I’m like everyone else—I’m a bargain hunter. When it comes to herbs, I have spent endless hours perusing the shelves of our local health-food stores, searching for the best herbal bang for my (and my clients’) buck.
As it turns out, I’d probably have been better off spending that time on my hands and knees in my own backyard. Gardening and weed hunting are two satisfying, inexpensive ways to harvest fresh herbals for your pet’s health. Today, I harvest many of the herbs I prescribe in my practice from my own garden, lawns, and fields.
This spring, consider planting an herbal garden for your pet. Many of the most powerful healing herbs are easy to grow in almost every part of the country, and in the space of a small backyard you can grow nearly all the herbs your pet needs to stay healthy.
Here is a list of good “pet medicine” herbs to grow. It’s important to use organic gardening techniques—avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Also, select only the herbs that are easy to grow in your area. Look around your neighborhood for herbs growing wild and those flourishing in local gardens to get ideas about what to plant.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
No garden should be without this beautiful, stately plant. In most parts of the United States, it’s easy to grow from seeds or root divisions. In my practice, I use echinacea to support and enhance the immune system. While most sources say echinacea’s roots contain the most potent medicine, I’ve had good success using aerial parts (leaves and flowers) mixed with some root when I want a more potent dosage.
Aloe (Aloe vera)
Aloe is another plant I think every garden should have, even though it will most likely need to be brought indoors during the winter. There is simply no better topical healing agent than fresh aloe juice for cuts, abrasions, and especially for burns. To use, just break off a leaf of aloe and squeeze the juice on the affected part.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Motherwort looks and acts like an invasive weed—it’s very easy to grow, but you’ll need to keep it under control. Motherwort is a powerful medicinal for heart conditions, especially those associated with anxiety and tension. I use either the fresh or dried aerial parts.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile is another beautiful, easy-to-grow addition to any garden. The herb can help your pet relax, and also can help treat inflammation and gastric upset. Harvest the aerial parts and use them as a tea for your pet, or chop up the flowers and sprinkle over your pet’s food.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) and Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Catnip and valerian are relaxing and sedating to all critters, but cats are especially susceptible to their actions. (For cats, the calming and sedative actions come after the intense initial euphoria.) These plants are easy to grow, unless your neighborhood happens to have one or two voracious plant-eating cats roaming the area. In that case, you may either position chicken wire screens over the plants for protection or grow these herbs indoors in pots to keep them safe.
Oats (Avena sativa)
Oats is one of my favorite nervous system tonics. It’s palatable for almost all animals, it is beneficial to the nervous system, and it’s easy to grow. When we plant oats, we harvest the still-green oat heads (when the seeds are “milky”) for herbal use, and then we till the rest of plant under as mulch.
In nearly everyone’s yard, there’s a whole medicine chest of herbs free for the picking. During my time as a holistic veterinarian, I learned to use many of the herbal weeds that I saw in my backyard, neighborhood fields and roadsides for the animals in my clinic.
Following is a short list of the most common herbal weeds I prescribed for my critter patients almost every day. These herbs are safe and effective and, best of all, they’re free. Be sure to use a good book for identifying these plants, such as a Peterson Field Guide to edible wild plants for your region of the United States. If you believe that living things might be affected by electrical currents, don’t pick under power lines. If you prefer, grow these herbs in your garden.
Note: Beware of pesticides when using plants many identify as weeds. Only use herbs from areas you are certain have not been sprayed with chemicals.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion root is the best medicine I’ve found to help treat a tomcat’s cystitis. It’s a potent diuretic containing naturally occurring potassium, a valuable electrolyte that can be depleted by the use of other diuretics. Dandelion root is also a fine liver tonic, and its anti-inflammatory actions can help arthritic problems.
Plantain (Plantago spp.)
I haven’t found anything better than a plantain poultice for drawing stuff out of wounds—be it splinters, pus in abscesses or the irritating poisons from stinging insects. Although I haven’t used it much for diarrhea or coughs, its astringent and expectorant qualities make it a good choice to use internally for these ailments.
Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Cleavers may be the very best of the herbal lymphatic system tonics, making it an ideal herb for a wide range of critter problems. I added it to my herbal prescriptions for swollen glands, dry skin conditions or infections. Cleavers’ diuretic actions make it a good addition for treating a cat’s cystitis or bladder problems. It also has a long tradition of being used to treat tumors—perhaps from its ability to support the lymphatic system. So, while I never relied on herbs alone to treat cancer in pets, I would add cleavers to my overall therapeutic regime.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is another of those herbs that’s good for what ails your pet, inside or out. It is a wonderful external remedy for wounds and cuts, and its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial actions make it a good choice for itchy, irritated areas. Used internally, it has antirheumatic properties and is soothing to the intestinal tract and urinary system.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Burdock is a premier herb for treating dry and scaly skin. It functions as a lymph cleanser and is thus good for any disease where toxins or body waste products have accumulated internally. It is also good for rheumatism, and its bitter quality stimulates digestive juices, thus aiding digestion. Burdock leaves, used externally in an ointment, accelerate wound healing.
Mullein (Verbascum spp.)
Mullein leaf tea is very nutritious, and is specific for treating dry, hacking coughs. Mullein flowers in an olive oil base are excellent for treating ear infections, and the leaves are a good addition to topical salves for treating wounds and infections.
Tip: Burdock and mullein are not as common in backyards as the rest of the herbs in this article. You may have to look along roadsides or in pastures, or grow them at home.
For all of these plants, the preferred delivery methods are one of the following: dried or fresh herbal sprinkles added to food; homemade tinctures; and/or teas. Begin using herbs with your pets when they feel good—don’t wait until they come down with a disease.
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. He has retired from his holistic veterinary practice and now lives in eastern Kansas.
“Pet corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.
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