Read an Excerpt
Introduction to Herbalism
Herbs have been an integral part of humankind's diet and pharmacy since we began roaming the earth. Some 5,000 years ago, the ancient Sumerians left written evidence of medicinal uses for plants such as laurel, caraway, and thyme. But long before the written word, caveman cultures left evidence of herbal use in their coprolites, or fossilized excrement. Herbalists have practiced their trade since the beginning of recorded history and in all parts of the world. Many herbs are mentioned in the Bible.
Typically, the plants of yore were used in unity with nature; their medicinal uses were based on humans' intuitive feel for their application along with observed results. Herbal use was often combined with practices such as shamanism, bleeding, fumigation, poulticing, rubbing, and urtication. In addition, most cultures had a ritualistic approach to planting and harvesting and to the collection of wild species.
Today, our culture so relies on Western medicines that we have lost our perspective on herbs. But herbs are used by more people worldwide than any other medicine. You probably don't have to go very far back in your own family history (perhaps to your grandmother or great-aunt) to discover an herbalist, someone who used the local weeds to cure all sorts of ailments.
Despite all this herbal history and lore, folks sometimes seem reluctant to use herbal medicines to help their pets. Concerned animal lovers have questions: Are the herbs safe to use? Which ones can I use for my dog? When should I use herbs, and are they ever more appropriate than the drugs of Western medicine? Should I use capsules, teas, tinctures, or topical preparations? How do I dose these treatments? And finally, are herbal medicines effective?
This book is designed to answer those questions. Herbs have been an integral part of my holistic veterinary practice for the past 10 years, and they have also been a part of my family's health care for several generations. Herbs are so safe and effective as helpers for other alternative medicines that I give almost every one of my patients an herbal prescription. And after years of use on hundreds of doggie patients including my own dogs I have found herbs so safe (when used correctly) that I am extremely comfortable prescribing them for all critters, even the most profoundly sick.
What Is Holistic Medicine?
I am a holistic veterinarian and have been for about 10 years now. I use a variety of medicines in my practice: herbs, acupuncture (Traditional Chinese Medicine), homeopathy, spinal and limb adjustments (chiropractic), nutrition and nutritional supplements, flower essences, shamanism, and more. ccasionally, I even resort to the Western or allopathic medicine I learned in veterinary school. I use what I think will be best for the patient at that particular time in his or her life cycle. And over the years I've found that, more often than not, the alternative medicines I choose do work.
Holistic medicine is much more than the medicines used. It is an approach to wellness that regards the patient as a whole organism, an organism that is intimately connected to its natural environment and whose health is tied to the health and well-being of the other organisms (including humans) around it.
How Does Holistic Medicine Work?
Holistic medicine assumes that a diseased part of the organism is merely an expression of the fact that a lack of balance exists somewhere within the body. A holistic practitioner, when seeking a cure for any disease, aims to create a balance among all the body's organ systems.
To effect that cure, a holistic practitioner must be able to look at the patient from many different perspectives. Each of the medicines I use herbal, homeopathic, Eastern, chiropractic, Western has its own diagnostic and therapeutic methodology. And each of these methodologies is an independent system of its own, often complex and intricate in its approach and certainly highly refined by years of successful use by countless practitioners and patients.
As a holistic practitioner, then, I need to look at the patient from many sides of the mountain.
Taking Responsibility for Health and the Planet
An aspect of holistic medicine that I feel is critical to the overall concept of wholism is that the medicine must be natural and must not deplete or pollute the environment.
Finally, and perhaps most important, I believe that holistic medicine and especially the use of herbal remedies is a prime way of empowering people to take charge of their pets' health . . . and their own. When using herbal medicines, you are the specialist. As an herbalist you realize that foods (and especially herbs) are medicine, and medicine is food, and you give Pet a boost with a daily dose of healthy herbs. Herbs are readily available over the counter for easy access. You don't need someone with a bunch of letters after her name to write a prescription just so you can use herbs; you can use herbs because you know they are safe and effective and because they work in a wide variety of situations, often affecting several organ systems at once.
You don't need a zillion bucks' worth of diagnostic and treatment machinery to support your healing methods, either. The herbs are there for you because that's their job: healing. And, perhaps best of all, you can grow healthy herbs in your very own backyard. While they are growing, you get the benefit of touching Mother Earth, and you have the opportunity to be in contact with and to smell healing herbs. After all, the largest organ of the body is the skin, and the most primitive organ is the nose. The healing qualities of many herbs are readily absorbed through the skin, and aromatherapy is an age-old healing method.
My Beginnings as a Practicing Herbalist
While my family has made extensive use of herbs seemingly forever, my dog Rufus finally convinced me to use them in my practice. (Remember, like all my veterinary colleagues, my previous training was exclusively Western-medicine oriented.)
Rufus: My First Case Study
Just about the time I started studying alternative medicines, Rufus, a totally lovable golden retriever with the usual complement of three brain cells, got a hot spot on his forearm. Hot spots are skin irritations of unknown cause; they usually begin as small, itchy areas that the animal may lick and bite until the spots are raw and bleeding. In Western medicine, hot spots are commonly treated with cortisone ointment, an anti-inflammatory.
I gave Rufus the best of Western medicine, slathering on the cortisone ointment. His hot spot went away almost immediately. But it returned in a few months redder, angrier, and itchier. So I went to the bigger guns of Western medicine: oral cortisone pills, given in addition to the topical ointment.
The hot spot disappeared, this time after 3 or 4 days, only to return again in a few months. The spot was redder yet; much larger; and, according to Rufus, so itchy that it was nearly impossible to bear. I gave him another dose of cortisone, this time in ointment, injectable, and follow-up pill form.
The hot spot again disappeared, this time after a week or so. But in a few weeks it came back with a vengeance, and Rufus let us know he was miserable, day and night. Well, you get the picture. Western medicines in general, and cortisone products in particular, typically work by palliating diseases making patients feel better for short periods of time without really curing them.
Finding Success with Herbs
Deep into my alternative medicine studies, I decided to apply what I'd learned to Rufus. (Much like the shoemaker's daughter who never has shoes, most veterinarian's pets are the last to get treated.) From the few herbal books I had at the time, I learned that calendula is a good herb for healing reddened, raw skin lesions. Sue, my wife, had some calendula growing in the garden, so we picked it, steeped it into a mild tea, and spritzed it on Rufus's ever-growing hot spot.
Ahhh. I could almost hear Rufus's sigh of relief as he settled down, quit scratching, and relaxed for the first time in days. In a few hours the itch recurred, so we applied another spritz. Immediate relief. After four or five treatments throughout that first day, Rufus experienced no itching, and he had a good night's sleep for the first time in weeks. Then, amazingly, the very next morning I could see evidence of wound healing around the edges of the hot spot nice white, clean tissue growth.
Well, after a few days of herbal spritz, Rufus's hot spot completely disappeared, and it has never returned. I was really happy for Rufus (and for us, since we could now sleep in peace), but I wondered why I didn't learn about calendula or any of the other herbs in veterinary school. But that's another story.
After watching Rufus's results, I was hooked. I began using herbs extensively from that day on, recommending them for all
How to Use This Book
My guide to herbal dog care is designed to make it easy for you to begin using herbs on your pooch right away. Please read the first section before you jump into the chapters on organ systems and the herbal repertory.
Chapters 4 and 5 are designed to help you understand the how-tos of herb use. There's nothing difficult about it; herbal medicine is not rocket science. I am a veterinarian/herbalist who thinks that herbal medicine is the most empowering of the alternative medicines because herbs are meant to be used by everyone, including your dog. You can choose to create a healthy internal and external environment by growing and feeding healthy herbs to your family of animals. You can choose to use herbs because they are safe and effective. And, as you use herbs, you can learn about your own environment and the place that herbs have in it.
Start using herbs today. Sprinkle a sample of a tonic herb atop Rover's food. If he doesn't like that tonic, try another. Keep trying until you find the herbs he likes. Make a light herbal tea and pour it over his food, or try adding some to his water.
To keep your dog healthy, use herbs on a daily basis. If you should ever need them, you'll have much better luck getting a sick pooch to agree to herbal medicines if she has been acclimated to them over the years.
Then, if your dog ever comes down with the sicks, all you need is a diagnosis from your regular veterinarian to tell you which organ system is affected or which problem your dog has. With the diagnosis in hand, go to the chapter that lists the herbs
for that organ system, and use the plants as directed. It couldn't
Now, there is a minor rub to all this: Whenever you choose to use herbal medicine or any other alternative medicine, for that matter you likely won't get much (any) help from your conventional vet. Most vets are simply not trained in holistic health. But holistic veterinarians are now located in all parts of the country (see Resources), and many of them are available for either office or phone consultations. In any emergency, of course, you should contact your regular vet or a local emergency veterinary clinic, if one is available in your area.