By Sara Stewart Martinelli
This post was originally posted on the blog of the Boulder County Horse Association
Many of us are searching for ways to increase the use of natural products in our lives. Sometimes we forget that some of the simplest and most basic household products offer a wide range of uses in our favorite sanctuary: The Barn.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most useful things to stash in the barn and can be used for a multitude of purposes. Horses also seem to love the taste, though some take a little longer to embrace it. It’s high in potassium and minerals, so adding a little to feed or water is beneficial and offers a nutritional boost. When added to water it also destroys harmful bacteria, and can help improve the flavor of the water, enticing your horse to drink more. Internally, it helps to improve digestive function. Externally, it can be used on all kinds of skin conditions, including scurf and dry patches. It will neutralize bacteria on the skin and coat and will bring out the natural shine of your horse’s coat. It can also be used as a natural fly spay. (Try infusing it with one of the herbs in the section below). On the hoof, it can help prevent and minimize thrush.
How to use it: the recommended dosage is about 1 cup in a 50-gallon water tank, or about ¼ cup in feed a day. For skin and coat conditions, dilute the vinegar in a ratio of 1:1 with water and apply directly to the affected area.
Flax seed is high in omega 3 oils, which is one of the few vegetable sources of this essential fatty acid that cannot be synthesized in the body. Adding flax to your horse’s diet can improve a wide range of health issues, including reducing inflammation in joints and connective tissues, skin, coat and hoof issues, general stamina, condition, and athleticism, and reducing excitability.
It’s believed that it can improve the recovery time from injury or exercises by allowing faster removal of toxic metabolites. Flax helps to regulate thyroid function and is highly nutritive. It is high in mucilage and soluble fiber, so it helps to hydrate the digestive tract and can help to prevent impaction colic. Essential fatty acids have been shown to improve respiratory conditions and help to fortify the skin, coat, and hooves
Many sources will tell you that you need to freshly grind flax seeds daily to ensure freshness and complete absorption. However, research done shows that although some seeds are still seen in manure when fed whole, the majority of them are completely used in the digestive tract. New manufacturing methods now offer flax that is ground in a way to reduce its propensity to go rancid, and it can be purchased in bulk livestock grade to reduce cost.
How to use it? Flax should be gradually introduced into the horse’s diet over the course of a week or two, allowing the digestive tract to adapt to the newly added fat. Start with about ¼ cup per feeding, and gradually increase this over a two-week period until you are feeding up to ½ cup per feeding (maximum 1 cup per day). Check with your veterinarian for accurate amounts to feed and to ensure that flax is suitable for your horse.
Herbs for Fly Control
There are a number of herbs and flowers that can be planted around the barn to help keep flies to a minimum. Lavender (Lavendula ssp), Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and Marigolds (Tagetes ssp) are just some of the plants that can be used to provide both beauty and insect control. In addition to planting them near the barn and pastures, cuttings of these can be cut, tied together, and hung throughout the barn as attractive fly repellents. (Keep out of reach of horses, though. The horses will eat them, and although not toxic, if they eat the bundles, then you won’t be able to repel flies!) Dried, powdered herbs can be sprinkled in the stalls to help control flies and mosquitos.
Baking soda is a great option for all the scents and odors that happen in the barn. Use it as a natural stall deodorizer by sprinkling on the ground lightly when you muck. For added power, include some dried, powdered herbs from the section above for both scent and fly control.
Baking soda can also be made into a paste with a little water to use as cleaner for stall doors, walls, and feeders, as well as metal horse bits. To clean grooming tools, add 1 cup of baking soda in a bucket of water, and soak your tools overnight. Rinse well in the morning. Baking soda can also be used to deodorize horse blankets in the laundry. Add about a cup to the laundry water. An open box of baking soda can be placed in tack trunks to keep away odors.
Finally, a little paste made of baking soda is a great remedy for bugs bites for both horses and humans, and will help with both itching and inflammation.
Coconut oil has been shown to be safe for use for horses both internally and externally. Coconut oil has many benefits and is a perfect thing to be kept in the barn for everyday use. It has many antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, so it’s a great, quick salve for minor scrapes and bites. It can be used directly on the mane and tail to provide deep conditioning (although avoid use right before needing to braid, it can make the hair so silky that the braids don’t stick). Use coconut oil as a hoof conditioner too – you can rub it directly on the hooves to moisturize dry, cracked hooves. Dry skin patches can be treated with coconut oil, and it can be useful in cases of rain rot as well as bacterial or fungal infections on the skin. Internally, coconut oil is an energy dense supplement and are believed to provide energy without affecting behavior. It can be used to support immune function and regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism. It may help to improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, and many horses like the taste so it entices them to eat.
How to use it: if you choose to add coconut oil to your horses feed ration, start small. Mix ¼ cup into their grain, and gradually increase to ½ cup per day over a week or so. Coconut oil tends to be very stable at room temperature, so unlike flax, it will resist going rancid for several months. There are also commercially made, powdered coconut oil supplements available for horses too. Remember, check with your veterinarian before adding any supplement to your horse’s diet.
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bariraci Levy, Faber and Faber, Inc., London, 1952
Complete Holistic Care and Healing for Horses, by Mary L. Brennan, DVM, Trafalgar Square Publishing, Vermont, 2001
A Healthy Horse the Natural Way: A Horse Owner’s Guide to Using Herbs, Massage, Homeopathy, and Other Natural Therapies by Catherine Bird, The Lyons Press, 2002
Horse Care: Natural and Herbal Remedies for Horses by Dr. A Nyland, 2015
A Modern Horse Herbal by Hillary Page Self, Kenilworth Press, 2004
(Published in Wellness Times, June 21, 2012) http://soundofheart.org/galacticfreepress/content/wellness-news-top-3-healing-flowers
Sweet Violets – Viola odorada
Little sweet violets are the perfect harbinger of spring, with their quiet, humble purple faces cheerfully appearing amidst their heart shaped leaves. Native to Europe, violets are now found throughout the world and are known as sweet violets, English violets, wood violets, or common violet. Traditionally, violets are considered to “gladden the heart”, and their sweet aroma and flavor are unique and so very recognizable. Often used in cosmetics and perfume, the violet is also used in both culinary and medicinal ways. Violets are often candied and used in gourmet pastries, and both the leaves and the flowers can be added to salads. Violets have been used traditionally to promote relaxed sleep and bring mental balance and good cheer. Medicinally, it’s long been used as a cough remedy, especially useful in the treatment of bronchitis. An old recipe for Violet Syrup calls for taking 1 pound of fresh violet flowers and add 2 ½ pints of boiling water. Infuse this for 24 hours in a glass vessel, and then strain the liquid. Add double the liquid weight in fine sugar, and heat it into syrup, being careful not to let it boil. This syrup can be used for both medicinal and culinary purposes.
California Poppy – Eschscholzia california
This popular perennial flower is the official state flower of California (and it is illegal to pick it wild in California). It can be found growing both wild, and in the garden. Wild, it is found throughout California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico and Texas. The leaves are a feathery blue-green, and the flower color ranges from a vibrant orange to a pale yellow. This member of the poppy family is considered to be safe and non-addictive, while still possessing some of the sedative properties of it’s far more powerful cousins. California poppy has been used widely and safely with children of all ages to help combat over-excitedness, and promote health sleep patterns. It’s also an anti-spasmodic herb, and can be used effectively to treat stomach or bowel upset or cramping. Carefully dry the aerial parts, including the stem, leaves, and flower, and make a gentle tea of a cup of boiling water poured over 1 teaspoon of the dried herb. Allow this to steep for about ten minutes, add a bit of honey, and drink this at bedtime for a night of restful sleep. Dosage is one or two cups a day, as an excess can create feelings of lethargy the next day.
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
Also known both in wild places and in the garden, yarrow is a delicate plant with feathery leaves and a beautiful head of bunches of tiny flowers. Cultivated varieties can be light or dark pink, but the best yarrow for medicinal purposes is the wild white. Yarrow has been known for centuries as a plant to assist in the healing of wounds, and was considered “the soldiers’ woundwort” for its ability to stanch the bleeding of wounds of battle. This ability led to its being named after the legendary warrior, Achilles. The Highlanders of Scotland make an wound ointment from the plant. The feathery leaves can be placed directly on a superficial cut or scrape as a “natural” band aid. Yarrow was also called “Nosebleed”; the leaves rolled up and placed in the nose are reputed to immediately stop the bleeding. Yarrow has also been traditionally used to aid the body in dealing with fevers by being a diaphoretic (creating perspiration), and is useful as a tea in early stages of colds and flu. A famous old recipes calls for equal parts yarrow, boneset, peppermint, and elder flower as the most effective anti-fever tea. It dilates the blood vessels and is effective in stimulating the digestion. The above ground parts of the plant are used, and should be harvested when the flowers are at their peak in summer. These can then be dried and used as a tea. Along with it’s many medicinal uses, yarrow has been used in many cultures as a tool of divination. The long stalks are dried and used in the I Ching, and the leaves, when placed under the pillow, are said to bring visions of one’s future spouse.
by Sara Stewart Martinelli
I know a lot of people, (and I must admit, I do it too!) who spend a lot of money on supplements for their horses. There are supplements for digestion, joint health, hormonal balance, and just about any other health issue you can think of.
But why do modern, domestic horses need so much diet supplementation? Today’s horses often live in conditions that are far different from their natural existence. We keep them confined in stalls, and even if we are fortunate enough to have good pasture space on which to turn them out, they are still restricted to the grasses and plants in that pasture, and are not able to forage the wide variety of plants that they would encounter in the wild. Eating patterns and exercise patterns are different as well. Instead of being able to graze all day, we often feed our horses individual meals of hay and grain. This isn’t the ideal pattern for the digestive system of the horse, whose body is naturally designed to be eating small amounts almost continuously. Additionally, we often ask our horses to perform competitively or with periods of extended energy output. Horse nutrition is, of course, an in depth concept and many of us rely upon the experts to tell us what it’s best to feed our horse. That makes it easy to find legitimate reasons why our horses need additional supplements for optimal health.
But what can we do to provide some natural supplementation, at a reasonable cost, with both safe and reliable results?
Here are five herbs that are easy to find, inexpensive, and safe to feed your horse. Remember, any time you add something new to your horses diet you need to do it slowly over time to allow his digestive system to adjust to the new foods. Although these are all botanicals that are considered very safe, do watch to ensure that your horse does not have a unique reaction to any of them. In order for herbs to be of therapeutic benefit, they need time to work. Expect to use the herbal supplement regimen for at least a month to six weeks in order to see benefits.
Herbs can be added to the diet in a number of ways. The two easiest are feeding fresh herbs that you grow or find yourself, or using dried herbs. The most beneficial thing about using the fresh plants is that your horse will most likely love them; the herbs below are all considered very palatable. The downside to fresh plants is that it’s dependent on seasonality, locality, and availability, and can be difficult to get a large enough quantity to be an actual supplemental amount. So, in order to create a consistent, therapeutic dosage level, it’s easiest to use dried herbs.
Mix the herbs with a little water and allow them to soak for about 5 minutes, and then add the resulting liquid mash to your horse’s grain ration. Beet pulp is my personal favorite “blender” for the herbs, because I’ve already soaked the beet pulp before serving so the herbs are easily incorporated. If you are not familiar with beet pulp, carefully follow the instructions of the bag and be sure to soak the beet pulp for the recommended amount of time.
Nettles – Urtica dioca – One of my favorite herbs, nettles are one of nature’s richest sources of iron, which can often be a mineral lacking in an equine diet. Nettles also contain histamine, serotonin, potassium, silica, vitamins A and C, and a whole host of other minerals. It’s one of the most widely useful plants that we know of, and it strengthens and supports the whole body. Nettles support the immune, respiratory, urinary and reproductive systems, and can help the body fight allergic responses. Additionally, nettles will strengthen hoof and coat health. You can add about a half a cup of nettles to the feed ration daily. If you choose to feed fresh herbs, allow them to wither in the sun for at least four hours to remove the sting, or pour boiling water over them first and allow them to cool.
Fenugreek – Trigonella foenum-graecum – I love adding fenugreek to my equine blends because horses usually love the flavor. These hard little seeds function to strengthen the respiratory system, the mucus membranes, and the sinus in cases of upper respiratory infection, sinus issues, or congestion. Fenugreek also has strong properties of regulating and stimulating the lymphatic system. By helping to move lymph through the body, it can be helpful when treating anhydrosis (the ‘puffs’), or any condition where there is stuck lymph. Add about 2 tablespoons of the little seeds a day to your horse’s diet.
Dandelion Leaf – Taraxacum officinale– This humble herb is an excellent addition to a horse’s diet. High in vitamins A, B, C, and D, and rich in potassium, sodium, calcium and other minerals, dandelion functions as tonic by stimulating liver function, bile production, and kidney function. It helps the body clear itself of toxins and is believed to purify the blood. It’s a strong botanical ally when used in rehabilitation or conditioning mixes, especially for horses that undergo the stress of competition. I love dandelion so much that I actually scattered seeds around my farm in areas that I hand graze the horses. When you see how much the horses will gravitate to the dandelion, it’s obvious that they both love, and need it’s gently balancing medicine. I also add dried dandelion leaf to spring blends as we ramp up the horses’ training schedules for the competition season. You can add a cup of dried dandelion leaf to your horse’s ration, or, like I do, feed them fresh whenever you find it. Be careful, however, that if you are harvesting dandelions for your horse that there is not any kind of chemical treatment used on the area from which you are harvesting.
Raspberry Leaf – Rubus idaeus– the leaves of the common raspberry plant have been used for centuries as strong female tonic. They can help strengthen and tone the uterus to aid in fertility, pregnancy, and foaling. Raspberry also helps to regulate the hormonal swings in a moody mare, and in fact, one popular Mare supplement on the market is pure Raspberry leaf. In addition to its strong uterine benefits, raspberry leaf is a good astringent herb, and can be used effectively in cases of diarrhea, wet cough, bleeding gums, or any condition that is “loose”. Give about a half cup of the dried leaf to your mare a day.
Chamomile – Matricaria chamomilla – These little flowers pack a whole lot of medicine into their delicious little blossoms. High in phosphorus and calcium, they strengthen and regulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Chamomile is one of nature’s most gentle sedatives, and it can be used in all cases of anxiety, sleep issues, and hyperactivity. Additionally, it is often used to treat allergic reactions, both externally and internally, and I’ve had great success using it to treat hives. Chamomile also supports the digestive system as a carminative, and is included in many of my anti-inflammatory blends. Its general health promoting properties make it an excellent addition to a daily herbal supplement and its best given about ¼ cup at a time mixed with a little water.
Where to get them? My favorite place is Mountain Rose Herbs.
I recently saw a recipe for a ginger syrup, and thought I’d give it a go. Like always, I had to change things up a bit to suit my own tastes and purposes, so this is my recipe for Ginger Syrup. This syrup is great for mixing with soda water, starting a sauce, or putting in hot water or tea. Ginger is a great remedy for upset stomach, fevers, and sore throat. On top of all that good stuff, it’s delicious! Yummy!
Fresh Ginger Honey Syrup
8 oz fresh ginger root. (I always hate when recipes call for a weight, cuz who has time for that? Just get a big ginger root)
6 cups water
1 cup local honey
Cut the ginger root into large pieces and roughly peel them. Some recipes say you can leave them unpeeled, but unless know where that roots been grown, I’d go ahead and peel it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but get the majority of peel off.
Cut the peeled root into small cubes.
Put the root and the water in sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium
low, and simmer for about 45 min – 1 hour.
You want the water to reduce to two cups of liquid.
Remove from heat, and allow to cool a little to a temperature that is safe to handle. Strain it through cheesecloth into a pyrex measuring cup. You want about 2 cups of liquid. The ratio is 2 parts of liquid to 1 part of honey, so if you have more or less liquid, just adjust the honey amount. For example, if you only have 1 1/2 cup liquid, use 3/4 cups of honey.
Wipe out the pan, and return the liquid to the cleaned pan. Put the pan back on the stovetop on low heat.
Add the honey, and allow to melt and incorporate fully into the infusion. Use local honey, if possible. Local honey will contain pollen from your local environment, and this is believed to help reduce the immune response to pollen that people with allergies suffer.
Put the finished syrup into a mason jar and cover. Keep refrigerated – and it should last about 12 weeks.
What can you do with it?
– Add about a tablespoon to sparkling water with a squeeze of lime for a natural lime ginger ale.
– Use it with a bit of fresh garlic and tamari for a delectable Asian sauce
– Use a tablespoon in hot water with the juice of half a lemon for an excellent cold remedy.
I created this recipe for my son, who has a hard time falling asleep. It incorporates both herbal healing and aromatherapy to soothe the mind and support a good night’s sleep. This recipe is written for dried herbs, but fresh herbs could certainly be substituted. Just raise the amount of herbs to 1/4 cup if you are using fresh herbs.
1 cup almond oil
2 Tbsp lavender flowers
2 Tbsp Chamomile flowers
2 Tbsp Lemon balm
5 Hops flowers
1/4 cup beeswax
1/2 tsp vitamin E
10 drops Lavender essential oil
10 drops Chamomile essential oil
5 drops ylang ylang essential oils
1. In a double boiler, infuse the dried herbs in the almond oil for about 2 hours or until the oil appears saturated.
2. Remove from heat, and strain through cheesecloth. Compost the herbs and return the clear oil to the double boiler.
3. Add the beeswax to the oil, and heat gently until all the wax is incorporated.
4. Remove from heat and pour into small jars.
5. Add essential oils and vitamin E, stir gently, and cap tightly.
6. Label and date.
TO USE: Rub a small dab of the salve onto your temples and wrists before bed.
Probably the tea that is most requested –
1 part chamomile
1 part lemon balm
1/2 part oatstraw
1/2 part spearmint
1/4 part skullcap
1/4 part passionflower
Mix all herbs together in a bowl. you want the herbs to all be around the same size for uniform infusing.
Use 1 heaping tablespoon per 8 oz of water, and steep for a good 10 minutes. Add honey to taste. Drink about 30 minutes before bedtime.
For added strength, add 1/2 part valerian root. Valerian has a strong taste, and the above tea is actually blended to taste good. If you really need help with falling asleep, then add the valerian. It has a distinct flavor.