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Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre - Herbs

Herbal Medicine

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Echinacea (variety) - Herb Medicine

Herb Vet - Putting the Patient First

Main Site
(over 600 pages of information and opinion): www.alternativevet.org

Since time immemorial, man has turned to the plants in his environment, for medicine.  The tradition of herbal medicine (herbalism, medicinal herbs) predates history.  All human civilisations depended upon it, subject to availability, of course (deserts and ice caps notwithstanding!).  Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine are based on herbal medicines. The Indian sub-continent brings us Indian herbs,, which are now marketed in the West. Even modern medicine is a direct descendant from this vast natural and instinctive medical practice. A large and surprising proportion of modern drugs have been derived, more or less remotely, from plant material.  These have been modified by chemists and patented to provide the great commercial gains intrinsic to modern medicine.  At the same time as providing prospects of astronomical profit, sadly this method of adapting plant materials to create powerful modern drugs takes them out of their holistic context and brings to the fore the spectre of side effects.

Many readers will have heard that even horses are able to practise their own instinctive and effective form of herbal medicine (zoopharmacognosy) but only if given a sufficient roaming range over a natural environment, populated with a proper variety of herbs.  Such a ‘perfect’ environment would be their natural prairie homes of North America or other expansive grassland ranges of the world.  Native ponies on the moors or in such islands as the Shetlands are able to roam and select their ‘medicines’ as they go, even taking seaweed when it suits them.  However, such natural habitats are being spoiled and polluted by modern man and the natural balance is in danger of being lost, worldwide. For this reason, some supplementation may be advisable, even in so-say healthy horses but become essential when dietary balance is upset.

Dogs, cats and other species also respond well to veterinary herbal medicine (veterinary herbalism), as provided by a herb vet. They also have an instinct for self-medicating with herbs. At the AVMC, we even had a terrier patient who would insist on 'grazing' pellitory-of-the-wall in our front wall, when she visited us on hot days. Pellitory is a 'cooling' herb!

Herbs provide us with a vast variety of pharmacological capabilities; demulcents, calmatives, laxatives, purgatives, vulneraries (treating wounds and injuries), stimulants, febrifuges and astringents to mention a few.  Different herbs can be mixed together to produce a balanced effect, suited to the patient in question.  Some herbs are not compatible with others and should not be mixed; some are unsuitable for long-term usage. Your experienced herbal vet should be able to advise you fully on this important aspect.

The herbal vet and the AVMC do not support the modern trend of extracting supposed 'active ingredients' and marketing them as enhanced medicines. The whole science of pharmacognosy is questionable, since herbs act differently in the whole (holistic) form than do individual ingredients.
 Herbs are best prepared freshly (or bought dry) and tailored to the individual patient and its own special requirements, not made into off-the-shelf products to be sold as a ‘cure all’ by unqualified commercial organisations.

Even herbal medicine can become 'big business', it seems. Herbal 'off-the-shelf' preparations abound, avidly sold for horses and dogs in particular. Your natural wish to help your animal as best you can is in danger of being exploited and converted into profit, at your animal's expense. We advise great caution before buying such products. The herbal vet at AVMC (Chris Day) is not aligned with any manufactirer or supplier, thus retaining his ability to provide truly independent advice.

In horses, the need for herbs arises out of several factors.  Firstly, the horse is evolved to obtain his nutrients (including minerals and vitamins) from plant material.  It goes without saying therefore, that the best source of nutrients for him is from plants.  Modern pastures are bereft of the traditional variety of plants and herbage that are so essential to horse health and wellbeing.  Fertilisers and other chemicals finish the job, by depleting the soil (and therefore grass) of its proper mineral and nutrient content.  Grass which has come from intensively managed modern pastures has the benefit of being green but has few long-term attributes for the horse.  It can even be toxic.  Many modern compound diets are high in molasses and contain other unsuitable ingredients.  It is therefore hard work, in modern times, to obtain a proper balanced diet suited to the horse’s hereditary needs. Herbs provide the herbal vet with increased scope for feeding and medication.

Herbal medicines, properly and individually formulated for your own horse and his needs (i.e. not ‘off-the-shelf’), go a long way towards redressing those undesirable trends.  Herbs which have been harvested as far away from modern pollution as possible, are rich in both content and diversity of nutrients vital to your horse.  Spring and Summer are a real joy, for there is medicine for free, all around you.  However, be careful not to harvest a herb from roadsides or from the margins of ‘non-organic’ arable land.  Valuable indigenous herbs include Comfrey, Willow, Meadowsweet, Burdock, Rosehips, Seaweed, Dandelion, Goosegrass (Cleavers) and Garlic.

Whatever the species, herbal medicines can prove very useful. However, they may not be compatible with some modern drugs and may, in some circumstances, dangerously 'summate' with them, to over-medicate the patient. The herb vet also has to be careful of 'doping' sporting animals, since finite quantities of the medicines can be found in the blood stream.

It is best to consult a veterinary surgeon well-versed in herbal medicine, when trying to treat health problems with herbs, for two reasons.  One is the law, which forbids the diagnosis or treatment of animals by non-veterinarians, the other is the need to avoid the pitfalls of long-term toxicity or incompatibility.  Always go via your own veterinary surgeon in the first instance.

Ponies grazing 'wild' - able to self-select

Herbs for Horses - Herbs for Dogs - Herbs for Cats - any species can benefit.

More detailed information can be found on

Herbs for animals: www.alternativevet.org/herbs.htm

Herbal Vet:

There is an interesting site on the subject of herbal self-medication by finches (pharmacognosy) at http://astorwilliam.tripod.com/

See also: www.naturalfeeding.co.uk

Contact the Herb Vet: www.alternativevet.org/contact.htm

Herbs for horses - herbs for dogs - herbs for cats - herbs for ponies

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Chinham House
Stanford in the Vale
SN7 8NQ (UK)
Telephone: 01367 710324 (International: #44 1367 710324)
Fax: 01367 718243 (International: #44 1367 718243)
also visit: www.alternativevet.org