“Our ancestors discovered the rudiments of their folk medicine in the healing plants sought out by animals suffering from alimentary disturbances, fever and wounds. By observing how animals cure themselves from disease, they learned how to keep themselves healthy by Nature’s own methods.” Dr D.C.Jarvis (Folk Medicine)
Herbal medicine, or the use of plants to treat ailments and diseases is an ancient art, well documented throughout history and in the folklores of most cultures and societies around the world. It is as old as time, but sadly in recent times this knowledge has been “lost” as modern science and medicine advanced and synthetic drugs became prevalent. Herbalism became ridiculed by the mainstream due to a lack of scientific research to “prove” its validity. Sadly we must realise that scientific research is generally funded by large pharmaceutical companies who’s bottom line and motif is profit and production rather then health and wellness. That might sound cynical but its a fact that must not be overlooked when seeking out a balanced opinion and making our own judgement as to the best way to treat both ourselves and our animals.
As Hilary Page Self says in her book a Modern Horse Herbal “Look to the past! where observations of animals guided humans in their choice of plant remedies. A few months’ trial in a modern laboratory carried out in unnatural conditions, can scarily compare with centuries of study, documented evidence and successful practical application on both humans and animals, from distinguished herbalists…Their findings can truly be said to have stood the test of time; moreover they resulted in the production of the very pharmacopoeias from which modern drugs have been synthesised.”
Well into the early part of the twentieth century the veterinary profession made good use of nature’s abundant pharmacy. In particular herbal medicine and healing plants from our very own hedgerows were used in treating domesticated animals and livestock. In fact you may notice a significant number of the common names of plants often give us information about which animals were observed utilising the plants in the wild or indeed the ailments for which we may find them useful. Examples of this would be plants like Comfrey, known as “knit-bone” or “Eyebright” or indeed things like Cow-parsley.
Is is useful to remember that before the advances of modern medicine nature held remarkable healing powers and that even today herbal medicine can often help us provide a relatively simple solution to many of the health problems we experience with our horses. Herbal medicine can work effectively alongside more conventional treatment options and often effect a cure when other avenues have failed.
Herbs are unique in that the common ones in particular are readily available and can indeed be picked direct from the fields and hedgerows. Although care must be taken to ensure proper identification as many plants are similar in appearance and it also advisable to seek out plants that have grown away from any potential source of pollution or indeed toxic exposure. Alternatively there are a wide range of dried herbs available (see our recommended section for supplies we have used) try to select the best you can find, organically produced is always the ideal.
Horses like all animals tend to be far more in touch with their self-healing abilities and are generally quite adept at selecting what is good for them. Normally unless they are on heavily restricted feeding or forced by starvation they are unlikely to voluntarily select or eat plants that are potentially harmful to them. Be aware of this and if your horse is not keen, do not force it too eat something. For this reason I prefer the method of offering herbs favoured by Caroline Ingraham and Zoopharmacognosy. Which requires self-selection by the horse or animal. They are offered the herbs individually and allowed to choose what they require and have a degree of control over the amount they take of each individual herb too. This is a far more favourable method to having a pre-prepared herbal mixture you simply add to your horses feed ration (the exception being if this has been a bespoke formulation provided to your horse by a trained herbalist or veterinarian).
Like most natural medicine, Herbal medicine treats the animal as a whole rather then in conventional medicine where we seek to break down and treat the individual symptoms in isolation to the whole. It is therefore important to remember that it can sometimes take time for the herbs to be absorbed into the system and for you to begin to see improvements. Time and patience are qualities nature has in abundance.
I highly recommend utilising herbs for both yours and your horses health. There are some great, very well written and easy to understand books written on herbal medicine for horses, which are a good starting place. However, it is worth consulting a trained professional either a veterinarian or a herbal practitioner who can work alongside your vet to guide you further and help you get started.
Click on the picture below to learn more from the blogs and articles on the website about different herbs and their uses.