HERBAL A – Z. We want our Herb Hut to become the “ go to” area of our website where customers can learn more about the herbs, tinctures, oils and natural ingredients we use in our products, exchange ideas, tips, experiences, reviews and information, or just share stories about their animals. We want the Herb Hut to become a forum that all our customers can use for all things Herbal! In the 26 years we have been running Hilton Herbs we have seen a steady growth in the use of herbal and complementary therapies for animals, and in the willingness for both Feed Stores and Pet shops, to stock natural feed supplements. Despite this increase there is still sometimes confusion over exactly which are the best herbs and therapies to use, their actions and applications. To try and help our customers through the Herbal Maze we plan to focus on some of the “stars” of the herbal world in the coming months, to help our customers understand where the herbs come from, what their constituents are, which parts are used, and how they can help support our horses and pets health. Before we begin, I should point out that in Europe our products are marketed as “ Complementary feeding stuffs for animals” they are not medicines and we don’t hold a medicines license. For this reason we are limited as to what information we can provide on the website, we cannot for example suggest that any of the herbs have a “medicinal” action. However, we hope the information we can provide will “ wet your appetites” and encourage you to seek out the more detailed information to be found in reference books, research papers, magazines and of course on the internet. So let’s get started! A Arnica – Arnica montana Found in mountainous areas, (I saw some growing on a high plateau 2,000 metres above sea level, whilst riding in the South of France). Root and flowers can be used to produce tinctures and the homoeopathic “mother tincture”. Parts Used: Root and flowers Constituents include: Sesquiterpene lactones, carboxylic acids, diterpenes, flavonols, pyrrolizidine alkaloids ( same as in Comfrey), coumarins, fatty acids and essential oil. CAUTION: Arnica, whether the flower or root must not be used internally, the plant contains powerful sesquiterpene lactones which are damaging to the heart and digestive tract when taken internally, and can irritate sensitive skin when used externally. NOTE: Only homoeopathic preparations are entirely safe for internal use. Most people know of Arnica through use of the homoeopathic remedy which can be obtained in a variety of “potencies” or strengths. Remember the potency you choose will depend on a variety of factors. People get very confused about which potency to use and often think that if their animal is large they should give more of the remedy, this is not the case, so either consult a homeopathic vet or good homeopathic reference book such as Homeopathy for Horses by the holistic vet Tim Couzens or one of the fantastic small books available from Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy www.ainsworths.com Uses: Don’t be put off using Arnica because of the above mentioned caution, it is one of the best plants for external local use and is specific for sprains, strains and insect bites, as long as the skin is not broken. I have used arnica tincture extensively for topical application to horses if they have sore tired legs, abrasions or muscular strains, or internally in homeopathic form . Use in a 10% dilution when making your own ointments and lotions. Herb: Arnica tincture is used extensively in external preparations such as creams, salves, balms to help support the body’s natural response to injury and inflammation. Take care not to use on broken or sensitive skin as this may cause irritation. For horses Arnica tincture can be added to water or distilled Witch Hazel for use as a wash down lotion, or include a little in a carrier oil or lotion for massaging large muscle masses. For humans it can be added to a foot bath of hot water for tired feet or to topical lotions for tired, stiff muscles. I even found one reference which states that if applied to the scalp it will make hair grow!! ( didn’t work on Tony though!). Adaptogen – this is not a plant, but a substance that some plants possess to help support the body’s , either mental or physical response to stress, and maintain a strong natural immune response. Adaptogens have been used extensively by athletes and astronauts in the past to help support their body’s response to training and stress. Examples of adaptogenic plants include: Siberian Ginseng, Borage, Don Quai, Centella asiatica, Shiitake mushrooms and Withania. You can see why Siberian Ginseng is know as ” Man Root” Alfalfa – Medicago sativum Parts Used: Leaves Constituents: Alkaloids, isoflavones, coumarins, enzymes ( amylase, coagulase, invertase, emulsion, peroxidase, lipase, pectinase, protase). Vitamins – pro-Vitamin A, B6, C,D, E,K,P. Minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium. Most horse owners think of Alfalfa as a food rather than a herb, because of its extensive use in our horses daily ration, or more commonly in the USA ( where it is called Lucerne) as a dried hay. When we travel in the US, particularly in Arizona, we often see these huge trucks on the road delivering the hay to the big feed merchants. You can see from the list of constituents that the plant contains a number of enzymes
- amylase – digests starch
- coagulase – coagulates milk
- invertase – converts sugar into dextrose
- emulsin – acts on sugars
- lipase – splits fats
- pectinase – forms a vegetable jelly
- protase – digests protein
All these ingredients help to break down food in the digestive system, thereby enabling the body to utilise all the health giving nutrients, its no wonder so many of the feed manufacturers are now producing alfalfa rich foods suitable for “ laminitis prone horses and ponies”. The mineral content of the plant provides something like 10 times more mineral value than other crops. I was amazed to discover that apparently the roots of the plant can penetrate the subsoil as far as 125 feet!! Enabling it to reach and absorb vital mineral nutrients far beyond the reach of other vegetation. Uses: Alfalfa is a tri-foliate plant ( has 3 leaves and is the same family as clover or fenugreek) the plant is rich in chlorophyll and excellent for supporting the development of strong bones, connective tissue and strong healthy teeth. It is used extensively to help maintain weight and vitality making it ideal for horses of all ages, but particularly for the older horse or pony that can tend to lose condition especially during the long Winter months. I remember many years ago we used to buy the Alfalfa cubes which we would soak to make it easier for our old horse, to eat. The plant is also excellent for nursing mares because it helps support milk production. Aloe Vera – Aloe barbadensis and others.
Parts Used: Leaves, the gel or sap which is located under the outer surface of the leaves. Constituents: Anthraquinones, polysaccharides, fatty acids, glycosides, cinnamic acid, aloeresins, mucilage, amino acids, vitamins & minerals. Aloe is native to southern and northern Africa, Asia and other warm climates, it comprises of around 325 species of tender, evergreen perennials, shrubs, trees and climbers. The plants vary in size but all of them have thick, spiky leaves with bold spikes of colourful flowers. Uses: For Horses: Externally the fresh leaf can be cut, and the thick sap squeezed onto the skin to help heal minor wounds, sunburn, skin allergies, ulceration, dry itchy skin and ringworm. The leaves can also be pulped to use as a poultice for inflamed joints or combined with Comfrey and used as a compress. Internally Aloe leaf sap is a strong bitter and can be used to help stimulate poor appetite, its mucilagenous content is excellent for helping to support healing of damaged gastric mucosa. In the past it was used for constipation, however it is important to remember that the reason for the constipation needs to be identified as aloe is not recommended for long term use as a laxative. For humans: These days Aloe vera tends to be used externally for any areas of inflamed tissue such as burns, scalds, sunburn, minor wounds and eczema.