Growing Your Own Medicinal Herbs

Growing Your Own Medicinal Herbs

Lemon Balm

Before horses were domesticated, they roamed free and kept themselves healthy by grazing on a large variety of plants and herbs. They used their deeply-ingrained instincts to seek out the plants they needed to maintain their health. A wealth of herbal knowledge was acquired by ancient herders who spent their lives watching the animals in their charge seek out certain plants at different times according to their needs. This information was handed down through many generations.

The Benefits of Having your Own Garden

Cut and dried herbs can be very expensive to purchase, but they are often very easy and inexpensive to grow yourself. Growing an herb garden for your horse will give you the ability to harvest fresh herbs whenever you need them. The herbs can be dried and stored for later use, or made into tinctures or extracts that can be given orally or added to various equine grooming and health products.

Many herbs offer wonderful health benefits for horses when added to feed rations, or by allowing the animals to graze on the fresh plants. Herbs can be a beneficial addition to hoof oils, poultices, wound, skin and coat products, and insect repellents. Planting herbs around the barn can also repel insects. Garlic, geraniums, lavender, rue and wormwood planted near stables and pastures can help control overpopulations of bothersome bugs. Also useful for repelling insects are eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass and tea tree – these herbs are often used in all-natural insect repellents and applied externally to help repel flies, mosquitos and other pests.

Top 8 Herbs for Your Garden:

  1. Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Aloes are semi-tropical succulent plants. They can be grown outdoors in climates where there is no chance of freezing (USDA Zones 10 to 11). Aloe vera is relatively easy to grow indoors if given sufficient light. If grown outdoors, it should be planted in full sun or light shade. The plant is fairly drought-tolerant, but some water should be provided. Watering should be minimal in the winter when the plant becomes somewhat dormant. In the summer, the soil should be soaked and allowed to dry completely before watering again.

Parts used: Juice or gel from the leaves.

Use: The gel soothes itchy dry skin and heal burns and wounds.

Cautions: This plant should be used externally only. Do not let horses ingest it, as it is a strong purgative.

  1. Arnica (Arnica montana)

This perennial herb is native to continental Europe. It is also known as leopard’s bane, mountain tobacco, and mountain arnica. Arnica montana is a member of the aster family, and is closely related to the sunflower and daisy. The plant reaches heights of 12” to 24”; it is hardy and can be grown successfully in Zones 4 to 9. It grows best in full sun, but can do well in partial shade. The stems carry single yellow/orange flowers from mid-spring to the end of summer. The plant can be slow to start from seed but can be propagated by division or from cuttings.

Parts used: Roots and dried flowers.

Use: Apply it externally for musculoskeletal injuries such as sprains, strains, bruises and sore muscles. Arnica stimulates blood circulation and specifically stimulates the action of white blood cells to relieve congested blood and trapped fluids from bruised tissues. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities can help reduce pain and swelling and improve healing. It is an excellent addition to hoof treatments to prevent and treat bruised soles and sensitive hooves.

Cautions: The plant contains some toxins and should not be taken internally. Arnica may also be toxic when used on open wounds for long periods.

  1. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Also known as pot marigold, calendula is an essential part of your medicinal garden. It can grow to almost 24” in height, displays bright yellow/orange flowers, and prefers full sun or partial shade.

Parts used: Flowers.

Use: Entire flower heads can be used in preparations for healing cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites and irritated skin. Calendula has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is my first choice for the topical treatment of wounds.

Cautions: Do not give internally unless under the supervision of a qualified herbalist.

  1. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

An annual with small, daisy like flowers, chamomile is native to Europe and naturalized in North America. It is a relative of the sunflower and has a sweet characteristic smell. Chamomile seeds are among the few that need light to germinate, so growing can be a delicate process. Chamomile can be planted outdoors by broadcasting the seeds and mixing them very lightly with soil after all chance of frost has past. Seeds can also be started indoors and then transplanted outside after a hardening-off period. Once the plants are established, chamomile is very hardy. It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Parts used: Fresh or dried flowers.

Use: Chamomile has anti-inflammatory, relaxant, analgesic (pain relieving), anti-fungal, anti-allergy, tissue-healing and antibacterial properties. The German Commission E has approved chamomile for external use in supporting skin care and inflammation, with several clinical trials supporting its efficacy. Chamomile is used for burns, ulcers, wounds, skin sensitivity and for enhancing coat appearance. Its anti-inflammatory action can be attributed to the natural chemicals alpha bisbolol and chamazulene contained within the flower; they have the ability to inhibit arachidonic acid metabolism. Chamomile’s ability to relieve pain may be due to a prostaglandin-inhibiting action.

Cautions: In rare instances, chamomile may cause an allergic sensitivity in susceptible individuals.

  1. Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis)

This perennial herb originated in Europe. Comfrey is a hardy plant that can grow in a wide range of climates. It does best in USDA Zones 3 to 9, but will grow almost anywhere. Comfrey is most easily propagated from root cuttings and needs three-foot spacing for proper root development.

Parts used: Root and main rib of leaf.

Use: Applied externally for contusions, sprains, wounds, burns, and inflammatory skin disorders. Comfrey decreases healing time and acts as a mild analgesic.

Cautions: Should not be used internally without the guidance of a qualified herbalist.

  1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)

Like arnica, the dandelion is another plant in the Asteraceae or aster family. Often considered a weed, dandelions actually have some amazing health benefits. They are a wealthy source of many nutrients including vitamins A, B, C, D, potassium, calcium, manganese, sodium, sulfur and choline. You probably don’t need to do much to grow dandelions and will very likely find them growing on their own.

Parts used: Whole plant, leaves, flowers, roots.

Use: The dandelion stimulates liver function and bile production, as well as pancreas and kidney function. It is highly beneficial to the digestive system as a whole. Dandelion cleans the blood and stimulates excretion processes. It makes an excellent spring tonic and can be a great plant for horses to graze on during rehabilitation and conditioning. Dandelion is a very effective diuretic, and is also used for rheumatism, arthritis, laminitis, and as a mild laxative.

Cautions: Because many people consider dandelions a weed, exercise caution when harvesting them or allowing horses to graze on them – be sure they have not been treated with pesticides.

  1. Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

Another member of the aster family that’s also known as coneflower, Echinacea is native to the central and eastern United States. It adds color to the garden, blooming with purplish-pink flower heads accented by a raised disk center. It is best to plant Echinacea in spring or fall. It’s very tolerant of heat, humidity and dry conditions. This plant attracts butterflies to the garden.

Parts used: Mostly roots, and seeds/flowers.

Use: Echinacea has immune-dilating, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties. It is used to increase white blood cell production in the blood and helps clear infection from the body. Can be given dried or as a vinegar extract.

Cautions: Echinacea is possibly contraindicated in cases of autoimmune diseases and cancer.

  1. Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

More than 25 species of mint are grown around the world. Peppermint is distinguished by its square stem with a reddish hue. It prefers partial shade but will grow in full sun. Because it spreads vigorously by underground runners, you may prefer to grow it in containers so it doesn’t take over your garden. Peppermint is usually not grown from seed, but propagated from roots or runners.

Parts used: Leaves

Use: Peppermint can be added to horse feeds to make them more palatable. It has a beneficial effect on the digestive system and helps soothe the GI tract. The oils in peppermint can also be added to skin and coat products to alleviate and cool dry itchy skin.

Cautions: No known contraindications.

Milk Thistle for Pets


By Rodney Habib,  Dogs Naturally Magazine and Pet Wellbeing

Milk Thistle is a well-known ‘liver herb’ for both people and pets. It can be used to support general liver health and detoxification, and has an overall excellent safety* profile.  A company called Pet Wellbeing offers a full-spectrum Milk Thistle, extracted from the whole seeds.

Milk Thistle can provide natural support for pets experiencing:

  • Long or short term prescription drug administration
  • Fatty liver
  • Liver diseases
  • Cholestasis (bile obstruction from liver to small intestine)
  • Cancer (including liver cancer)
  • Diabetes (with careful monitoring of blood sugar levels)

Milk Thistle is commonly given to pets while concurrently administering prescription drugs. Examples include: treatment for Heartworm, pain medications, steroids, and a vast number of other medications that can affect the liver. The liver is the organ with a primary role in metabolizing drugs and helping the body excrete toxic substances. If your pet is being given medications, some liver support is highly recommended.

So how does it work?

Milk Thistle helps protect and strengthen liver cells, stimulates their repair and regeneration, and even promotes production of new liver cells. Milk Thistle is an excellent herb for supporting general detoxification as well as recovery after infections.

Milk Thistle is often prepared in an alcohol base for optimizing extraction of its beneficial compounds; however, alcohol is not ideal for our pets. Pet Wellbeing Milk Thistle is first alcohol-extracted to ensure potency, and then the alcohol is removed and replaced with glycerin, providing a safe, alcohol-free product for your pet. Milk Thistle is gentle enough for long-term use.

Additional Uses

Milk thistle not only helps treat and prevent liver disease. Below is a list of treatment claims linked to the plant:

  • Kidney disease: If there has been kidney damage to your pet because of an infection milk thistle has been show to greatly decrease the amount of time it takes your pet to heal. • Pancreatitis: Although rare in cats, pancreatitis is very common in dogs. Milk thistle can be given to your dog and cat to help alleviate the symptoms.
  • Cancer: Milk thistle has been shown to decrease the effects of cancer in a pet’s body. While there haven’t been many studies done, there have been enough that it has shown improvement and helps protect against the potential for cancer in your pet.
  • Diabetes: Pets suffering from diabetes that are given milk thistle at least once per week have been shown to not have to have nearly the amount of insulin that they would have had to take otherwise.

Clearly, milk thistle has an array of positive effects throughout the body.

However, milk thistle should not be used as a preventative, or a “just in case”; rather, it should be used as a means of cleansing the liver after exposure to toxins (i.e. drugs, vaccines, chemicals, etc.) or as a treatment to liver damage. Milk thistle stimulates the growth of new liver cells in order to replace those that are dead or dying, and helps protect against toxins which could cause further damage.

Remember, medicinal herbs shouldn’t be used for extended periods of time.  Gregory L. Tilford and Mary L. Wulff explain in their book entitled Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance your Pet’s Life: “Despite much of the publicity that has been generated about this ‘wonder herb’, milk thistle should not be used as a daily food supplement. Milk thistle is a medicine that is best reserved for situations in which the liver is already under abnormal stress.” Most holistic doctors feel that milk thistle should be administered for 3-6 weeks with a 1-3 week break.

Also, pregnant and lactating pets should not be given milk thistle because the research is still inconclusive.

You can find milk thistle in most health food stores or health sections of your local grocery store. It can be found in capsule, tablet and tincture forms.

The usual recommended extract of milk thistle contains 70 to 80 percent silymarin. Each extract should be labeled with the silymarin percent. The tincture can be administered at a starting dose of 1/4 tsp. per 20lbs of animal’s body weight per day. The daily dosage should be taken in 2-4 equally divided doses. With the powder format, administer 2-5mg per 1lb of the animal’s body weight, 2 to 3 times per day. Read labels carefully, discuss dosages and, although there are no known drug interactions, it’s always important to consult with your veterinarian.

 *If your pet is on any medications, always inform their vet of any natural remedies or supplements that are being considered for use, to avoid possible drug-herb interference.

You can read more about Milk Thistle and order it with the URL below:



Milk Thistle for Cat Liver Disease

  • Helps maintain liver health in cats
  • Health support during use of drugs (like chemotherapy)
  • Helps support regeneration of damaged liver cells
  Milk Thistle for Dog Liver Disease
Essential for dogs with liver disease & dogs taking medications such as:

  • Steroids
  • Heartworm prevention
  • Pain or anti-inflammatory medications

Milk Thistle