Alternative equine therapies, ranging from acupuncture sessions to chiropractic treatment, are gaining popularity among horse owners. Another treatment modality gaining traction is the use of herbs. All horse owners should spend some time studying the effects of herbs on equine biology, especially if they give their animals supplements. Many supplements contain herbs, which makes it essential that horse owners pay attention to what their animals are ingesting. Some supplement additives, such as glucosamine, are self-explanatory. However, why would a horse need to ingest slippery elm and milk thistle, and what might these herbs do for an animal’s health?
Some herbs, such as alfalfa, mainly have a nutritional purpose. Many horse owners may not even think of alfalfa as an herb, but the plant does have a diuretic effect, and it can help to bring down a fever. Other herbs, such as slippery elm, provide nutrients even though they are primarily thought of as therapeutic, such as slippery elm, which is high in riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin. Slippery elm also has healing properties and is commonly paired with aloe. Other herbs are primarily medicinal, such as valerian, which has analgesic properties.
When horse owners understand how herbs affect their animals’ health, they can help prevent disease or keep illnesses from progressing in the horses. Of course, you should always consult with a knowledgeable veterinarian before administering herbal remedies. You should also keep in mind that these therapies are not a replacement for more traditional treatments. Following is a look at two of the primary uses of herbs to treat horses:
Herbs for Healthy Skin
One of the most trusted applications of herbs in equine health is to keep skin healthy. Horses’ skin absorbs what is placed on it just like human skin. These herbs are particularly useful, and many horse farms keep them on hand at all times. The first herb to know is Arnica, which is an anti-inflammatory that helps control swelling from bruises and sprains, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. Arnica is applied to the skin, and it can be toxic if taken internally unless prepared correctly.
For burned skin, aloe can promote healing. Aloe is good for all types of burns, including those caused by chemicals and hot liquids.
Moreover, marigold is used to treat localized skin problems. The herb is frequently found in ointments and oils designed to treat skin conditions, and it is usually called by its Latin name, calendula. Marigold, which has both antifungal and antibiotic properties, can help heal minor burns and wounds that have been slow to heal. A study conducted by the National College of Naturopathic Medicine found that calendula tincture kills germs as effectively as bleach without the toxic effects.
While many people associate St. John’s Wort with memory problems, lotions created from this herb can speed the healing of minor wounds and bruises. The lotions can also help with varicose veins and sunburn. You should be careful when first administering St. John’s Wort, as it can cause photosensitivity in some horses.
Two more herbs that horse owners should be familiar with are chickweed and comfrey. Chickweed is an external remedy for both cuts and chronic itching, especially when caused by eczema or psoriasis. Comfrey contains a lot of allantoin, which stimulates cell growth and helps to heal wounds from the inside out and discourages scar tissue formation. You should use comfrey cautiously with deep wounds since an abscess could develop.
Herbs for Calmer Animals
Before using herbs or other drugs to alter a horse’s behavior, it is important to gain a better understanding of why the animal is behaving in an unacceptable manner. Treating the symptoms is not the same as addressing the root cause. At the same time, herbal remedies can help the owners of horses to avoid other pharmacological treatments.
Valerian is often recognized as the most common calming herb, especially since it works the same way in both horses and humans. While the herb primarily affects the brain, it also has a calming effect on the smooth muscles of the gut, which makes it particularly useful in horses that transfer nervousness to their gut, which can cause loose stools and other colic symptoms. Valerian slows peristalsis and makes food move more slowly through the digestive system. As a result, the body makes better use of the nutrients of the food in the gut. You should take care not to combine valerian with synthetic tranquilizers and sedatives.
Another useful herb is lemon balm, which is easy to grow and makes a great substitute for valerian. Lemon balm primarily acts on the heart and the stomach. Experimental evidence shows the oils in the herb are transported through the olfactory nerves to the limbic system, which is what makes it act as a tranquilizer.
Chamomile is a versatile herb that relaxes both the muscles and the nervous system. The herb is safe to use even in very young animals, and it is especially helpful when they are struggling to sleep or showing signs of anxiety. In addition, chamomile aids with digestion and provides relief from diarrhea.
Another great herb to have on hand is vervain, which was a sacred herb of the Druids. The herb has relaxant and anti-spasmodic effects. When paired with valerian, vervain has a wonderfully soothing effect on the digestive system.