My dog, Hleka, loves to lie on my mint plant. I’ve got a huge plant growing just outside the kitchen door and I often look outside and find her lazing in the middle of it, occasionally even munching on a leaf or two. This used to puzzle (and irritate!) me, until I thought about it. She was more than likely lying there for a reason. Mint is a cooling plant, and also helps with digestive and respiratory problems. Hleka was using her instinctive knowledge of plants to help heal herself.
Animals do this a lot. Horses put into a field with herbs growing in it, will selectively graze those herbs that they need. (And leave behind those that they don’t need.) Dogs and cats are also natural herbalists. In the wild, they used to actively seek out healing plants for themselves. Even today, you will often find them nibbling on something in your herb garden.
Nowadays, of course, they are not likely to have unlimited exposure to all the herbs that they might need. So, it is up to us as owners, to closely monitor their behaviour and to add the relevant herbs to their diet as needed.
Herbalism for animals (and humans) is a practice which is growing in popularity. This is because it is generally a safe, effective way of keeping our animal friends healthy. Herbs are deep healers, going to the root of the problem, instead of just suppressing the symptoms, which a lot of conventional drugs do.
Some of the herbs popular for use in animals are:
Devil’s Claw – the claw-like root of the plant Harpagophytum procumbens, found in the Kalahari desert, is an amazingly effective pain-killer and anti-inflammatory. Very effective in animals with joint problems.
Garlic – this commonly used flavourant has been found to be more effective than several conventional antibiotics in fighting off bacterial, viral and fungal infections.
Siberian Ginseng – this Chinese herb not only stimulates the nervous system, but also provides human and animal athletes with increased stamina and vitality.
Echinacea – this beautiful flower is widely used as a preventative medicine to ward off infections. Recent scientific research in horses has shown a very significant increase in immune response.
Spirulina – these algae provide chlorophyll as well as many important nutrients to the diet. It is very useful as a conditioner and in building muscle (obviously in conjunction with a good exercise programme.)
On the other hand, herbs should not be used without consulting an expert or researching the side-effects of the herb to be used. There are some very potent herbs out there, and the belief that they are all completely safe, just because they are “natural”, is completely erroneous.
Most herbs are safe enough to use confidently and effectively, but others require professional guidance. Check with an animal herbal reference book before using plants out of the garden, or purchase herbs from a reputable company. Also make certain that herbs out of the garden haven’t been sprayed with chemicals.