When mammals first appeared on earth there were, of course, no pharmaceuticals. But we weren't without defences. We were evolving alongside other life forms and in the process, forming mutually beneficial relationships with them. So while some plants are toxic to us, we've evolved to benefit from the components in others.
Different species have different reactions to natural remedies and it's vitally important to understand what is toxic to which species and in which quantities, before applying remedies. Also, take care if your mare is pregnant as many herbal remedies have a uterine stimulating effect. It is probably safest to go to a professional if you plan to use herbal remedies, but here's a brief introduction to using herbs in horse care.
Is diet not enough?
In a natural environment, animals can choose which plants they eat. In captivity they're denied this luxury. So while commercially available foods may be nutritionally sound, they don't necessarily include all the medicinal components that wild animals would seek out for specific ailments. This is where the supplements come in.
And it's definitely not all hocus-pocus. Double-blind clinical trials have shown many herbal remedies to be extremely effective.
Here are a few commonly used herbs for horses:
- Aniseed Pimpinella anisum thins mucous and suppresses muscle spasms, making it an excellent remedy for coughs. It's also a very good digestive and can help relieve colic.·
- Calendula Calendula officinalis is soothing and antiseptic and is used to treat wounds.
- Clivers Galium aparine are a rich source of silica, which promotes strong and healthy hoofs and hair growth.
- Tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia oil is an exceptionally good antiseptic and is used to treat common conditions such as sweet itch, saddle sores or any other cuts and abrasions.
- Chaste-tree Vitex agnus-castus is an excellent hormone balancer and helps calm aggressive stallions and moody mares.
- Lavender Lavendula spp. essential oil is great for wounds as it speeds up healing and promotes hair regrowth. Lavender oil can be used as a rinse on strained tendons, bruises or tired legs, or make a hoof balm by diluting lavendar oil in a base of pure lanolin and comfrey oil.
- Devil's Claw Harpagophytum procumbens has anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties and is used to treat arthritis. It is also useful for healing soft-tissue injuries. This plant is indigenous to southern Africa.
Natural remedies are also useful for preventing conditions. Citronella Cymbopogon nardus, for example, is known for its fly-repellant properties. While one usually has to apply citronella sprays more frequently than the commercially available versions, it's an effective natural alternative.
Modern medicine saves lives every day and some ailments can only be effectively treated with pharmaceutical drugs. Don't mess with dangerous conditions such as colic; the 'wait and see' approach could be fatal. But for many ailments, natural alternatives can be extremely powerful, without the nasty side-effects that usually accompany pharmacology.
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