Pet Corner: Herbs for Healthy Skin

Add some of these botanical medicines to your pet-care arsenal to safely and inexpensively treat common complaints.

| March/April 2001

  • Try herbs to gently heal your pets’ cuts and scrapes.

As the body’s largest organ, skin is made up of simply wondrous stuff. The skin’s many layers of epithelial cells create a rugged body encasement that’s tough enough to contain all of a pet’s inside organs and the other fluids that come with the territory, and yet it’s porous enough to let the healing essences of herbs enter at will. Skin is generally impermeable to all manner of potential invaders; in some areas it’s as stretchable as spandex, while in others it is as thick and unyielding as boot leather. Miraculous stuff indeed.

The skin is the organ of first defense. A pet’s fortress against all outside penetrators, the skin is subject to nicks and scrapes, pokes and gouges, and bruises and abrasions. Fortunately, herbal remedies work extremely well on minor skin problems. I’ve found that herbs heal skin wounds better, faster and less painfully than do the antibiotics and steroids used by most regular vets. However, skin also may be the last organ to heal because many alternative medicines work by healing from the inside out.

Before we look at some of the topical herbs I’ve found helpful, let’s take a brief look at the ways you can get herbs onto your pet’s skin. Note: For open wounds, carefully clip away any hair that could become matted in an open wound, then gently cleanse the area with an herbal soap.

Spritz: This is my favorite way of applying herbs—nothing could be easier. Mix up a batch of herbal tea; let it cool; put the mix into a spritzer; and spritz it on the affected areas. Spritzes rapidly dry out and don’t stick around like ointments, so you may need to spritz several times daily.

Macerated pure herb/poultice: This is perhaps the best way to utilize mucilaginous herbs such as plantain. Take a leaf or two of the fresh herb, chop it up, and add a little oil or witch hazel to make it gooier and stickier.
Oils: Oils will stay on the injured area longer than spritzes, but they can be messy. To make your own, put some fresh or dried herb into a jar and cover the herb with oil (such as olive or sesame), using enough oil to top the wetted herb with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of extra oil. Cap the jar tightly, cover with a brown paper bag, and let it sit on a sunny windowsill for seven to 10 days. Shake often. Strain, and put the oil in a tightly capped bottle, stored in a cool, dark place.

Salves and ointments: Salves are semi-solid medicinal preparations, and ointments are fatty preparations with the consistency of cold lard (a common
substance used in the making of ointments). These products will remain on the area of application for a longer period of time, but many critters will persistently lick at the product.



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