Ellen Collinson Equine Iridologist and Herbalist
There are many books widely available with information about the properties and benefits of herbs. Only a few of the herbs are mentioned below.
Nature has a full treasure chest, if only we know where to look, many people are still very sceptical about the benefit of feeding herbs; what they forget is that most of today’s pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plant extract, but unfortunately using single active compounds without the plants supporting compounds can cause severe side effects and also many ‘viruses’ become resistant to them. There are many herbal companies in the market and some, it has to be said, have better quality products than others: this is partly the reason for some of the scepticism as the combinations are not strong enough. Too many products use only the flower heads, which is not always where the ‘activity' is. This article is about the herbs that grow naturally in this country in the hedgerows and fields, especially between spring and autumn. There is a natural treasure chest full of powerful benefits, so we shall look at them alphabetically.
This grass is classed as a herb because of its deep rooting. It is a rich source of calcium, also contains chlorine, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium and sulphur. It is high in protein, but this is a natural protein, and it is also a powerful natural diuretic, blood cleanser and nutritive. It contains eight digestive enzymes which stimulate the digestive system, enabling the proper assimilation of the nutrients provided. It is a very good ‘balancer’ to feed with oats, although it is a complete feed in its own right.
This plant is useful both internally and externally, internally as a demulcent, soothing inflamed tissue and organs, good for soothing both the gastrointestinal tract and the pulmonary organs, lungs, bronchials etc. and also excellent for cleaning up infected cuts and wounds, when squeezed, the juice should be poured over the wound
This is the sticky plant that grows in hedges with the little sticky bobbles that literally sticks to everything. It is a good source of calcium, copper, iron, silicon and sodium; it is a powerful alternative (blood cleanser), diuretic, tonic and aperient and act mildly on bowels. A handful daily would be ample to flush out the kidneys and clean the blood and also lift the blood as it is high in iron.
This plant is probably the most important to grow, as apart from being a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, etc., it is one of the finest healers for the respiratory system, especially for haemorrhage of the lungs. The root has been used as a tonic and vulnerary since ancient times; according to some modern scientific research can cause liver damage, but this would only likely to happen if fed extreme large amounts of the root for long periods of time. The leaves are the normal part of the plant to be fed and the chief element in comfrey helps to promote the granulation and formation of epithelial cells. Dr Shook wrote the following:
‘It does not seem to matter which part of the body is broken, either internally or externally, comfrey will heal it quickly. It is a great cell proliferant or new cell grower; it grows new flesh and bone alike, stops haemorrhage, and is wonderful for coughs, soothing and healing the inflamed tissue in a most remarkable manner.’
A French/Italian gypsy once told me that the French gypsies would give their horse one comfrey root each in the spring to ensure good health. I myself have fed comfrey to a mare who received bad internal tearing during mating: she made a complete recovery and the vet was amazed, not only by her recovery but by the fact that she had no scar tissue or adhesions of any sort.
These are a well known plant and any of the older generation of trainers/stud grooms would send the lads out to pick dandelions for the horses’ lunch. They are a very good source of calcium, copper, fluorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulphur. The whole plant, if possible, should be pulled and fed. The roots look after the liver, stimulating it and cleansing; they are bitter, so also work to promote appetite and digestion. The leaves are the diuretic, flushing and toning the kidneys, hence the French name for them ‘pis en lit’ or ‘pee the bed’!
Any one who has a hawthorn hedge is sure to have seen the horses nibbling away at certain times. Although it is very prickly they do love it, and this is a very valuable asset to any field as hawthorn is very high in iron. It is a powerful tonic to the heart, strengthening and regularising; it is also good for circulation, feeding to the nerves and kidneys.
I have read that this herb is poisonous to horses: if that were true I would have had a lot of dead animals, but instead I have horses with good bone and strong kidneys. Horsetail is very high in calcium and silicon, it is an astringent and a diuretic. Due to the astringent properties you would not feed a lot or for long periods and it would be better mixed with a mucilage like comfrey or chickweed. However, a four to six week course of the herb will give a young horse good bone density.
Meadowsweet grows on the road sides, usually where there are ditches and moisture, it grows prolifically in Ireland, it is a tall plant with beautiful white flowers that look similar to cotton wool balls. Apart from having the most beautiful aroma, and will, if hung to dry in your barns, perfume them, it is a brilliant anti-inflammatory. Cut the plant when the flowers are in bloom, hang them in bunches from the beams of your stables where hopefully they will dry, and once dried just run your hands down the stems and all the leaves and flowers will fall into what ever receptacle you have, make sure its airtight and then you can feed it over the winter.
This herb is very valuable in the treatment of any liver disorder, I have even found Vets that are recommending its use!!
Good old common nettles, everyone complains about them growing everywhere. But they are a very important herb: the richest source of chlorophyll in the vegetable kingdom, they are rich in minerals including iron, lime, potassium, sodium, sulphur and contain much protein. They can be either cut or wilted or boiled and both juice and nettle added to feed. Old fashioned hay tea was made by putting a wedge of hay into a container and covering it with boiled nettle juice. Nettles are a very good blood cooler/cleanser and they are helpful in cases of arthritis, spots or nettle rashes which are usually caused by too much protein the diet – in fact they are just a good spring tonic for both man and beast.
Oats are both a herb and a food; they are a strength-giving cereal, low in starch but high in minerals. Also rich in vitamin B they contain alkaloids, glycosides and fixed oils which are an important source of vitamin E. They are a nerve tonic and bone building and contrary to modern opinion are the best possible feed for horses, especially high competition horses. The best way to feed them is whole, either soaked or boiled; they are important for strong teeth, hooves, horn and hair.
Parsley contains more iron than any other green leaf vegetable. It also contains copper, manganese, magnesium and potassium. Parsley is usually treated as a food, or to add a white source for fish; however it is a very good natural diuretic. It also works on the adrenal glands, is powerful therapeutic for the optic nerves, the brain nerves and the whole sympathetic nervous system and it is an excellent tonic for blood vessels. It is also high in vitamins A and B and contains three times the potency of C than citrus juices.
This is another herb as useful externally as internally, It is one of the most efficient infection fighters in the ‘natural’ medicine chest. It can be used as a poultice, especially if it is mixed with slippery elm, the drawing power is incredible, and it can be used internally to fight infection especially in the kidneys and bladder.
This herb is an excellent blood purifier when used alone or in a combination with other blood purifying herbs. It is soothing to the nerves and can be used in salves for skin irritations. The part used is the flowering tops and the properties are alterative, nutritive, sedative and stimulant. It is excellent used as a fomentation or poultice for cancerous growths.
There are of course many, many more herbs that can be fed and food that can be used, but I wanted to leave room for Seaweed, probably the best ‘supplement’ of all that can be fed. It is rich in copper, iron, iodine, magnesium, phosphorous, silicon and sulphur. The iodine content, which is a supreme gland builder and conditioner, reduces excess fatty tissue and removes toxic elements. Along with iron which is of premier importance to the blood, promoting oxygen absorption and building red corpuscles.
Other herbs/foods that are very important and have a real place in any yard are garlic, onions, carrots, turnip, raspberry leaf, and strawberry foliage to name but a few.