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ABOUT HERBS

Herb Feeding Guidelines   Materia Medica   Nervine Relaxants/Calmers   Dewormers/vermicides and vermifuges
Non-Herbal Adjuncts   Glossary of Terms
   

Herb Feeding Guidelines

If feeding a blend of dried herbs, then a maximum dose of 30-50g is sufficient for a horse. Dosage should be halved for ponies.

If using tinctures, then a dose of 3ml 2-3x daily, or 5ml 2x daily is the absolute maximum dose needed by a horse. Again, dosage should be halved for ponies.

When feeding herbs in order to maintain general health consistently over an extended period of time, then a good rule of feeding herbs, in order to maintain optimum efficacy, is two months on and two weeks off. It is good to give the body rest from constant supplementation as, unlike allopathic medicine, herbs stay in the body over a longer period of time, so an occasional break makes the body less dependant on them and increases the benefits of long-term supplementation. But if you are feeding herbs for healing or calming purposes then it is most effective to feed the herbs on a daily basis throughout one full blood cycle, which is 3 months (12 weeks). The condition should be vastly improved over this time to the point where further supplementation should no longer be necessary.

Herbs as a rule should not be fed to pregnant animals, as many of then have uterine or hormonal stimulant properties.  Before feeding a herb to a broodmare or foal, please consult with a vet or holistic animal practitioner to substantiate safety of a specific herb. The information stated below is intended solely for horses and ponies older than six months of age. The recommended dosage listed below is the maximum allowable for horses and should always be halved for ponies.

   
     

Materia Medica

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Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
Aniseed is THE coughing herb.  Aniseed is expectorant, antispasmodic and carminative, so it’s wonderful for soothing and relieving coughs.  Blend with herbs such as Garlic, Liquorice root and Marshmallow, and if there is severe congestion particularly in the sinuses include Euphrasia in the blend, as it is anti-catarrhal. It is also carminative which makes it useful for colic.
Dose: 20-25g seed daily.

Burdock Root  (Arctium lappa)
Burdock root is another blood cleansing herb that supports the liver. It is also a highly effective herb for treating all types of skin problems e.g. eczema, rashes and dry flaky skin.  It has been found to have anti-tumour properties, so it’s useful for inclusion in sarcoid blends.
Dose: 10g dried root daily.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
The vividly bright orange flower petals are used for medicinal purposes.  Calendula petals are used internally as a blood tonic, and have remarkable healing properties. It is also used for healing gastric ulcers.  When calendula is combined in equal proportions with Clivers, it forms a powerful blend to detox and support the lymphatic system. This combination also works well together with nettle to treat cystitis and skin conditions.  Calendula is also excellent for external use on wounds, as it is antiseptic and antifungal as well as promoting healing. Use the tincture form or make a tea from the petals to wash out any wounds.  To make a healing cream or balm add 10% calendula tincture to an aqueous based cream or pure lanolin.
Dose: 15-20g dried petals daily.

Clivers (Galium aparine)
Combines exceptionally well with Calendula for various ailments, as mentioned above. Clivers are a rich bioavailable source of Silica, which is an essential trace mineral for promoting strong and healthy hoof and hair growth.  It is also a mild diuretic, and when fed internally it is helpful for reducing windgalls or other soft swellings.
Dose: 20-30g dried herb daily.

     

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Comfrey is widely known for its remarkable healing properties, be it used internally for ulcers, broken bones and soft tissue damage, or externally to promote speedy wound healing.  It is also very soothing for the mucous membranes, as well as being an expectorant, so it is excellent to include in any respiratory herbal blend.  It also improves circulation, and is a mild anti-inflammatory so is helpful for treating arthritis.
Dose: 20-30 g dried leaf daily

 
Comfrey
     

Dandelion ( Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is THE herbal electrolyte!!  Dandelion is a very effective diuretic but is also contains an abundance of potassium, magnesium and calcium, so it helps to replace the minerals that are leached out of the body.  It also stimulates the liver as well as the kidneys, so is ideal to include in a detox blend.  Be sure to feed only the true medicinal dandelion “Taraxacum officinale”, and not the indigenous sub-species which grows throughout Southern Africa in paddocks and along roadsides.  The sub-species has a flat rosette of leaves that grow close to the ground, whereas the true medicinal Dandelion (“Taraxacum officinale”) has soft leaves that grow upward away from the ground, with very long and thin individual flower stems. The sub-species is toxic and can cause a stringhalt type of lameness if grazed too much.  Don’t leave your horses in paddocks that are infested by this weed if there isn’t sufficient alternative quality grazing available in the paddock.  True Dandelion is NOT associated with stringhalt and has marvelous tonic and health maintenance benefits.
Dose: 20g dried root or 30g dried leaf daily

  Dandelion
     

Devil’s claw (Harpogophytum procumbens)
Devil’s claw is a low-growing plant that is native to southern Africa. The root is used medicinally as a natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and its effectiveness has been found to be comparable with that of cortisone and phenylbutazone, but without the unpleasant side effects!  It is also an appetite stimulant.
Dose: 15g of dried root daily.

Echinacea  (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, E. pallida)
Echinacea is a truly wonderful immune stimulant herb, however dosage must be regulated in order to fully gain its efficacy.  Echinacea should never be used constantly; it is much more effective if administered in cycles of two weeks on and one week off.  Also, it is much more effective if the different varieties and parts (roots and aerial herb) are all blended together.  Echinacea can be used prophylatically to help protect yards from viral outbreaks, or for treating chronic viral and bacterial infections.  It is also good for treating allergic skin complaints such as sweet-itch.
Dose: 10-20g dried herb daily.

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) 
Eyebright is THE sinus herb.  It is astringent, anti-catarrhal and anti-inflammatory, so is useful for treating season allergies or excessive mucous congestion and sinus blockages.
Dose: 20-30g dried herb daily.

Fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Fenugreek seed is a rich natural source of Vitamin E (the fertility vitamin) although don’t feed it to overly flirtatious mares as it may increase oestrogen levels!  Fenugreek is a wonderful appetite stimulant and weight conditioner, is also very demulcent and thus encourages healing and prevention of gastric ulcers, so it is ideal for horses that are fed high grain diets and stabled in busy competitive yards.
Dose: 20-30 g seed daily.

Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic is anti-viral, antibiotic, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-septic, anthelmintic, expectorant and anti-diabetic so is excellent to use regularly in order to support the immune system. Be sure to feed the recommended dosage, and give an occasional break in supplementation, as excessive garlic fed over prolonged periods may cause Heinz body anaemia.
Dose: 15-30g dried flakes daily

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha)
Hawthorn is the perfect cardiovascular tonic, as it improves circulation and has an uncanny ability to normalize blood pressure. It is also very rich in a variety of nineteen different flavenoids. The most wonderful aspect of this cardiovascular herb is its incredible safety even if fed in large quantities, and it does not interfere with allopathic cardiac medicines, so it can safely be administered concurrently.  It is fantastic for all conditions relating to poor circulation, including navicular, laminitis, windgalls, and slow, poor quality hoof growth.
Dose: 10-15 g of mixed dried leaves, flowers and berries

Kelp (Ecklonia maxima)
Kelp is anti-rheumatic, stimulates the thyroid gland, cleanses the blood, and contains a wide variety of minerals, vitamins and amino-acids, all of which help to encourage good health, including strong and healthy hoof and coat growth.
Dose: 15g dried kelp daily.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Meadowsweet is also anti-inflammatory, being a natural source of aspirin, but has the added benefit of not irritating the gastric lining.  In fact, it is so healing on the gastric system that it is a specific for gastric ulcers!  Meadowsweet it THE “herbal aspirin”, only so much better, as it is also a natural antacid.
Dose: 20-30 g dried herb daily

Milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum)
Milk thistle seed is THE liver herb!!  Not only does it help to detox the liver, but it also helps to regenerate damaged liver if fed continuously for at least 6 – 8 weeks, but supplementing it for a 12 week period is the ideal.  The active component of milk thistle is silymarin, which is only contained inside the very hard, indigestible seeds, so the ground/powdered form of the milk thistle seed is most effective for liver treatment.  In my experience I have always found it best to feed in combination with dandelion leaf or celery seed, as they will help to flush the toxins out of the kidneys that the Milk thistle seed helps to release from the liver.
Dose: 10 – 15g ground seed daily.

Mint (Mentha piperita)
Mint is a carminative and anti-spasmodic which can reduce excess flatulence and incidence of gassy colic in horses e.g. due to feed changes, introducing rich grazing, etc.  Introduce the mint to the diet before making the feed change.  Mint is very good for horses that seem to be a little bit depressed with no apparent reason, or feeling a bit work weary towards the end of a tough competitive season.  It perks them up to have a more positive outlook on life in general, without making them go over the top.
Dose: 15-20g dried herb daily.

Nettle (Urtica dioica, U. urens)
Nettleis a rich natural source of bio-available iron and Vitamin C, so is very useful for treating anaemia.  It is also a powerful blood cleanser and diuretic, improves circulation and is a mild anti-inflammatory, so it is a must to include in arthritic herbal blends.  Nettles have a dramatic effect in improving hoof and coat condition, often causing an abundance of dapples rippling under gleaming coats!!
Dose: 20- 30g dried herb daily.

 
Nettle

Rosehips (Rosa canina)
Rosehips are a rich natural source of Vitamin C and copper and many other nutrients, all of which help to encourage strong and healthy hoof and coat growth.  Rosehips are also anti-scouring, if fed at recommended dosages.
Dose: 15-20g dried rosehip shell daily.

Slippery elm bark (Ulmus fulva, U. rubra)
Slippery elm bark is a must for treating gastric ulcers, as it is mucilaginous and thus will form a protective and healing layer like a poultice along the gastric lining.  It is also anti-inflammatory and mildly astringent, so is very useful for using as an external poultice on wounds, and works well as a drawing agent.  Combine with honey and a little water and apply a layer on the inside of the leg wrap and bandage over the affected area.  Slippery elm bark is excellent for treating scouring; it is very safe and effective even for foals.  It also helps to prevent gastric ulceration, so it is helpful to include in the feed twice daily when a horse needs to be on a long course of conventional anti-inflammatories.  Slippery elm bark is extremely costly, as it can only be harvested from the tree when it is at least seven years of age, and only the soft inner bark can be used, and harvesting the bark can cause the tree to die.  Understandably, this invaluable tree is in very short supply and is now threatened in it’s natural habitat; so only make use of this precious herb when it is truly justifiable, otherwise Plantain is a very good alternative herb for treating gastric ulcers.
Dose: 15-20g dried and powdered inner bark daily.

     

Yarrow  (Achillea millefolium)
I had to include this herb in the Materia Medica chiefly because of its powerful ability to staunch bleeding.  Soldiers as far back as Roman times used it on the battlefield, which is why the herb earned the common names “Soldiers Woundwort” and “Knight’s Milfoil”.  Make a strong tea (3 tablespoons dried herb steeped in 1 cup of warm water), and use on the affected area when it has cooled sufficiently.  Yarrow is also excellent for stimulating the appetite, especially if the horse is recovering from an illness. Yarrow is also extremely good for horses that suffer from epistaxis.
Dose: 25g dried herb daily.

  Yarrow
   
     

NERVINE RELAXANTS/CALMERS

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All of these herbs in the nervine section should never need to be fed for any period longer than one full blood cycle (3 months).  If you find that by the end of the 3-month period there are still exactly the same negative behaviour traits, then the initial cause of the problem has not been addressed. Feeding, training methods, dentistry, soundness and tack fitting should all be checked to ensure that they are not the cause of the problem, before having to resort to using any type of calmer, including herbs.
     

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile is a very good nervine for horses that process their nervousness through their digestive system, which generally also makes it useful for treating horses with gastric ulcers caused by stress. A “Chamomile” horse typically “gets the runs” at competition or when trucking (or any other stressful time when the horse senses it is going into an unknown situation e.g. hacking in a new area).  It is a useful for all “types” of tense horses though, as it is a mild sedative. Chamomile is also a useful anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-spasmodic.
Dose: 15-20g dried flowers daily.

  Chamomile
     

Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
“Vervain” type horses are the typical Thoroughbred – fizzy, spooky, impatient type horses who often use up all their energy dancing and fidgeting around before the race/competition has even started! “Vervain” horses tend to have very sensitive skins which show up as allergic reactions to insect bites, rashes and general itchiness.  Vervain is also a wonderful hepatic herb, which makes it ideal to include in gastric ulcer blends as I have found that “Vervain” type horses seem to be typically prone to gastric ulcers and by balancing their nervous system it helps to heal and prevent gastric ulcers from reoccurring.
Dose: 20-30g of dried herb daily.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
“Valerian” type horses are regarded as processing their stress through their muscles.  They tense up when frightened and the rider will feel it underneath the saddle and in their work, but bystanders may be completely unaware of it.  If a “Valerian” type horse becomes completely over pressurized by a situation it may well explode and end up bucking, rearing or bolting.  “Valerian” type horses often have very hard stools  -- so the valerian furthermore suits them because it is a mild laxative. Valerian is contra-indicated for any horse that has diarrhoea. Valerian is a banned substance under competition rules.
Dose: 15g dried root daily.

Hops (Humulus lupus)
Hops is a very good nervine for horses that tend to be distracted easily, even though they may not necessarily be very physically “hot” to ride. Hops horses battle to concentrate on their work and to retain what they learn.  I have found that Hops combines well with the other nervine herbs for all types of horses, but especially for the “fizzy” “vervain-type” Thoroughbreds.
Dose: 15g dried herb daily

     

Passiflora (Passiflora incarnata)
Passiflora is not specifically a nervine, but it has a powerful synergistic action with the other nervines in order to help the horse let go of old nervous habits and restructure more positive neural reactions.  Highly recommended to include in any calming blend.
Dose: 15-20g dried herb daily.

  Passiflora
     

Chaste-tree (Vitex agnus-castus)  
Chaste-tree berries are not a nervine at all, but I have included it in this section, as it is an incredible hormonal balancer. When it is combined in a mixture together with the nervines it is extremely helpful for “PMS”, moody type mares or for overly aggressive stallions.
Dose: 15g dried berries daily

DEWORMERS/VERMICIDES AND VERMIFUGES Back to top  
     

Vermicides kill worms and vermifuges help to expel them from the body.

Herbal dewormers are very effective against most types of worms.  However, herbal dewormers do not seem to be particularly effective against bot worms, so I always recommend using a conventional broad-spectrum dewormer (usually containing ivermectin) that will be effective against bot worms, at least once at the end of the bot season, and if necessary, once during the middle of the bot season.  The advantage of using herbal dewormers in conjunction with conventional dewormers is that you can reduce the frequency of use of chemically based dewormers that are toxic.  Herbal dewormers are not toxic for horses; in fact they act as an overall health tonic!!  Some horses may feel a bit “off” on the day or two after being chemically dewormed, but the herbal dewormer will not affect the horse in this way.  Regular feeding of pumpkin seeds (10 – 15g daily), will help to keep tapeworm at bay, and regular feeding of garlic will also help to keep all types of worms (other than bot worms) under control.  Young shooting leaves of grasses, shrubs and trees also have anthelmintic properties.


Herbal dewormers include:


Seeds:
Black Mustard, Fennel, and Aniseed.

Bitter herbs:  Aloe bitters, Wormwood, Thyme

Shooting Herbs:  Clivers, Red Clover

Others:  Slippery Elm Bark, Cinnamon and Valerian

To make an herbal deworming blend for one horse, take 10g of any 10 of the above herbs (include at least one from each category), and mix well together.  Then feed 25g daily over 4 consecutive days.  It is more effective if the 25g daily dose is split between morning and evening feeds, and it would also be easier accepted by the horse this way.  I recommend using the herbal dewormer in a cycle of every 2 – 3 months.

   
NON-HERBAL ADJUNCTS Back to top
   

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) - the best kind of ACV to use is the unpasteurized variety. I believe that ACV should be fed to all grain or concentrate fed horses on a regular, daily basis, as it helps to maintain a correct alkaline pH in the body.  Excessive amounts of carbohydrates and proteins create an acidic pH in the body in which diseases are able to thrive. ACV has numerous overall health benefits – too many to mention here unfortunately – but is particularly will known for its ability to prevent arthritis.  It is a source of a wide variety of trace elements and is a good digestive aid.  I pour the ACV straight over the horses feed, as it is highly appetizing for them. Used in this way, it can also help to tempt shy feeders. ACV also helps to balance the metabolism, so it helps to slim down overweight horses and helps thin horses to gain a more ideal weight by encouraging their appetite.
Dose: 30-50ml daily.

Propolis - an incredible powerful natural antibiotic. Its a product made by bees using resins, pollens and essential oils.  They use it to line their hives and seal out contaminants.  Propolis is antibiotic, antiviral, anti-fungal and is very safe.  Even if it’s necessary to use a conventional antibiotic, it can be used in combination with propolis, as propolis will reinforce and strengthen the action of the conventional antibiotic, without causing any additional side effects. Propolis can be used internally for any viral or bacterial infection.  Use the powder (5 – 10g daily) or tincture (3ml daily) internally.   Externally the tincture is very good to use on wounds to encourage healing and staunch bleeding.  When exposed to air, a thin layer of a good quality propolis tincture applied over a wound may at first feel a little sticky, but then it quickly dries to form a smooth and supple protective seal over the top of the wound.  This helps to seal out and kill any infections and encourages healing.

     

Lavender Essential Oil -an incredible wound healer.  I usually use it on wounds for a few days after I have used the Propolis, as it speeds healing and promotes hair regrowth.  Do not use neat for more than three consecutive days, as it can burn and irritate the skin if used for too long.  Lavender oil can also be used as a rinse on strained tendons, bruises or tired overworked legs.  Add 15 – 20 drops Lavender essential oil to 2 liters of warm water and sponge down affected areas.  Lavender oil is also very good for encouraging healthy hoof growth.  Make a hoof balm by diluting 5% lavendar oil in a base of pure lanolin (70%) and comfrey oil (25%).  Make the comfrey oil by filling a clear glass jar with comfrey leaves (fresh or dried). Pour over a vegetable oil to cover the leaves, and seal the jar tightly.  Leave in a sunny spot for 3 – 4 weeks.  Strain out the leaves and store comfrey oil in a dark jar away from direct sunlight.

  Lavender
     
Natural Sea Salt – natural sea salt contains a vast array of trace minerals, in minute quantities but all in a bio-available form.  Ideally the salt should be available free choice, so that the horse is able to satisfy its own individual requirements.

Brewer’s Yeast
– a very good source of the water-soluble B-vitamin group and the antioxidant mineral selenium, and it encourages healthy gut flora and efficient feed assimilation.  Brewer’s yeast is a dead (inactive) yeast supplement, so it will not cause or aggravate any yeast infections in the body.
Dose: 20-40g daily.

Linseeds/ Flaxseeds – a very rich source of omega 3’s, from which horses are able to manufacture Omega 6’s as they require.  Omega 3’s are desperately lacking in the modern horse’s processed diet, but the Omega 6’s are more available.  Omega 3’s have numerous health benefits and are an extremely good general health supplement for all horses, but especially for those with dry flaky skin problems or inflammatory skin conditions such as sweet-itch.  It is also indicated for horses that suffer from azoturia (tying-up) as it helps to prevent lactic acid build-up and promotes a smoother muscle action. Also recommended to feed internally to horses with ligament injuries, for this purpose its best if combined in equal proportions with millet seed. Contrary to popular belief, raw whole linseeds ARE safe for horses provided they are good quality (should smell nutty and look shiny and hard, if they smell fishy or are dusty and dull then discard them immediately). The tough outer shell is almost indigestible, so they are best utilized if freshly milled prior to feeding. For fattening purposes they can be cooked for 2 –3 hours until a glutinous gel appears, but as Omega 3’s are very heat sensitive, they will be destroyed. Raw linseed oil is extremely toxic for horses – do not feed under any circumstances! Cold pressed flaxseed oil that is kept refrigerated is an alternative for the freshly milled  seeds (use 15-20ml daily)Dose: ½ - 1 cup freshly milled seeds daily

Probiotics
– are not necessary for every horse on a daily basis, but are excellent for maintaining/restoring a healthy population of beneficial gut microflora during and after times of possible disruption e.g. diarrhoea, travelling long distance, a long course of antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, deworming, foaling, changing yards or losing a friend. It usually takes 7-10 days for the microflora to reach optimum levels so 2-3 weeks supplementation should generally be ample. Probiotics are also very good for foals when they begin eating, as they are not born with any gut microflora, which are necessary for digesting fibre (the bulk of the horse’s diet). Older horses may benefit from regular probiotic supplementation as they gradually lose the ability to maintain a healthy microflora population.
   
GLOSSARY OF TERMS Back to top  
     

Alterative – restores the proper function of the body, typically through altering metabolism by improving the tissues’ ability to metabolise nutrients and eliminate waste. Otherwise known as a “blood purifier”.
Analgesic – reduce pain by reducing the sensitivity of nerves.
Antacid – counteracts or neutralizes acidity, usually of the stomach.
Anthelmintic – destroy or expel worms from the digestive system.
Antibacterial – destroys bacteria or suppresses their growth or reproduction.
Antibiotic – helps the body to withstand infection or infestation of pathogens.
Anti-catarrhal – remove excess mucus, generally from the upper respiratory tract.
Anti-diabetic – help regulate and reduce blood sugar
Anti-diarrhoeal – opposes or corrects diarrhoea
Antifungal – act against fungal infection.
Antihistamine – having a neutralizing effect on the body’s release of histamine.
Antihypothyroid – reduces deficiency of the thyroid hormone.
Anti-inflammatory – help the body combat inflammation.
Antimicrobial – help the body destroy or resist pathogenic organisms
Antirheumatic – have the ability to prevent, relieve or cure rheumatism.
Antisclerotic – reduces hardening and thickening of cell walls
Antiseptic – inhibit growth of bacteria, and prevent infection and putrefaction.
Antispasmodic – help prevent or relieve muscle spasms in both skeletal and smooth muscles.
Antitussive – reduce or prevent coughing.
Antiviral – kills viruses or renders them unable to replicate.
Aperient – mild and gentle laxative.
Astringent – have a binding or contracting action on skin and mucous membranes, tone local blood vessels and stop bleeding.
Carminative – soothe and settle the gut wall, easing gripping and reducing flatulence.
Cholagogue – help to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, and has a mild laxative action.
Demulcent – rich in mucilage, which soothes and protects inflamed or irritated tissue.
Diuretic – increase the formation and elimination of urine.
Emollient – have the same soothing and healing effect as demulcents, but specifically on the skin.
Expectorant – remove excess mucus from the lungs
Haemostatic – stop or prevent bleeding
Hepatic – tone, strengthen and support the function of the liver.
Hepatoprotective – protect the liver
Hypotensive – reduce blood pressure
Immune stimulant – stimulate and support the body’s defence systems against pathogens.
Laxative – promotes contraction of the bowels to stimulate the removal of faeces.
Nervine – promote relaxation of and restore the nervous system.
Nutritive – nourish the body.
Pulmonary – support lung function.
Stimulant – cause an increase in body functions, predominantly the circulatory system.
Stomachic – tone and stimulate action of the stomach.
Tonic – strengthens and supports the function of a specific organ, or in some cases, the entire body.
Vasodilatory – dilate blood vessels by relaxing their muscular walls
Vulnerary – help wounds and inflammations to heal.

     
     
   

 

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