chapter in this book.
Ten drops of rosemary essential oil can be diluted with an ounce of apricot kernel or almond oil for topical use in sprains, arthritic joints, sciatica, and neuralgia. Rubbed into the skin at the site of discomfort, the oil will stimulate capillary circulation and help relieve muscular and nerve pain. However, do not use undiluted rosemary oil internally or externally— it is very strong and can cause immediate irritation.
Availability: Rosemary plants are available through nurseries. The dried or fresh herbs are available at grocery and healthy food stores.
Propagation & Harvest: Rosemary is easy to grow from transplants, and can be kept as a house plant in areas where winters are severe. It’s not particular about soil, and does best in full sun. In the southern and west coast portions of the United States, rosemary is often seen as a hedge-forming landscape shrub— a sight that always makes Montana authors envious.
Rosemary can be started from seed, but germination percentages are very poor and the seedlings grow very slowly. Rosemary can be harvested any time, but the leaves are strongest in late summer.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For depressive disorders or nervousness, rosemary can be combined with skullcap or oatstraw. If the problem is causing digestive disorders (vomiting, flatulence, colic, etc.), look toward fennel, dill, flax seed, parsley, or chamomile as adjuncts. For use as an antimicrobial, rosemary is strengthened by Oregon grape. For topical first aid uses, rosemary oil combines with arnica, St. John’s wort, cayenne, aloe, calendula, or willow bark. For itchy skin and fleas, rosemary and calendula combine as a soothing, healing, flea-repellent rinse.
Cautions & Comments: Like many aromatic herbs that contain considerable amounts of volatile oils, rosemary should not be used in pregnant animals.
NOTE: In horses, the volatile oils of rosemary may be detectable in a blood sample, and may be considered a “prohibited substance” under Jocky Club or other horse show rules.
1. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. Keightley: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1983.
2. Hof S and Ammon HPT. “Negative inotropic action of rosemary oil, 1,8-cineole, and bornyl acetate.” Planta Med 1989; 55:106-07.
3. Taddei, I et al. “Spasmolytic activity of peppermint, sage and rosemary essences and their major constituents.” Fitoterapia 1988; 59: 463-8.
4. Bult H. et al. “Modification of endotoxin-induced haemodynamic and haematological changes in the rabbit by methylprednisolone, F(ab´)2 fragments and rosmarinic acid. Br J Pharmacol 1985; 84: 317-27.
5. Leung, AY. Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs and cosmetics. New York-Chichester: Wiley, 1980.
6. Collin MA and Charles HP. “Antimicrobial activity of carnosol and ursolic acid: two antioxidant constituents of Rosmarius officinalis.” Food Microbiol. 1987; 4: 311-15.
7. Opdyke, DLJ. “Rosemary oil.” Food Cosmet. Toxicol. 1974; 12: 977-8.
SAGE Salvia officinalis Mint family
Appearance: There are over eight hundred species of Salvia world wide— most are medicinally useful. Most gardeners and epicureans are familiar with Salvia officinalis, common garden sage. Many of the wild species share the same unique “pebbled” leaf texture characteristic and have a similar but much stronger flavor and aroma. Flowers of the Salvia genus range from white to deep purple (depending on species) and are borne in whorled clusters where the leaves join the upper stem, or in terminal racemes (again, depending on species). It’s important to know that many wild plants with a sage-like fragrance, or even a common name that contains the word ‘sage’, are totally unrelated to the sage we use in the kitchen. One example is sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) ; a member of the sunflower family that smells like sage, but can be harmful if used internally. Given the availability and effectiveness of culinary sage, there’s little reason to harvest wild sage for your companion. If however you do opt to use a wild sage, learn its Latin name first. If the plant you are considering isn’t a Salvia, then it’s a different medicine as well.
Habitat & Range: Common sage is native of the Mediterranean region. Dozens of cultivars have been developed and are farmed throughout the world.
In the coastal canyons of Southern California, native species such as White Sage (S. apiana), Black Sage (S. mellifera), Munz’s Sage (S. munzii), and Purple Sage (S. leucophylla) often stand as the predominant flora; growing in dense stands of 2′-6′ high shrubs which may cover the landscape for miles. As one travels north or east, the distribution of Salvia species becomes more scattered and less varied, with plants generally small and less predominant in their habitat. In the deserts of Eastern Washington and Oregon, Grayball sage (Salvia dorrii) brings the dry, brushy landscape alive with vibrant hues of purple.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Perennials that bloom in early to late spring.
Parts Used: Leaves, small stems, and flowers.
Actions: Antiseptic, astringent, antispasmodic, carminative, antihydrotic.
Affinities: Mouth, digestive tract, skin.
Preparation: Tea or tincture.
Specific Uses: Sage is an excellent remedy for infections or ulceration of the mouth, skin, or digestive tract. Most of its antimicrobial activity is attributable to its content of thujone, a volatile oil that is effective against Escherichia coli, Shigella sonnei, Salmonella species, Klebsiella ozanae, Bacillus subtillis, and various fungi— namely Candida albicans, C. krusei, C. pseudotropicalis, Torulopsis glabrata, and Cryptococcus neoformans. 1,2 In the mouth, a strong sage tea or tincture is useful for treating or preventing gingivitis, as well as infection that is secondary to injury or dental surgery (see “Mouth and Throat” ). For bacterial or fungal infections of the throat and digestive tract, sage serves as a safe and effective antibiotic, and helps to expel gas and ease gastric cramping. Horses and other large herbivores can fed a handful or two of the fresh leaves, or a cup of the dried, in their daily food ration as treatment for colic and flatulence that is secondary to bacterial or fungal infection. For smaller animals, the tea can be added to drinking water, or a tincture can be administered directly by mouth. If tea is your option, make it by steeping one tablespoon of the dried leaves in a cup of near-boiling water. Stir the mixture frequently until it has cooled to lukewarm. Strain out the plant material, but don’t discard it if you are treating a localized infection or ulcer— It can be used as poultice by directly applying it to an affected area. The tea can be sweetened with honey (which has its own healing properties as well) and fed at rate of one fluid ounce per 20 pounds of the animal’s body weight, twice or three times daily. If you choose to use a tincture, a good starting dose is 0.5-1.0 ml per 30 pounds of the animal’s body weight, twice daily.
Used in the form of a rinse, poultice, or fomentation, sage tea is useful for bacterial or fungal infections of the skin, including ringworm. In such instances, thoroughly soak your companion with the cooled tea once or twice daily. The tea may also be used as a safe and natural disinfectant for turtle or lizard enclosures, and may be combined with liquid soap for use as a hand wash after handling animals that may carry Salmonella.
Availability: Fresh or dried sage is available at food stores. The plants are available at most nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Sage is an easy-to-grow ‘must have” for the home herb garden. It likes heavy, slightly acid soil and full sun. It is drought resistant and winter-hardy, but in regions where temperatures reach below -10 degrees, a thick fall mulch is required. Collect the leaves and small stems during midday (when the volatile oils are most concentrated in the leaves), and preferably when the plants are just beginning to bloom. The best way to dry sage is to tied the leaves into small bundles and hang them indoors. When the leaves are crunchy-dry, they are ready to store in an airtight glass jar; away from sunlight. Properly stored, the herb will keep for two or three years— as long as it smells strong, it’s still good medicine.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For mouth infections, thyme, rosemary, and bee balm are also useful, and look at Oregon grape or myrrh as strong adjuncts or alternatives. For digestive problems sage combines with Oregon grape, licorice, fennel, parsley, dill, or marshmallow. For infections of the skin, calendula, aloe, chaparral, chamomile, rosemary, and uva-ursi all deserve some study.
Cautions & Comments: The undiluted, essential oil of sage can cause skin irritation and should not be given internally. Sage is said to inhibit lactation and the thujone it contains is known to have abortifacient properties. Therefore, sage should not be used pregnant or nursing animals. Sage is known to have hypoglycemic effects in the body, and may interfere with hypoglycemic or anticonvulsive therapies.
1. Jalsenjak, V et al. “Microcapsules of sage oil: Essential iols content and antimicrobial activity.” Pharmazie 1987; 42: 419-20.
2. Recio, MC et al. “Antimicrobial activity of selected plants employed in the Spanish Mediterranean are, part II.” Phytotherapy Res. 1989; 3: 77-88.
SHEPHERD’S PURSE Capsella bursa-pastoris Mustard family
Appearance: Shepherd’s purse is a common “lawn and vacant lot weed” that begins its life as a basal rosette of petiolate, one to two inch leaves that are hairy underneath and smooth above. Later, the upper plant develops one or more slender, erect stems that can grow to about twenty inches tall.
The lanceolate leaves of the upper plant grow alternately, clasping the stem at their bases. The lower leaves of the plant are mostly deeply lobed, whereas the upper leaves become progressively fewer and less lobed.
The small, white, inconspicuous flowers are presented on elongated racemes at the top of the plant. The flowers develop into seed bearing capsules that look like tiny (one-half inch or less), sharply heart-shaped purses… a characteristic that likely earned the plant its common name. These little “purses” are two-celled, have a single ridge along one side, and are slightly concave along the other. Each “purse-cell” contains several tiny seeds.
Many herbalists take the “purse” characteristic of shepherd’s purse for granted and don’t look closely enough when identifying the plant before gathering. Subsequently, many of them end up gathering and using the wrong plant. Although the impostor is usually another harmless member of the Mustard family (Cruciferae), it is often medicinally useless.
Of the plants most commonly mistaken as shepherd’s purse, Thlaspi arvense;(Field Pennycress;) is on the very top of the “OOPS!” list. Like many other plants that are mistaken for shepherd’s purse, field pennycress has seed pods that are ovate to nearly circular, not heart-shaped. Like shepherd’s purse, the capsules of the look-alikes have two cells, but each cell only has two seeds, whereas shepherd’s purse always has several (more than two) seeds.
Habitat & Range: Shepherd’s purse is a European import that is widely distributed across North America. It is common in cultivated fields, gardens, lawns, vacant lots, areas subject to livestock, and other disturbed areas. It can be found in almost any environment, from cracks in city streets to remote mountain campsites. It is adaptable to any elevation, ranging from below sea level to timberline.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual that continuously reseeds itself.
Parts Used: The entire plant, including roots.
Actions: Diuretic;, astringent;, hemostatic;, tonic, emmenogogue;.
Affinities: Urinary tract, joints.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, fresh or dried herb.
Specific Uses: Shepherd’s Purse is especially useful in cases of minor urinary system bleeding. The diuretic activity of this plant is strong enough to increase urinary volume and thus lower the gravity of acidic, overly concentrated urine, while its mild astringency helps to reduce inflammation in the bladder, urethra, and kidneys. Although it is a relatively weak diuretic, its low volatile oil content makes it a gentle alternative to oil-rich herbs (such as parsley root) which are contraindicated in preexisting cases of kidney disease. It is indicated in arthritic conditions that are believed to be compounded by retention of excess systemic waste materials, where it is believed to help with the removal of fluid and various acid compounds from the joints.
Studies have shown that the hemostatic activity of Shepherd’s purse in the uterus and urinary tract is attributable to more than just simple, tissue-shrinking astringency— the plant contains an assortment of amine and flavonoid constituents that are believed to actually strengthen capillaries and reduce their permeability1,2. This makes Shepherd’s purse an excellent urinary tonic for animals that exhibit occasional blood in the urine as a result of structural anomalies, scar tissue, or non-specific atony of the bladder.
It has also been found to enhance uterine tone, contract the uterine walls, and lower blood pressure— making it useful in postpartum bleeding and difficult placenta delivery.
Externally, a poultice of the fresh plant can be applied to wounds to stop bleeding. The tincture, poultice, or a water or oil infusion can be applied to the skin as a weak alternative to mustard, to increase subcutaneous capillary circulation at the site of closed tissues injuries, and to help with varicosity.
Availability: A widespread weed; available through specialty seed catalogs.
Propagation & Harvest: Rather than buy dried shepherd’s purse at the herb store, it’s best to harvest your own. The herb loses much of its medicinal potency when it dries, and should be used or made into tincture as soon as it is harvested. This plant is very easy to grow, and will spread all over the garden if allowed. It will grow in most soils, but prefers heavily manured soil (which is why it is so common in pastures). Harvest by pulling the entire plant, after the seed capsules have developed, but before the plant dries.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Can be combined with yarrow for bleeding fibroids (fresh herb tea) or as an external first aid remedy (use the two herbs in a poultice). For arthritis, shepherd’s purse combines with yucca root, boswellia, devil’s claw, licorice, or alfalfa. Dandelion serves as a stronger, equally as safe diuretic. For urinary bleeding that is secondary to infection, combine with marshmallow, echinacea, and Oregon grape.
Cautions & Comments: Shepherd’s purse may cause contractions of the uterus and should not be used in pregnant animals— reserve it for postpartum uses. The hemostatic properties may interfere with blood-thinning drugs, and the herb should not be used in clotting disorders.
1. Kuroda K, Takagi K. “Studies on Capsella bursa-pastoris , I. General pharmacology of ethanol extract of the herb. Arch int Pharmacodyn Ther 1969; 178: 382-91.
2. Jurisson S. “Flavonoid substances of Capsella bursa-pastoris.” Farmatsiya (Moscow) 1973; 22: 34-5.
SKULLCAP Scutellaria laterifolia Mint family
Appearance: Skullcaps are differentiated from other mints by their blue or white flowers, which are borne (in most species) from the upper leaf axils in symmetrically arranged sets of two or more. The flowers are two-lobed and tubular in shape; with one lobe that forms an upper lip, and one that forms a larger, apron-like lower lip. The lance-shaped, finely to coarsely toothed leaves are opposite (like all mints), with very short (almost absent) petioles. Like most mints, Skullcap has distinctly four-sided stems.
Habitat & Range: There are several native species of skullcap in North America, most of which live in moist meadows, spring seeps, and riparian thickets. Scutellaria laterifolia and several other cultivars are grown throughout the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: An annual or perennial (depending on species and climate) that blooms from June to August.
Parts Used: The leaves, stems, and flowers.
Actions: Nervine, sedative, antispasmodic, anticonvulsant.
Affinities: Nervous system.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, dried or fresh herb.
Specific Uses: For centuries, herbalists have recognized skullcap as one of the most effective herbal nervines available. It is commonly used for acute or chronic cases of nervous tension ;or anxiety;, and to help relieve pain from nerve related injury or disease. Historically it has been used to treat convulsions;, epilepsy;, multiple sclerosis;, hysteria;, and delirium tremens;. Scutellaria laterifolia is still known by many people as “mad dog weed”, from its use in the eighteenth century as a cure for rabies. Yet, despite its rich history and current popularity among herbalists, very little scientific study has been focused on this plant. From the studies that have been conducted, we have learned that the chemistry of skullcap varies considerably between species. However, all species that are marketed and used as herbal medicine contain scutellarin,; a flavonoid compound; which has been shown to possess sedative and antispasmodic; qualities.
We find skullcap especially effective for general nervousness and excitability in dogs and cats, and for any condition characterized by over sensitivity of the peripheral nerves. It is useful for relieving nervous tension related to pain or a traumatic experience. It is also useful as an antispasmodic in nervous irritations of the cerebrospinal system, such as sciatica or post-traumatic neuralgia1.
Unlike valerian and other herbal sedatives, skullcap by itself does not bring about drowsiness, nor does it dull the reflexes or interfere with motor coordination. Instead, skullcap acts to moderate an animal’s responsiveness to physical or non-physical stimuli, and helps alleviate general restlessness and nervous twitching. This makes it very useful in high-strung felines who are recovering from a frightful experience, but who need all of their survival mechanisms intact during their daily outdoor adventures.
Herbalists consider skullcap a specific remedy for grand mal seizures, and the authors have received several very encouraging reports from people who are using skullcap to reduce the severity and frequency of seizures in their epileptic dogs, especially when the herb is combined in equal parts with valerian. Science has not yet revealed exactly how skullcap works in this capacity, but herbalists theorize that it may calm nerve impulses throughout the body, while inhibiting activity in higher brain centers where epileptic seizures might be triggered. Skullcap’s effectiveness in moderating epileptic episodes may explain it’s traditional reputation as a cure for rabies— back in the eighteenth century, little was known about epilepsy, and it’s likely that many epilepsy sufferers were misdiagnosed with rabies.
For epileptic dogs, 0.5 to 1 milliliter of a low-alcohol tincture can be fed twice or three times daily— but see your holistic veterinarian for a thorough work-up of your companion before proceeding. For generalized nervousness or to help relieve pain in dogs and cats, 0.5 ml. per 20 pounds of the animal’s weight can be fed as needed, up to three times daily for up to a week. However, it’s important to remember that skullcap and other herbal sedatives can only relieve the symptoms of such disorders, they cannot address the underlying causes (see “Anxiety and Behavioral Disorders”). For nervousness in horses, mules, or goats, one half to one ounce of the dried herb can be added to their feed once per day, as needed.
A study from 1957 has shown that skullcap can prevent rises in serum cholesterol in animals on a high-cholesterol diet2, which means that the herb might be useful as a dietary adjunct in animals, such as miniature-Schnauzers and Beagles, that are predisposed to hyperlipidemia.
Availability: Available in dried herb form or tinctures, through herb retailers. The plants are available through nurseries that specialize in herbs.
Propagation & Harvest: Easy to grow from transplants. Skullcap likes consistently moist, rich soil, and does best when allowed a few hours of shade each day. Harvest the plants by clipping the upper third of the flowering plant. The plant can be hung in small bunches and dried for later use (the herb will keep for about a year), or the fresh herb can be made into tincture (the optimum choice).
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For epileptic dogs, or for use as nerve-calming sedative, combine skullcap with an equal part of valerian. Oatstraw and gotu kola; also serve as a good adjunct. For nerve pain and spinal injuries, combine skullcap with an equal amount of St. John’s wort.
Cautions & Comments: Although skullcap is generally very safe, excessive use may be damaging to the liver, and it should not be used in animals with preexisting liver conditions. If you are considering skullcap for long term use in your animal, first have your animal thoroughly examined by a holistic veterinarian— dietary adjustments and hepato-protective measures might be in order. By folkloric accounts, skullcap was used to promote menstruation and eliminate afterbirth. Therefore, it’s best not to use skullcap in pregnant animals.
1. Priest, A.W. & Priest, L.R., Herbal Medication, 1982.
2. Aonuma, S., Minuma, T. and Tarutani, M. “Effects of coptis, scuttellaria, rhubarb and bupleurum on serum cholesterol and phospholipids in rabbits.” Yakugaku Zasshi 77. 1303-1307. 1957.)
SLIPPERY ELM Ulmus fulva Elm family
Appearance: Slippery elm is a deciduous tree that can grow to 80 feet tall. The outer bark is thick, furrowed, and pinkish-brown. The broadly lance-shaped alternate leaves are 4-8 inches long and have toothed margins. The upper surfaces of the leaves feel like sticky sand paper.
Habitat & Range: Deciduous forests of the eastern half of the United States and Canada. Slippery elm is at risk of endangerment in many areas— see ‘Alternatives and Adjuncts’, below.
Cycle & Bloom Season: The tree flowers from March to June, and loses its leaves in the fall.
Parts Used: Inner bark.
Actions: Demulcent, emollient, astringent, anti-inflammatory, nutritive.
Affinities: Digestive tract, respiratory, skin.
Preparation: Tea, tincture, dried and powdered inner bark.
Specific Uses: Slippery elm is best used in the digestive tract, where it serves as a soothing, protecting, and lubricating demulcent, and as general astringent at the same time. This makes slippery elm applicable in a wide variety of circumstances. For diarrhea, enteritis, colitis and irritations of the stomach, the tannin constituents of slippery elm tighten digestive mucosa to reduce inflammation and inhibit the entrance of excess fluids into the intestine. At the same time, the slippery-oily mucilage constituents of the herb help lubricate the digestive tract to assist in the elimination of waste. In cases of constipation, slippery elm soothes, protects, and lubricates mucous membranes, assisting and relaxing smooth muscles that have been working extra hard to eliminate waste. Higher up in the digestive tract, the mucilaginous-astringency of the herb lubricates and helps reduce inflammation in the throat, making it easier to swallow and soothing a sore cough. It plays the same roles in the upper respiratory passages, where it is useful in relieving the discomforts of kennel cough and various other types of bronchitis.
Slippery elm is also very nutritious, and was used as a food staple during hard times in the Appalachia. It contains vitamins A, B complex, C, and K, with high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and sodium. The fresh inner bark has a slightly sweet, pecan-like flavor, and was often given to children as treat to chew on— like chewing gum. It can be fed to convalescent animals as a nutritional digestive tonic— one teaspoon of the dried inner bark steeped in eight ounces of hot water, to which a teaspoon of honey has been added. If constipation is a problem, one teaspoon of organic yogurt ( a brand that has live cultures)can be added to the mixture. The entire mixture, inner bark and all, is then fed to the animals. Many animals will eat this formula in absence of anything else, and it is useful for a wide variety of digestive or respiratory problems in dogs and cats. If your companion cannot tolerate honey because of diabetes, allergies, or other problems, try feeding the mixture in absence of the honey. If your companion won’t eat the bark, strain the fluid through a fine sieve and pour it onto her food. A glycerin-based tincture is also effective, and offers the convenience of a squirt or two into mouth. A good starting dose for the tincture is one to two milliliters (1/4 – 1/2 tsp.) for each twenty pounds of the animal’s body weight, once or twice daily.
On the skin, a poultice of slippery elm bark is useful for wounds, ulcers, boils or abscesses. In essence, it is used the same way as plantain (Plantago species); a common weed that is better suited for this purpose because of its abundance and resilience to human impact (see ‘Alternatives and Adjuncts’, below).
Availability: Available at herb retailers. When you buy slippery elm bark, make sure that you’re getting only the inner bark. The powder or bark should be light, fluffy, and pale pinkish-tan in color. If it has darker flecks in it or appears corky, stringy, or woody, chances are it was carelessly harvested and the inner bark was not separated from the outer bark. This dramatically changes the nature of the medicine— outer bark contains a greater amount of tannin constituents, which may cause digestive or urinary tract irritation.
Propagation & Harvest: Slippery elm is available through nurseries that specialize in native plants. It is not difficult to grow, but like most trees, it grows very slowly. If you have room for one of these beautiful shade trees, by all means plant one! You will be doing a dwindling species a great favor.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Slippery elm has remained quite popular among herb users for centuries. Unfortunately, many of its consumers remain unaware of its dwindling population in the wild. Slippery elm is being over-harvested, and many of the trees are succumbing to Dutch elm disease— a fungal infection that kills the tree. Adding to these problems are careless methods by which much of the bark is harvested— the entire (perhaps 100 year old) tree is cut down, stripped of its bark, then used as firewood or hardwood lumber, with little regard to sustenance of the species. All in all, consumer demand is currently outstripping natural supply.
We have included slippery elm in this book so that it be used conservatively, respectfully, and within the limits of proper therapeutic context. Slippery elm should be reserved for circumstances where other alternatives are ineffective, and every effort should be made to support its cultivation and conservation in the wild (join United Plant Savers!— see the appendix section). Fortunately, some very effective and accessible alternatives do exist for slippery elm. In many instances, slippery elm can be effectively substituted with plantain (Plantago species)— a common weed. If a more mucilaginous remedy is needed, marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) is an excellent alternative, especially when it is combined with an astringent, such as goldenrod, raspberry leaf, or a tincture or decoction of uva-ursi or juniper.
Cautions & Comments:
With the rare exception of possible allergic reactions, slippery elm is generally very safe in animals. However, the outer bark (the stuff the shouldn’t be in the slippery elm you buy) can cause irritation to the digestive and urinary tracts, and may induce abortion in pregnant animals.
ST. JOHN’S WORT Hypericum perforatum St. John’s wort family
Appearance: St. John’s Wort is a sturdy perennial weed, distinguished by its yellow, five-petalled flowers, each with numerous stamens; and its small (up to 3/4″ long), narrowly lance-shaped to elliptical, opposite leaves. The flowers and leaves are covered with tiny, purplish-black dots, each containing hypericin;; a medicinally active compound which is often visible as a red stain on the skin after rubbing the foliage between ones fingertips. The size of St. John’s Wort is variable between species, but all are very similar in appearance. The largest and most widespread species Hypericum perforatum (illus.) may reach 32 inches in height, whereas H. anagalloides (“Bog St. John’s Wort”), one of the smallest, grows in mats… seldom exceeding 4″
Habitat & Range: Habitat varies according to species, but generally the larger species tend to prefer dry to moist, open hillsides up to about 6000′ elevation; whereas higher elevations and wetter habitats tend to yield the smaller species. in the Pacific Northwest, H. perforatum and H. formosum are common and often very profuse on open range lands at foothill elevations, where they are considered noxious weeds because of their alleged toxicity to livestock. St. John’s Wort is a European import which now ranges throughout the Pacific and Rocky Mountain States, and in more isolated stands through the central and eastern portions of North America.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that is sometimes referred to as “Fourth of July Flower;”, St. John’s Wort usually blooms from early July through August.
Parts Used: The top twelve inches of the flowering plant.
Actions: Vulnerary, nervine, antiseptic, antiviral, anti-depressive, immunostimulant.
Affinities: Nervous system, skin
Preparation: Tea, tincture, or topical preparation of the fresh herb.
Specific Uses: It’s amazing how values can change by simply looking closer at what we take for granted. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum species) has long been regarded as an invasive weed in the western portions of the United States. Until recently, the primary focus of attention on this plant was centered on ways to eradicate it from the range lands on which it so successfully flourishes; where it competes with native plants and threatens grazing livestock with possibilities of toxic side effects. But now, in light of extensive scientific research, St. John’s Wort has been promoted from the status of a universally hated weed to that of a valued medicine which offers a wealth of curative power. Our awareness of St. John’s Wort’s usefulness comes in the midst of an enormous health care crisis, and forces us to reevaluate our short-sighted approaches to plants we ignorantly view as our enemies. St. John’s wort offers new hope in the treatment of AIDS, chronic depression, nervous system disorders, and various forms of herpes virus— as well as a valuable opportunity to reconsider the true values in our surroundings. A plant is seen only as a “weed” when we cannot recognize its useful purpose in our existence. In the case of St. John’s wort, we are forced to wonder about the usefulness of all plants— and to consider the price we may be paying when we choose to poison the land in favor of agricultural economics.
St. John’s wort has received a great deal of press attention for its demonstrated ability to act as a anti-depressant remedy in both humans and animals, and literally hundreds of recent scientific studies have confirmed that it may act as a safe, effective, and natural alternative to anti-depressant drugs1,2. In Germany and other European countries, where the majority of research is being conducted on St. John’s wort and its derivatives, the plant has been deemed safe and effective by the government 3, and millions of people are using the plant on a daily basis to treat chronic depression, without ill side effects. In fact, one pharmaceutical brand in Germany is being prescribed at a rate of 7 to 1 over the popular anti-depressant drug, Prozac4. And in the United States, an increasing number of holistic veterinarians are using it to treat separation anxiety and aggression disorders in dogs and cats. However, contrary to popular belief, St. John’s wort does not offer a neatly packaged holistic solution to depressive disorders— especially in animals. For an in-depth discussion on this topic, turn to the chapter on “Anxiety and Behavioral Disorders’.
The anti-depressive qualities of St. John’s wort represents only a small portion of what this plant has to offer. St. John’s wort also has antiviral, vulnerary (wound and burn healing), nerve tonic, and antibacterial activities that are unparalleled by any other herb. And while a great deal of research and marketing has been focused on the hypericin constituents of St. John’s wort; a red pigment that is contained within tiny glands that dot the flower petals and leaves of the plant, this herb contains dozens of other chemical compounds that have been shown to possess a tremendous range of healing actions. These include various essential oils, flavonoids, tannins, and phytosterol constituents— all of which combine to make St. John’s wort active against a wide variety of bacteria, fungi, and even viruses.
For the treatment of burns and wounds, St. John’s wort helps speed the healing process while reducing pain at the site of injury. As an antibiotic, preparations of St. John’s wort extract have been shown to be as effective as many of their pharmaceutical counterparts, including sulfonamides; a group of general-use antibiotics which are commonly prescribed for treatment of bacterial infections in dogs, cats, horses, and a wide variety of other animals5,6. St. John’s wort is especially useful in instances where soft tissues, joints, and/or nerve endings have been crushed, crimped, or bruised— such as the effect a cattle dog might experience from being stomped or kicked, or that which a cat may suffer after expending another of its nine lives in a run-in with an automobile. In first aid applications, St. John’s wort can be applied directly to the site of injury in the form of salve, tincture, or an oil infusion, and/or the tincture can be administered internally. We would probably opt to do both under the circumstances I have presented, as the topical application will help to prevent infection and speed healing, while the phytosterol and flavonoid constituents of the internal dose will help with nerve pain and repair. Twelve drops of the tincture per twenty pounds of the animal’s body weight, administered twice daily is a good starting point in terms of internal dosage.
St. John’s wort offers a great deal of promise in the treatment of various forms of viral and retroviral infections, including human and feline AIDS, Epstein-Barr virus, influenza, herpes7,8, and viral hepatitis (particularly in ducks and other fowl)9. In essence, St. John’s wort inhibits reproduction of these viruses, especially if it is administered during the earliest stages of disease. In AIDS research, the hope is that St. John’s wort will prove useful in slowing the progression of the HIV. So far, studies have been very promising, but it is really too early to define the depth of St. John’s wort’s role in this capacity. Regardless, it’s use against human or feline AIDS is worth a serious try.
St. John’s wort extract may be useful as a preventive measure in dogs which have been exposed to a potentially fatal canine herpes viral infection, or in cats, horses, or other animals that are suffering from a chronic form of herpes virus. The point to remember in chronic cases is that St. John’s Wort will not likely cure the animal, but may help keep the virus in check. In my experience with people who suffer from herpes, simultaneous internal and external applications of St. John’s wort extract will expedite the virus back into remission, and will often help to lengthen the comfortable period between outbreaks.
Availability: A widely distributed weed in the western US. Seeds are available from specialty seed catalogs. The dried herb and it various preparations are available through herb retailers.
Propagation & Harvest: St. John’s wort is easy to transplant or start from seed, but before you do, beware that it is listed as a noxious weed in many areas of the country. If you introduce this plant into your herb garden, be very careful that it doesn’t escape cultivation— if it does, expect a future visit from some guy spraying poison. Harvest when the plants are in full bloom; usually in early to mid-July. Clip off the flowering tops, and plan on making tincture or an oil infusion as quickly after harvest as possible— this plant is best if made into medicine while it is fresh.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For anxiety and depressive disorders, lemon balm, skullcap, valerian, and passion flowers serve as adjuncts or alternatives. For injuries, St. John’s wort combines well with comfrey, calendula, aloe, cayenne, yarrow, or arnica. Licorice, devil’s claw, or yucca root; all serve as anti-inflammatory adjuncts. For nerve-related problems, study oatstraw, skullcap, cayenne, and valerian as possible alternatives or adjuncts. As an antiviral or antiseptic, St. John’s wort combines with echinacea, Oregon grape, certified organic goldenseal, bee balm, thyme, or sage.
Cautions & Comments: While adverse side effects from St. John’s wort are rare, there is a possibility of developing a photosensitive rash from its use. Recognition of this side effect originates from livestock that have foraged on large quantities of the plants— one of the main reasons why St. John’s wort is the subject of herbicidal intervention in areas of the West. Specifically, people or animals with very light skin pigments may be susceptible to sunburn-like effects if they consume too much St. John’s wort and subsequently spend too much time in bright sunlight. Common sense presides here— use extra caution if your animal has white hair, white or pink skin pigments, or a short coat. If a rash does develop, get the animal out of direct sunlight as quickly as possible and discontinue use of St. John’s wort. Then, before proceeding with a smaller dosage, consider finding an alternative therapy— it may be that your animal is not a proper candidate for St. John’s wort. And, as always, it is a good idea to consult a holistic veterinarian before diagnosing your pet’s condition and self-prescribing any course of therapy.
1. Okpanyi, Von S.N. & M.L. Weishcer. 1987. “Tierexperimentelle Untersuchungen
zur psychotropen wirksamkeit eines Hypericum-extraktes,” Arzneim.-Forsch.
2. Muldner, Von H. & M. Zoller. 1984. “Antidepressive wirkung eines auf den wirkstoffkomplex hypercin standardisierten hypericum-extraktes,” Arzneim.-Forsch. 34: 918.
3. Commission E of the German Institute of for Drugs and Medical Devices; a multi-disciplinary committee of scientists with expertise in medicinal plants.
4. Blumenthal, M., as cited by Tyler, Dr. Varro E. in the article “St. John’s Wort: The Leading Herb for Mild to Moderate Depression”. Natural Pharmacy, vol. 1, #2, 2/97, p.8.
5. Aizenman, B.E. 1969. “Antibiotic preparations from Hypericum perforatum,” Mikrobiol. Zh. (Kiev) 31: 128-33, (CA 70: 118006e).
6. Derbentseva, N.A. & A.S. Rabinovich. 1968. “Isolation, purification, and
study of some physicochemical properties of novoimanin[a hypericum derivative],” in Novoimanin Ego Lech. Svoistva, 15-18, Edited by: Solov’eva, A.I., “Naukova Dumka”: Kiev, USSR.
7. Someya, H. “Effect of a Constituent of Hypericum erectum on infection and multiplication of of Epstein-Barr virus.” J. Tokyo Med. Coll. 43:815-826, 1985.
8. Meruelo, D., Lavie, D.: “Therapeutic Agents with Dramatic Antiretroviral Activity and Little Toxicity at Effective Doses: Aromatic polycyclic diones hypericin and pseudohypericin.” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 85:5230-5234, 1988.
9. Moraleda, G., Wu, TT, et al.: “Inhibition of Duck Hepatitis B Virus replication by Hypericin.” Antiviral Res. 20:235-247, 1993.
THYME Thymus vulgaris Mint family
Appearance: Most thymes are ground-hugging plants with strong, sprawling stems, small (1/8″) opposite leaves, and tiny cylindrical flowers that range in color from white to pale purple. There are countless variations of leaf color, fragrance, and even flavor available to the gardener. In fact there are so many variations of Thymus species, it is possible to dedicate an entire garden to them.
Habitat & Range: Thyme originates from the Mediterranean region. There are over 350 species of Thymus world wide, most of which are cultivated as a seasoning herb or landscape shrub.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Most thymes are evergreen perennials. Blooming occurs from early spring to mid-summer.
Parts Used: Leaves, stems, and flowers.
Actions: Antimicrobial, carminative, anti-spasmodic, antitussive, expectorant, astringent, anthelmintic.
Affinities: Digestive and respiratory tracts.
Preparation: Tea or tincture.
Specific Uses: Most of thymes medicinal activity is attributable to its volatile oil constituents, thymol and carvacrol. 2,3 Thymol is a very good antiseptic for the mouth and throat; useful for fighting gingivitis in dogs and cats. In fact, it is used as the active ingredient in many commercial toothpaste and mouth wash formulas.
Combined with thyme’s infection-fighting qualities are antitussive and expectorant properties—making the herb useful for raspy, unproductive coughs that are secondary to fungal or bacterial infection. As an antispasmodic, thyme helps eases bronchial spasms that are related to asthma. A glycerin tincture, or an alcohol tincture that has been sweetened with honey, serves well for most internal applications— one-quarter of a teaspoon (1ml) for each 30 pounds of the animal’s body weight (12-20 drops for cats), fed as needed up to twice daily. A cooled tea will work too, provided it has been brewed with near boiling water to draw out the volatile oil constituents. One teaspoon for dogs, 1/4 teaspoon for cats—fed directly into the mouth two to three times daily. For infections of the mouth or as a preventative against gingivitis, the tincture or a very strong tea can be directly applied to the gum lines or infected sites with a swab. In the digestive tract, it is a useful carminative and antispasmodic in cases of dyspepsia, irritable bowel, and colitis. It also helps expel parasites, especially hook worms1. In these cases, the dried or fresh herb can be fed with companion’s food— one teaspoon per pound of food fed (a sprinkling for cats). Horses and other large herbivores with digestive problems can be fed one-half cup of the dried herb, or a handful of the fresh plants daily. Rabbits, birds, and other small animals can be fed a couple of fresh sprigs daily. On the surface of the body, thyme tea (skin rinse) or an oil infusion is useful for various fungal or bacterial infections of the skin (see the chapters on Skin Problems and basic medicine making). In the urinary tract, the tea or tincture serves as an antimicrobial, as well as a mildly astringent tonic that is said to be useful for urinary incontinence. Use the tincture doses we have suggested for respiratory problems.
Availability: Any food market. The plants are available at nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Very easy to grow from seed or transplant. Thyme prefers light soil with neutral acidity, but can be grown just about anywhere. It is an excellent choice for rock gardens and walkway borders.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For infections of the mouth thyme combines with myrrh, Oregon grape, certified organic goldenseal, bee balm, or sage. For respiratory infections, combine with garlic, echinacea, bee balm, or sage. For asthma, thyme works best when used in conjunction with elecampane, mullein leaf, nettle, or lobelia. For digestive problems, fennel, parsley seeds, chamomile, and peppermint are all good herbs to combine with thyme. For worms, try combining thyme with equal amounts of garlic and raw pumpkin seeds.
Cautions & Comments: Thyme is very safe. However, when ingested in very large amounts, thyme has been known to effect the menstrual cycle. Therefore, it should be used with moderation in pregnant animals. When isolated from the rest of the plant, thymol is very toxic. Do not use an essential oil of thyme in or on your animal.
NOTE: In horses, the volatile oils of thyme may be detectable in a blood sample, and may be considered a “prohibited substance” under Jockey Club or other horse show rules.
1. Leung, AY. Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs and cosmetics.” New York-Chichester: Wiley, 1980.
2. Van Den Broucke Co. “The therapeutic value of Thymus species. Fitoterapia 1983; 4:171-174.
3. Van Den Broucke Co., Lernli JA. “Pharmacological and chemical investigation of thyme liquid extracts.” Planta Med 1981; 41: 129-35.
UVA-URSI; Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Heath family
Appearance: Also known as “kinnickinnick”; (an American Indian word, meaning “smoking mixture”), uva-ursi is a mat-forming, densely branched ground cover with woody, trailing stems. Several other species of Arctostaphylos are small to medium sized (up to 10′ tall), erect hardwood shrubs. In mountainous areas of southwestern United States, Arctostaphylos manzanita is often seen as a predominant shrub. Despite size differences, all species present leaf, flower, and fruit characteristics which distinguish them as members of the Arctostaphylos clan— and all are medicinally useful, despite the fact that A. uva-ursi is the species of primary interest among herbalists. The leathery, alternate leaves are spoon to lance-shaped; with upper surfaces darker green than their undersides. Flowers are pink and urn-shaped, and are arranged in nodding, few-flowered terminal clusters. Fruits are in the form of mealy red berries, which look like tiny (1/4-1/2″) apples. The name Arctostaphylos (from early Greek) translates to “Bear Berry;”— another common name for uva-ursi which is used universally throughout the genus.
Habitat & Range: Open forest clearings, from the montaine zone up to timberline. A. uva-ursi is the predominant circumboreale species; ranging throughout the northern third of the US., Canada, and Europe. In the mountains of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and especially California (where “Manzanita” is protected by law), several of the larger shrub varieties are predominant.
Cycle & Bloom Season: April – June. Fruits begin to develop in mid-summer.
Parts Used: Leaves and twigs.
Actions: Astringent, antimicrobial, diuretic.
Affinities: Urinary tract and skin.
Preparation: Decoction or tincture.
Specific Uses: Uva-ursi is one of nature’s most powerful astringents. The plant contains a considerable amount of tannins (up to 40%). It also contains hydroquinones— an assortment of chemical compounds that are active against a wide variety of pathogens, including Mycobacterium smegmatis, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilus, Escherichia coli (E-coli), and various forms of Shigella species1. All of these pathogens are often implicated in urinary tract infections. However, its important to know that in order for uva-ursi to be effective in treating urinary infections, an alkaline reaction is necessary to release the hydroquinone into active form2. What this means is that uva-ursi cannot contribute antibacterial activities to a urinary system where urine is acidic— a condition that is common in animals (especially cats) with chronic urinary tract problems. In these circumstances it is necessary either elevate urine pH into a healthier, alkaline state, or to combine uva-ursi with other antibacterial herbs (the easier option). Regardless of urine pH, it will serve as an effective astringent to stop bleeding and reduce urinary tract inflammation.
Uva-ursi is a very strong herb, and its high tannin content can irritate the kidneys if used for more than a few consecutive days. Therefore, it is best reserved for situations where quick intervention is needed. To use uva-ursi internally you will need to make a decoction from the fresh or dried leaves and stems— use one cup of the dried herb for each three cups of water (see the medicine-making chapter). The leathery, almost plastic-like structure of this plant its nearly impervious to water, so a simple tea is not an option. For dogs, one teaspoon of the cooled decoction can be fed once daily, for no more than three days. Cats and ferrets will only require 1/4-1/2 teaspoon. Horses and other large herbivores can be fed one cup of the dried leaves daily, for up to three days. Get the animal to drink as much water as possible when using this herb, even if you must resort to using a low-salt meat broth. The idea is to course the herb through the urinary tract so it can quickly knock down infection and reduce inflammation. Then, after a day or two, gentler astringent herbs can be used to safely and effectively finish the therapy.
For contact dermatitis, seborrhea, flea-bites and such, the decoction can be diluted (one cup decoction to one quart of water) and used as an antibacterial and astringent skin rinse (see “Skin Problems”).
Availability: Available through herb retailers. The plants are available through nurseries that specialize in native permaculture.
Propagation & Harvest: Uva-ursi is very hardy (to zone 4) and serves as a very good anti-erosion ground cover. It’s not picky about soil, but prefers a slightly to moderately acid pH level. Uva-ursi and other members of the Arctostaphylos clan are especially good landscape choices in mountain areas of the western US and Canada. The leaves and trailing stems can be clipped, dried, and used anytime during their evergreen growth.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: When treating most forms of urinary tract infection, it’s a good idea to help flush the system with the use of diuretic herbs. Dandelion leaf, chickweed, cleavers, or shepherd’s purse serve this purpose well. For animals with overly-concentrated acid urine, uva-ursi can be preceded (by an hour or so) by a dose of mullein leaf tea, which is moderately effective at alkalizing the urine. Or, uva-ursi can be combined with antimicrobials, such as Oregon grape, sage, thyme, or echinacea. Marshmallow serves as a soothing and lubricating adjunct in urinary tract therapies, and is especially useful in the passage of stones and gravel. Corn silk, couchgrass, horsetail, raspberry leaf, and cleavers all serve as weaker urinary astringents that are suitable for minor to moderately severe urinary ailments (see “Urinary Problems”).
Cautions & Comments: Uva-ursi is believed to inhibit oxygen delivery to the uterus, and therefore should not be used in pregnant animals. Like all strong astringents, long term internal use of uva-ursi may cause irritation to the kidneys, bladder, and urethra. Uva-ursi may be contraindicated in preexisting kidney inflammation or renal failure— see your veterinarian in these circumstances.
1. Moskalenko, SA. “Preliminary screening of far-Eastern ethnomedicinal plants for antibacterial activity.” J Ethnopharmacol 1986; 15: 231-59.
2. Frohne D. “Untersuchungen zur Frage der Harndesinfizierenden Wirkungen von Barentraubenblatt-Extrakten.” Planta Med 1970; 18: 23-5.
VALERIAN Valeriana officinalis Valerian family
Appearance: Many people relate the strongly aromatic roots to the odor of dirty gym socks. Once the odor of this plant has been experienced by the nose, identification becomes as simple as dipping a finger into the soil to scratch a root. The foliage of this plant is unique as well— the plant first emerges as a cluster of loosely arranged lance-shaped leaves that usually remain larger than the leaves of the mature upper plant. Upper leaves are opposite, pinnately divided, and are progressively smaller toward the top of the plant. Flowers are borne in branched, terminate clusters of small, white to pink blossoms Roots are stringy, brown, and very pungent! Several native species of Valeriana occur throughout North America; with size being the primary difference between species. Most wild valerians remain at less than a foot in height. Domestic valerian can grow in excess of five feet tall.
Habitat & Range: Valerian is generally found in soils that retain moisture well into summer. Look for it on north facing banks or hillsides; or in partially shaded soils that are high in organic matter. Several native species occur throughout the western third of the United States and Canada. It is less common in the Midwest and Eastern portions of North America, but in some areas (especially New England), Valeriana officinalis has escaped cultivation and is doing quite well.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms from May to July.
Parts Used: Primarily the fall root. The upper parts of the plant are useful too, but make weaker medicine.
Actions: Sedative;, antispasmodic;, carminative;, hypotensive;.
Affinities: Nervous system, digestive tract.
Preparation: Tincture, tea, fresh or dried root.
Specific Uses: Valerian is without doubt the most widely-recognized herbal sedative in existence. As a sedative, valerian works safely and gently to help calm the nerves and achieve physical relaxation— it does not induce an altered state like one would expect from a prescription sedative or from consumption of alcohol. Contrary to what many people believe, valerian is not a precursor to the tranquilizer Valium;. “Valium” is a brand name for diazepam;; a prescription drug that shares no chemical relationship with valerian. Perhaps the brand name of the drug was inspired by valerian, but relationship between the two ends there. Herbalists use valerian for insomnia;, nervous anxiety;, and to help the body relax in the presence of physical pain;. It is very useful for calming animals during thunderstorms, trips to the vet or groomer, or to help your companion rest after surgery. For epileptic animals, it sometimes helps to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures. Animal studies have concluded that valerenic and valerenal acid work very similar to the drug pentobarbital, a central nervous system depressant that is used as a anticonvulsive1. And— the herb has been shown to inhibit production of an enzyme that breaks down y-aminobutryic acid (or GABA), an amino acid that is responsible for inhibiting and regulating neurotransmissions in the brain2. The theory: by preventing the break down of GABA with valerian, the increased neural activity that precedes an epileptic seizure is circumvented, and the triggering mechanism is disabled.
When employed as a sedative, valerian is most effective when small doses are fed several times daily over a period of several days. This is especially true when it is used in anticipation of a high-anxiety event— such as a planned interstate trip or a show. In these circumstances, dogs can be fed five drops of the tincture, three or four times daily, starting three days prior to the event. Cats will only need two or three drops, twice or three times daily.
In the digestive tract ;valerian is a useful antispasmodic for situations where nervousness is compounded by a spastic colon; or an upset stomach;. However, because of valerian’s soap-like saponin ; content, large amounts of this herb may cause nausea and vomitings;. For digestive, and anti-epileptic uses, 0.25 to 0.5 milliliter of the tincture can be fed for each 30 pounds of an animal’s body weight, twice to three times daily. In horses, valerian will help reduce anxiety and nervousness without inducing drowsiness or effecting physical performance. One-half ounce of the dried and chopped herb, or two tablespoons of the tincture, can be added to the day’s feeding.
For reasons that remain a mystery, a small percentage of human or animal subjects will experience completely opposite effects from valerian— it will act as a stimulants;, rather than a sedative (see Alternatives & Adjuncts).
Availability: Various forms of valerian preparations are available through herb retailers. Plants are available through nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Valerian can be grown from seed or transplants. It likes rich, consistently moist soil, and full sun or partial shade. It is best to plant valerian very early in the spring, when the seedlings and young plants can fully benefit from cool temperatures and precipitation. The roots are dug in late fall of the second year of growth. The fresh roots can be made into tincture, or they can be chopped and dried for later uses. When properly stored in plastic bags, the dried roots will keep for up to three years.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For epileptic animals, valerian combines well with skullcap. For anxiety and nervousness, valerian can be combined with skullcap, passion flower, hops, oatstraw, or catnip. These herbs also serve as alternatives for animals that have an opposite response to valerian.
Cautions & Comments: Valerian can cause digestive upset if used in large doses, and it should not be used in pregnant animals. Otherwise, it is a very safe herb.
1. Hendriks H. et al. “Central nervous depressant activity of valerenic acid in the mouse.” Planta Medica 1985; 51:28-31.
2. Riedel E. et al. “Inhibition of y-aminobutyric acid catabolism by valerenic acid derivatives.” Planta Medica 1982; 48: 219-20.
WORMWOOD Artemesia absinthum Sunflower family
Appearance: Wormwood is attractive to the eyes and intriguing to the nose— with silky, finely-divided gray-green leaves and a strong fragrance that is reminiscent of both sage and pine. The tiny yellow, ball-like flowers of the plant are presented in loose clusters on the upper branches of the plant. The entire plant may grow to the size of a small bush— up to four feet tall.
Habitat & Range: A native of Europe, wormwood is cultivated as a garden plant throughout the northern hemisphere and has found its way into wild areas throughout most of North America. It is most commonly found along roadways, in vacant lots, on the edges of cultivated fields, and in other waste areas.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A long-lived perennial that blooms from June to August.
Parts Used: The leaves.
Actions: Antiseptic, antifungal, astringent, anthelmintic.
Affinities: Skin and digestive tract.
Preparation: Tea or dried leaves.
Specific Uses: As its common name implies, wormwood is among the most well-known herbal worming agents. Hundreds of years of successful use stand in testament of its ability to expel tapeworms, threadworms, and especially, roundworms from the intestinal tracts of dogs, cats, horses, goats, sheep, cattle, and humans. However, the authors seldom use it.
Although wormwood makes life miserable for intestinal parasites, it can also be hard on the host. This is because wormwood contains an assortment of very strong volatile oils, bitter principles, and tannins. If used excessively, these constituents can be irritating to the liver and kidneys— and in extreme cases, it may even cause nervous system damage. This is not to say that it can’t be used safely, but an extra measure of care and moderation is certainly warranted. The problems with using this herb are multi-faceted— too small a dose is ineffective, but a larger dose might be toxic to the animal. Small doses administered over a longer period of time might be effective— but at what cumulative cost to the animal’s kidneys, liver and nervous system? . The bottom line: Wormwood is useful when the absolute necessity of quick parasite intervention outweighs the risk of toxicity. In holistic animal care, this is a rarity— because therapeutic focus is placed upon the whole animal, not just one or more symptoms of dis-ease. To use wormwood, up to 1/4 tsp. of the dried, powdered herb, or 0.5 milliliter (about 1/8 tsp.) of a low-alcohol tincture can be adminstered daily, at meal time, for each 30 pounds of an animal’s body weight. Cats can receive up to 1/8 tsp. daily. Wormwood should not be used internally for more than three consecutive days. Wormwood has an extremely bitter flavor, making a difficult herb to administer. To ease the melodramatic process of getting it into a hissing cat or tight-lipped dog, the powder or tincture can be placed in a small gel cap and wrapped with cheese, meat, or whatever works.
Externally, wormwood is an effective rinse for bacterial or fungal infections of the skin, including various forms of dermatophytosis (ringworm). For instructions how to make and apply a skin rinse, see the chapters on skin problems and medicine making.
Availability: Available through herb retailers. Plants and seeds are available from nurseries that specialize in herbs.
Propagation & Harvest: Wormwood is easy to grow, requiring average soil, full sunlight, and only an occasional watering. It is hardy to zone 4, and plants often live in excess of ten years. The leaves can be harvested anytime, but they are most potent when gathered on a hot, summer afternoon.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For intestinal parasites, garlic, pumpkin seeds, black walnut hulls, sage, thyme, and Oregon grape all serve as effective and safer substitutes. For infections of the skin, wormwood combines with calendula, gotu kola, or aloe. Sage serves similar purposes as a topical antimicrobial.
Cautions & Comments: The FDA lists wormwood as unsafe for internal use. The volatile oils of this plant can be damaging to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system if used excessively. This herb should never be used in animals that suffer from seizures, kidney problems, or liver disease. Wormwood is also contraindicated in pregnant or lactating animals.
YARROW Achillea millefolium Sunflower family
Appearance: Yarrow is characterized by its flat-topped terminal clusters of small white to pinkish-white flowers and its alternate, finely dissected, feathery-looking leaves (millefolium translates to “thousand-leafed”). The entire plant is strongly aromatic, with a pungency not unlike moth balls. Stems are often woolly-hairy. Several cultivars of Yarrow have been developed for the floral industry, and many have escaped cultivation in many areas. These plants are usually not as cold hardy as their wild cousins, and can be identified by their yellow, red, or peach-colored flowers.
Habitat & Range: Habitat & Range: A native of Asia that has made itself at home throughout the northern hemisphere, from sea level to above timberline. The density of plant populations increases as one travels north through the western US.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that often remains in bloom throughout the spring and summer months.
Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, and stems.
Actions: Antiseptic, analgesic, vasodilator, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, hemostatic, hypotensive, febrifuge, tonic, insect repellent, anthelmintic.
Affinities: Circulatory and respiratory systems, urinary and digestive tracts, skin.
Preparation: Dry or fresh herb, tea, tincture, oil infusion.
Specific Uses: Yarrow is one of the most versatile and well-known herbs in nature’s apothecary. In ancient Europe, yarrow was known by warriors as “wound wort”, who used the plant (presumably for their horses as well as themselves) to stop bleeding and disinfect wounds on the battlefield. Achillea, the genus name of the plant, is derived from the name of an ancient Greek warrior, Achilles.
The contemporary animal guardian will find the powder or poultice of the dried or fresh plant useful for treating less deliberate open wounds, such as a barbed wire cut or a foot pad laceration caused by some careless slob’s broken beer bottle. To effectively stop bleeding and inhibit bacteria, simply crush the herb as finely as possible and apply it directly to the wound as a crude but effective first aid compress. A cooled tea of the plant can be used as a pain and itch-relieving, antiseptic skin rinse, and the aromatic nature of the plant may be of help in repelling fleas, mosquitoes, and biting flies.
Yarrow is a very useful and unique peripheral vasodilator and vascular tonic. When taken internally, the flavonoid constituents of yarrow act to dilate and strengthen peripheral blood vessels and help clear small blood clots, thus increasing circulation to the skin and extremities1. Combined with this are anti inflammatory qualities, making yarrow useful for problems where peripheral circulation has been impaired by inflammation (e.g., arthritis, navicular syndrome in horses, and severe cases of dermatitis). It is also useful for subcutaneous blood clots of the ears and the skin, especially when internal doses of the tincture are used simultaneously with external applications of an oil infusion (see “Eyes, Ears. Nose, and Throat”).
In the urinary tract yarrow tea or tincture serves as a bacteriostatic agent in the treatment of chronic or acute cystitis. It is useful at early onset of a kidney infection.
In the lungs, yarrow’s bacteriostatic and expectorant properties help the body in its effort to eliminate invading microbes and other foreign bodies. At the same time, the herb dilates and tonifies respiratory blood vessels to improve pulmonary efficiency. Because of this remarkable combination of activities, yarrow is among the first herbs we reach for in cases of pneumonia. Yarrow may also be useful for race horses who suffer from hemorrhagic pulmonary edema as a result of too much strenuous exercise.
In the digestive tract, it is marginally effective at expelling worms, and is useful for inflammations, bleeding, and bacterial infections of the stomach and colon. The bitter principles stimulate digestion and appetite.
Yarrow is well-known among herbalists as a fever-reducing (febrifuge) remedy. It is especially useful when taken as a tea at the onset of a fever.
Scientists once thought that yarrow’s therapeutic usefulness is chiefly attributable to tannins and a volatile oil called azulene 1,2. However, the chemical make-up of yarrow is extremely complex, and recent studies have found that the plant contains sterols and various other compounds that possess a much wider range of medicinal activities than originally thought3. One study suggests that yarrow may be a useful antitumor agent, and may play an active role in the treatment of certain types of leukemia4.
To use yarrow internally in dogs and cats, a tincture is usually preferable over a tea, because the herb is very bitter and hard to feed in appreciable quantities. For dogs, 1 milliliter (about 1/4) tsp. of the tincture can be fed for each 30 pounds of an animal’s body weight, twice to three times daily. Cats and similar-sized animals will only need 1/8 tsp., twice daily. Horses and other large herbivores can be allowed to eat the plants from their pastures at their intuitive leisure, or they can be fed one ounce of the dried herb as part of their daily ration.
Availability: A widely distributed weed that is also available through herb retailers and nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Very easy to grow from seed or transplants. True yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is hardy down to at least -30°F, and is drought-tolerant as well. The yellow and hybrid varieties (of which their are several colors), are less hardy, but still easy to grow in most areas of North America. Moderately rich, slightly acid soil, and full sun will yield healthy plants, which usually don’t bloom until their second year of growth. Harvest the upper third of the flowering plant (stems, leaves and flowers) in midsummer, on a dry, warm day— this is when the highest concentration of active constituents are found in the plant.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: To stop bleeding, nothing compares with a first aid powder made from a 50/50 mix of dried yarrow and cayenne. For situations requiring a vascular tonic or peripheral vasodilator, yarrow combines well with garlic, cayenne, ginkgo, hawthorn, or ginger. For urinary infections, marshmallow, couchgrass, horsetail, echinacea, and Oregon grape combine well with yarrow. For infections of the digestive tract, combine with Oregon grape. For skin inflammations and infections, look at sage, rosemary, calendula, chamomile, and juniper as adjuncts or alternatives. For closed injuries, yarrow combines especially well with arnica.
Cautions & Comments: Allergic reactions to yarrow are fairly common, and the volatile oils of the plant may cause dermatitis; when applied to the skin of sensitive animals. This plant contains thujone;, a substance which may be toxic if consumed in large quantities over an extended period of time(meaning that moderation is the key to safe, long term use). Like most herbs that are rich with volatile oils, yarrow should not be used in pregnant or lactating animals, as these constituents have been shown to cross the placenta to the fetus, and are known to have abortifacient effects if ingested in large enough quantities.
1. Chandler RF et al. “Ethnobotany and phytochemistry of yarrow, Achillea millefolium.“ Economic Bot 1982; 36: 203-23.
2. Haggag MY et al. “Thin layer and gas chromatographic studies on the essential oil from Achillea millefolium.” Planta Med. 1975; 27: 361-6.
3. Chandler RF, Hooper SN, Hooper DL, Jamieson WD, Flinn CG, Safe LM. “Herbal remedies of the Maritime Indians: sterols and triterpenes of Achillea millefolium L. (Yarrow).” Jour Pharm Sci ,1982 Jun; 71(6):690-3.
4. Tozyo T, Yoshimura Y, Sakurai K, Uchida N, Takeda Y, Nakai H, Ishii H. “Novel antitumor sesquiterpenoids in Achillea millefolium.” Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo), 1994 May; 42(5):1096-100.
YELLOW DOCK Rumex crispus Buckwheat family
Appearance: Yellow Dock is a hearty, tap-rooted perennial which may grow to as high as 5″. The elongated (up to 12″ long and 4″ wide), lance-shaped, basal leaves are borne on proportionately long petioles, and are often curled at their margins. The alternate stem leaves are smaller but more numerous. The single, stout stem is often red in color and bears long, terminate clusters of small, greenish-white flowers above the rest of the plant. As the flowers mature and dry, they turn a rusty-red color that often stands in bold contrast to the surrounding flora. Of the 25 or more species of Rumex that inhabit North America, Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) represents an identifying medium among the larger members of its genus. Of the larger species, some are taller plants (R. occidentalis); smaller plants (R. venosus); have broader leaves (R. obtusifolius); or smaller leaves (R. sangineus) than Yellow Dock… but all are essentially similar in overall appearance and usefulness.
Habitat & Range: Widely distributed in disturbed areas throughout North America. The entire Rumex genus is imported from Europe.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial that blooms May-August.
Parts Used: The root.
Actions: Cholagogue, alterative, laxative, antimicrobial, nutritive.
Affinities: Digestive tract, skin, liver.
Preparation: Tincture, tea, dried root.
Specific Uses: Yellow dock is well-described as a ‘quick cleansing’ herb. The root contains a combination of anthraquinone, oxalic acid, oxalates, and other constituents that act to stimulate liver function and peristalsis (contractions of intestinal smooth muscles)1,2. In effect, the body is prompted to work harder at eliminating waste from the bloodstream and digestive tract. This makes yellow dock especially useful for treating chronic or acute dermatitis that may be attributable to toxic excesses and eliminatory deficiencies in the body. It is also useful for treating rheumatoid arthritis that is secondary to similar circumstances. Because of its ability to quickly flush the body of systemic waste, yellow dock is often used in the herbal treatment of cancer. Because the root is extremely high in iron, it is considered a traditional remedy for anemia.
Yellow dock is a very useful when used within the parameters I have just described. However, in animals it is somewhat of a “heroic remedy”; an herb that forces quick, dramatic responses in the body— much like an allopathic drug. Therefore, it’s use in the holistic care of animals should be limited to short term applications, at the onset of detoxification therapies that are focused on long term, holistic results. Or, it can be used as a potentiating adjunct; in combination with tonic herbs such as burdock, dandelion, red clover, slippery elm, or alfalfa. Using yellow dock as a symptomatic quick-fix (such as for constipation) amounts to little more than substituting an herb for a drug.
Externally, yellow dock can be used as an itch-relieving, alterative skin rinse or poultice in the treatment of seborrhea, pyoderma and contact dermatitis. To use yellow dock internally, read the “Digestive Disorders” and “Skin Problems” chapters of this book— or consult your holistic veterinarian.
Availability: A widely distributed weed; available through herb retailers and seed catalogs that specialize in medicinal plants.
Propagation & Harvest: Easy to grow once established, but the seeds can remain dormant in the soil for several years before germinating. Provided you are willing to wait, the plants will grow in just about any soil, with very little care. The roots are dug in fall, after the plant has gone to seed and the leaves have begun to die back for winter.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For situations that require stimulation of the liver, look at dandelion root and Oregon grape as less “heroic” alternatives. For anemia, yellow dock combines well, in proportionately small amounts, with alfalfa, garlic, red clover, spirulina, and nettle.
Cautions & Comments: Even though yellow dock is a much gentler laxative than most herbs that contain considerable amounts of anthraquinones, it should not be used in situations involving intestinal bleeding or preexisting obstructions (such as intestinal tumors). When used in moderation, yellow dock is quite safe, but excessive use will likely result in intestinal cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting, and may lead to laxative dependency.
Like all stimulant laxatives, yellow dock should not be used during pregnancy.
1. Fairbairn JW and El-Muhtadi FJ. “Chemotaxonomy of antraquinones in Rumex.” Phytochemistry 1972; 11: 263-8.
2. Miyazawa M, Kameoka H. “Constituents of essential oil from Rumex crispus.” Yakagatu 1983; 32: 45-7.
YUCCA Yucca schidigera Lily family
Appearance: Although argument exists among botanists over yucca’s specific family classification, Yucca is not a cactus. Essentially, “old scholars” consider yucca as a member of the Agave family, while the current botanists refer to yucca as a member of Liliaceae— the Lily family. I opt for the latter. Once you see yucca’s beautiful, cream-colored flower clusters, you will likely agree that it’s a lily. The showy, 1-3″ flowers are presented in dense clusters atop a proportionately tall central stalk. The rest of the plant is characterized by its sharply pointed, sword-like leaves. The appearances of the various species differ primarily by their size, but the most unique of all them is Yucca brevifolia (commonly called “Joshua Tree”); a large (Up to 20′) inhabitant of the high, southwestern deserts of Arizona, Nevada, western New Mexico, and especially California, where it is protected by law. Other species share vary similar appearances with Yucca schidigera (“Mojave Yucca”); a long-leafed variety that grows as a 1′-6″ high clump of painful, puncturing green swords.
Habitat & Range: Yucca schidigera’s natural habitats are the dry, coastal canyons of California and the inland deserts of the US. West. This is the primary variety of commerce, and it is widely harvested and marketed by the natural products and landscape industries.
Several other species of yucca range throughout the deserts and plains of North America. Although most of us associate plants like Yucca with hot, dry, desert environments, the true definition of “desert” pertains only to rainfall limitations, and various species of yucca are adapted to dramatically contrasting temperatures . For example, Yucca glauca, the “Small Soapweed”, thrives in many areas of the Northern Plains States and Canada, where summers are excruciatingly hot and dry and winters are subarctic in average temperature.
Cycle & Bloom Season: A perennial. Yucca’s frequency and bloom duration depends largely on available precipitation. Cultivated plants may bloom once every one to three years, while wild plants may remain dormant for decades.
Parts Used: The root.
Actions: Nutritive tonic, anti inflammatory, antitumor.
Affinities: Digestive tract, musculoskeletal.
Preparation: Chopped and dried herb or tincture.
Specific Uses: Yucca contains notable quantities of Vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorous, protein, and B-vitamins— but its greater healing powers are chiefly attributable to its impressive content of saponin compounds. Saponins are a group of soap-like plant glycosides which are characterized by their tendency to dramatically foam-up when agitated with water. While dozens of variations of saponins are present in hundreds of useful plants, two root-born types of saponins stand out among others as Yucca’s primary active constituents: sarsasapogenin and smilagenin1. These two compounds are irritating, cleansing, and penetrating to the mucus membrane tissues of the small intestine, and it is theorized that these actions aid in the assimilation of important minerals and vitamins by allowing increased passage of critical nutrients through the intestinal walls. This in turn optimizes the nutritional value of an animal’s food.
Although many of the specifics of yucca’s medicinal actions remain unclear to scientists, the results of feeding Yucca can be astounding. In studies conducted at Colorado State University, cattle which received a small quantity of yucca in their feed showed greater weight gain than those without. Other trial accounts have concluded that chickens which are fed yucca have a tendency to lay more eggs, and dairy cattle tend to produce more milk.
Another reason you may find yucca in dog, cat, horse, or cattle feed is because it has been found to reduce the emission of noxious odor in urine and feces. In studies which examined the chemical breakdown of urea (the body’s final by-product of digested proteins), it was found that the anhydrous ammonia which is largely responsible for the less than delightful odor of animal excrement is caused by a single microbial enzyme called urease. Further studies concluded that food supplements of Yucca schidigera act to inhibit the production of urease, and as a result, fecal and urine odors are reduced by up to 56% in dogs and 49% in cats3. 4. Believe it or not, this attribute has brought about tremendous market appeal for yucca, as millions of people find the notion of less offensive animal waste an attractive alternative to actually cleaning it up. The holistic question is, what is the deeper purposes of the urease enzymes we wish to suppress? Urease is a natural byproduct of a natural metabolic process, and we can only speculate about the long term results of our interference. People who knowingly buy into this concept simply don’t realize (or don’t care) that poor quality proteins produce excess urea and larger, more offensive stools. If an animal is fed a balanced, natural diet, excess fecal and urine odor shouldn’t be an issue.
Although much of yucca’s nutritive value is likely attributable to its actions upon the intestinal membranes, the mystique surrounding this plant’s impressive track record as a medicine becomes much clearer when we take a close look at it’s active ingredients. Sarsasapogenin and smilagenin are known by the scientific/herbal community as phytosterols or steroidal saponins... compounds which act as precursors to the corticosteroids that are naturally produced in the body. Both of these compounds are extracted from Yucca and various other herbs as starter substances in the production of pharmaceutical corticosteroid drugs. If this sounds ominous to those of you who seeking natural alternatives to such drugs, then please rest assured— the differences between a phytosterol and a manufactured steroid drug are quite extreme. The process by which phytosterols are used to manufacture prescription steroids starts with a simple plant compound and proceeds from there into a complex scientific process that might give Einstein a headache. Comparing yucca to a hydrocortisone drug is like comparing a single chemical compound in a packet of active dry yeast with a loaf of finished 12-grain bread. The terms “plant steroids” or “plant hormones” are erroneous—no plant in current awareness actually carries steroidal hormones into the body. In essence, phytosterols stimulate and assist the body in the use and production of its own corticosteroids and corticosteroid-related hormones. Furthermore, steroidal saponins work with the natural immune functions of the body; whereas synthetically produced counterparts such as the commonly-prescribed prednisolone are designed and introduced into the body with the intent of suppressing immune functions; to attain the desired symptomatic results.
It can be reasonably hypothesized that the natural, corticosteroid-like actions of Yucca may play a role in the body’s natural production of growth hormones, which in turn may contribute significantly to the accelerated growth and production we see in animals that receive it in their food. And although this theory has not been established as “fact” by the scientific community, we know that yucca is very safe when in the diet when fed in moderation and in a sensible manner.
In a study conducted at the beginning of the twentieth century, the “saponin extract” from the “desert yucca plant” was found to bring about safe and effective relief from pain and inflammation in human arthritis patients who were given the extract four times daily over an extended period of time2. Although this study has been repeatedly discredited by the American Arthritis Foundation, because of the controversial manner by which the study was conducted, the beneficial effects of Yucca in humans and animals remain clearly validated in the minds of holistic practitioners who have repeatedly used it and witnessed positive results. Several contemporary naturopaths, veterinarians, and animal nutritionists who use Yucca in their practices claim a 50-80% success rate in bringing relief to patients suffering from either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Again, Yucca’s effectiveness here is likely attributable to the nutritionally assisting/anti-inflammatory actions of its steroidal saponin constituents.
A water extract (tea) of Yucca glauca (“Small Yucca or Soapweed”) has also been shown to have anti-tumor activity against B-16 type melanomas in mice; and its mechanism in this context is believed to stem from polysaccharide constituents; not necessarily steroidal saponins5.
To stimulate appetite and increase absorption of nutrients, or to relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis, 1/2 tsp. of the dried and powdered root can be added to each pound of an animal’s daily food ration. Cats will only need 1/4 tsp. daily. If you opt to use a tincture, find or make one that contains less than 5% alcohol, as high alcohol preparations of this herb may be nauseating to animals. Tincture dose: 0.5 ml. (about 1/8 tsp.) for each 20 pounds of an animal’s body weight, once daily before a meal.
Availability: Herb retailers and landscape nurseries.
Propagation & Harvest: Because of their moderate size, attractive flowers and foliage, and low water and maintenance requirements, Yucca schidigera and Y. glauca have become popular as landscape plants in areas with moderate temperatures and low to moderate precipitation. They do well in depleted soils, and once established, they require very little care.
Alternatives and Adjuncts:
Cautions & Comments: Yucca is also known as “Soapweed”… if used in large dosages or over an extended period of time, Yucca may become irritating to the stomach lining and the intestinal mucosa. This in turn may cause vomiting, which can be especially dangerous in horses and other large animals who by physiological nature cannot indulge in such activities (instead they bloat). In fact, many of the Indian Tribes of the American Southwest used Yucca preparations for the purpose of inducing vomiting in cases of food poisoning. For this reason I would not use any food additive which contains in excess of 15% Yucca root unless I was instructed to do so by a veterinarian or trained animal nutritionist. I will not feed Yucca everyday in my animal’s diet either, but instead I recommend at least a two day break from the herb each week. Many holistic practitioners believe that if used constantly over an extended period of time, the saponins in Yucca will actually begin to have a reverse effect, slowing nutrient absorption, especially fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin-D, in the small intestine. Allowing breaks in your animal’s diet will help to alleviate the possibility of a cumulative, irritating effect in its digestive tract.
1. El-Olemy, M.M., Sabatka, J.J., &Stohs, S.J.. “Sapogenins of Yucca Glauca”, Phytochemistry 13, 489-92, 1974.
2. Beath, O.A. “The Composition and Properties of the Yucca Plant”, Kansas Academy of Science, 27, 102-07, 1914.
3. McFarlane, J.M. & Metheney, C.D. “Effect of Micro-aid (a product containing Yucca) on Canine and Feline Fecal Odors when added to Six Dogfood and Six Catfood Diets”, MAFGD-4 &MAFGD-5, Distributors Processing Inc., Porterville, PA, 1988.
4. Curtis, S.E., & Rogala, V.J. University of Illinois, 1988.
5. Ali, M.S., Sharma, G.C., Asplund, R.S, Nevins, M.P., and Garb, S. “Isolation of Antitumor Polysaccharide Fractions from Yucca glauca“, Growth, 42(2), 213-23, 1978.