Echinacea

c.2018 Greg Tilford

Echinacea species                    Sunflower family

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

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

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

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

Actions:  Immunostimulant, antimicrobial.

Affinities:  Immune system, lymph system, urinary tract.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dandelion

c.2018 Greg Tilford

Taraxacum officinale                  Sunflower family

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

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

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

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

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

Affinities:  Liver, gallbladder, gastrointestinal tract.

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

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

Enter Dandelion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marshmallow

 Althea officinalis                                Mallow family

c.2018 Greg Tilford

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

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

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

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

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

Affinities:  Respiratory, digestive, urinary tract, skin.

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

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

Amazing Olive Leaf!

©2017 Greg Tilford

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

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

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

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

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

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