Pet Corner: History of Herbs

Folklore teaches lessons for your pet's care

| November/December 1999

  • Herbs can help animals cope with infections and anxiety.
  • Herbs can help animals cope with infections and anxiety.
    Photo courtesy of W. Morris

Mullein was considered the “herb of protection” and the “herb of love” 

Herbal mythology is fascinating, and it’s a good way to gain an understanding about herbs when you first decide to start using them with your pet. Virtually every medicinal herb has mythical stories, but the few that follow especially caught my eye.

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) grows wild in Kansas, where I live, and it was once the “medicine cabinet” of several prairie Indian tribes. Native Americans and frontiersmen used echinacea to cure snakebites and rabies, although I’m suspicious about its ability to heal those afflictions.

It was also used for coughs, colds, sore throats, infections, chronic conditions, and arthritis—all maladies for which I might recommend echinacea with the pets I treat today. Echinacea is my favorite immune ­system balancer, and I recommend it often because many of my “pet patients” have immune system imbalances.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is another of my favorite herbs. It’s truly a magical healer, and I enjoy poking fun at my urban friends who use chemicals to rid their yard of one of nature’s most potent medicinal herbs.

Dandelion’s name may have come from the proclamations of Wilhelm, a surgeon in the 1400s who thought its powers were as potent as “lion’s teeth,” which translates to dens leonis in Latin. Or the name may have come from the fact that the leaves resemble the canine teeth of a lion—dent de leon in French. I also like the French common name for dandelion, pissenlit—or “pee in the bed,” so named for its diuretic effects.

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