• Olivia Cartier-Graves


Updated: Mar 5, 2019

So nature knows best..right?  Right! Herbs have been used traditionally for thousands of years to help facilitate healing.  For many of us herbs are associated with cooking, adding flavour and variety to food but what about the medicinal properties of herbs?  Many of the pharmaceutical drugs in use today are derived from plants. These wonderful plants have compounds / constituents to give the plant a therapeutic action.  So what do I mean by constituents? If you’ve heard of Salicylates and salins? Then you’ve heard of a particular constituent of a plant - the most widely known plant among horse owners is willow for example. Salicylates are known for their anti-inflammatory actions.  So with every plant and its constituent there is a therapeutic action! Some examples of these healing actions include immune enhancing, spasmolytic, cardiotonic, vulnery and dupurative plus much much more.

The ways to administer herbs for horses

Fresh:  Pastures and herbal lays are great ways to allow your horse to browse.  Or for you to pick and add to feeds. Common weeds that many people spray are important herbs for our horses such as dandelion, milk thistle, nettle.  Dandelion for example is known as hepatic herb but is also used for the urinary tract (the leaf) and the root (for the liver).

Dried:  Dried herbs can be mixed together and added to feed or made into a tea to pour into your horses feed.

Topically:  herbs are made into creams and ointments and applied topically to wounds, bruising, sore tendons and muscles or used to make poultices.

Tincture: This is my favourite way to provide my horse with a therapeutic dose of what he needs.  Herbal extracts are made by where the plant material is extracted in a solvent (normally ACV or alcohol) to draw out the beneficial plant compounds (remember the constituents we talked about above) Because these are very concentrated you don’t need much.  On the downside they typically have a strong unpleasant taste but on the upside these enter the bloodstream much quicker.

Herbal Combinations:  This is a great way to individualise a formula for a horse.  Herbs can be mixed together providing numerous actions and improvement of efficacy.

 An example could be:

Example formula for Osteoarthritis

Turmeric - for its anti anti-inflammatory action and to improve circulation at affected joints.

Devils Claw - also for its anti-inflammatory action and for general wellbeing.

Ginseng - used for weakness and exhaustion.

White willow - for its anti-inflammatory activity.

Licorice - for its anti-inflammatory action but to also improve palatability and absorption of herbal medicine.

All of the above need to be combined in safe dosages so it is essential to have a herbalist prepare this for you.

Contraindication and Cautions with herbs for horses.

If I am preparing a herbal formula I need to be sure that there could be no adverse effects that may interact negatively with another herb, supplement or medication.  Or that the herb is safe for pregnancy. This is another important reason you should seek advice from a qualified herbalist. Sometimes contraindications can be negative or sometimes they can be beneficial when used alongside a medication but always in this case your herbalist and vet need to work alongside each-other to monitor this.

7 Common herbs for horses

Chaste tree - Used as a hormone modulator, most commonly used for horses with cushings.

Dandelion - For use for the liver and kidneys depending on what part of plant you use.  Useful for the digestive system.

St Marys thistle - brilliant liver herb for its actions as hepatoprotective, hepatic trophorestorative and antioxidant.

Hawthorn - This is a good cardioprotective herb - good as a peripheral vasodilator.  Useful for heart issues and for circulation for laminitis.

Gingko - The actions of this one are as an antioxidant, circulatory stimulate, cognition enhancing and neuroprotective.

Devils Claw - well know anti-inflammatory can be used for arthritic conditions, osteoarthritis, also as a topical treatment for skin lesions, such as wounds and ulcers.

Echinacea - known as an immune modulating and immune enhancing herb, it also has a depurative action (blood cleansing) anti-inflammatory and lymphatic action.  

In my time with using herbs for horses and in practice dispensing herbal prescription for humans I have seen some remarkable results.  Some herbs are quick to take effect, some take at least 3 weeks before noticeable changes are observed. But with the incredible wisdom of nature results are normally always seen.  Whilst herbs cannot provide quick pain relief like bute they still have their place in an acute settings and most definately in a chronic situation. It is always important to work with your vet and to remember that when we work holistically with an animal or person where are working on the whole body and mind and not just the symptom.  Sometimes we need to use a bit of everything such as naturopathy and herbs, your vets knowledge and experience coupled with pharmaceutical drugs where necessary, and or acupuncuture or massage or chiropractic care. Each modality has its place and purpose. When working in the best interest of our equines the synergy of all of these modalities coming together can be magic where profound healing can take place.

Your feedback on herbs for horses

Please feel free to email me or post if you’ve seen some results with your use of herbs.  Or if you have a particular topic or herb you’d like discussed let me know!


Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs. St. Louis, Mo.: Churchill Livingstone.

Fougère, B., & Wynn, S. (2007). Veterinary herbal medicine. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.

Pengelly, A. (2011). The constituents of medicinal plants. Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI Pub.

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