Entry-Level Herbs: The Top 10 Picks for Integrated Holistic Horsecare

Dr. Joyce Harman of Harmany Equine Clinic knows her way around the herb garden: here are her top ten choices for horse owners interested in learning more about holistic medicine.

Flickr/Thomas Kohler/CC

Flickr/Thomas Kohler/CC

Did you know that herbs can be powerful aids to assist during healing for humans and animals alike? If you’ve been eager to learn more about holistic medicine, but not sure where to start, here’s a quick look at the top ten herbs to cut your teeth on.

These herbs offer good historical data and current research and can be easy to incorporate into every day practice:

1. Milk thistle/Silybum marianum

This herb has an excellent place in modern veterinary medicine for its ability to help the liver cells function and regenerate. Many animals are exposed to frequent use of drugs, leaving the liver in less than perfect shape.

2. Ginger root/Zingiber officinale

Ginger is in most kitchens and can be used to nausea from many causes, including motion sickness. It often helps with horses who do not eat while trailering, as this author believes these horses have motion sickness which does occur in all other species. If the horse loads onto the trailer well (not upset by trailering itself), but does not eat while moving (he may sweat or not) ginger will generally help settle the symptoms. Ginger can be given in cases of colic, especially when caused by cold weather or other exposure to cold.

3. Dandelion/Taraxaum officinale

Dandelion is a laxative and a diuretic and can be good for chronic colitis, as an immune stimulant and to increase the effects of insulin. It’s also well-known for its liver and kidney tonification and clearing. Horses crave the plants in the spring and will dig deep into the dirt at times to eat the roots at any time during the year if they really want the plant. Dandelion is well-known as a blood cleanser.

4. Tumeric/Curcuma longa

This herb is gaining in popularity as well as research. It has shown effects in inhibiting carcinogenesis, is a lypoxygenase inhibitor, protects the liver and has antioxidant effects. It is used frequently to support liver and cancer patients and is extremely safe to use.

5. Aloe, aloes/Aloe sp.

Aloe can easily be grown as a house-plant, supplying a ready-made first aid treatment for any wound or surgical incision after removing the stitches. The plant leaf can be broken open and the gel from the inside applied directly to a wound. Internally, high quality extracts soothe stomach and intestinal ulcers, irritation and post-surgical trauma from ingested foreign objects. Quality extracts may be distilled or extracted in water similar to a juice. The distilled product is virtually tasteless, an excellent characteristic for cats and fussy eaters.

6. Mullein/Verbascum thapsus

An excellent demulcent that soothes the mucous membranes, mullein can be helpful for bronchitis and coughs and especially in the recovery stage of kennel cough. Leaves can be crushed and applied topically to wounds and scrapes. An oil infusion is particularly helpful in inflamed ears from ear mites or other irritations, but oil should not be put into hot, infected ears.

7. Comfrey/Symphytum officinale

Use externally for sprains and fractures. Use internally for anti-inflammatory purposes, to help heal hard tissue such as bone, and as demulcent for the intestinal and respiratory tracts and for wounds. Horses will voluntarily seek out and eat comfrey growing in pastures with no ill effects, but it is considered toxic internally by the medical community.

8. Flaxseed/Linum sp.

Use for constipation, dermatitis or gastritis. Flaxseed was considered a laxative and a tonic. All parts of the seed are used. Ground seed in warm water was considered an excellent cooling food for horses, almost laxative.

Flax is used frequently for many of its excellent qualities. The omega 3 and 6 fatty acids improve coat quality and immune function. Research in other species demonstrates its immune system support, anti-inflammatory action and anti-cancer properties. Clinically, in this author’s practice it is useful in insulin and glucose regulation in Equine Metabolic Syndrome. Small animals are less able to process the fatty acids in flax, and often get more of the omega 3’s from fish oils. Clinically some improvement in skin and immune health is seen in cats and dogs.

One study performed on horses demonstrated the efficacy of flax (Linum usitatissimum) supplementation on the skin-test response of atopic horses. Six horses that displayed a positive skin test for Culicoides sp. participated in the 42-day, placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over trial. Results showed that supplementation with flaxseed for 42 days reduced the mean skin-test response. There was a significant decrease in the long-chain saturated fatty acids in the hair.

9. Chamomile/Matricaria chamomila , or recutita

Chamomile appears in many formulas for calming nervous horses and other animals, and it excels there, but its other uses are often forgotten. It is an excellent blood cleanser, a mild tonic as the historical use suggests, to help relax the gastrointestinal tract and can be used in mild cases of colic in the equine. A simple formula that can be given to a client over the phone while waiting for the arrival of the veterinarian is to take 100 mls of cooled tea (use a good handful of herbs, or tea bags which people often have in the cupboard), add 10 drops of Rescue Remedy™ from the health food store and give this to the horse every half hour. Chamomile can be an important mild tonic in any debilitated horse during later stages of fevers or influenza.

10. Maitake mushrooms/Grifola frondosa

Exciting research with immune system and cancer treatment support has been done with this mushroom or its extracts. The beta D-glucans appear to stimulate immunity for a broad spectrum of conditions. Extracts of the D fraction can be obtained in glycerin, which is palatable to many species.

You can find all of the products above on the Harmany Equine store. Before you begin a care regimen for yourself, or your companion animals, please consult a medical professional to avoid species-specific toxicity and herb-drug interactions.

Want to learn more about harnessing the power of herbs to help your horse’s health? Dr. Joyce will be hosting a webinar on this subject matter on Wednesday, August 24 at 8:00 PM. The webinar should last approximately half an hour. Click here to register.

About Joyce Harman: Dr. Joyce Harman opened Harmany Equine Clinic, Ltd in 1990, bringing holistic healing to horses from all walks of life, backyard retirees to Olympic competitors. Over the years, Dr. Joyce Harman has observed and adapted to the changing needs the industry. Twenty-plus years ago, no one had heard of Lyme disease or Insulin Resistance, yet today that makes up a large part of her clinical practice.

In 2001, she wrote the first paper in a peer-reviewed journal about the possibility that horses have insulin resistance (IR), and now it is part of our every day conversation. In 2004 she published the first comprehensive book on English saddle fitting since the 1800’s, with the western version of the book following in 2006. To this date, these books are the only books written by an author who is independent from a saddle company, which brings unbiased information to the horse world.

In 2015, Dr. Harman released the Harmany Muzzle, a customizable and breathable grazing muzzle designed with the horse in mind. Because she deals extensively with metabolic and insulin resistant horses, she felt it was her duty to offer them a comfortable muzzle option.

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