A bit of a pet peeve of mine (and many other herbalists I know) is the recent trend in herbal “information” in popular magazines and online sites and blogs. The trend looks fairly innocuous at first glance, to the non-herbalist anyway – what could be wrong with a page of quick and easy information on herbs, which are of course, all natural and therefore, safe? I’m talking here about the Herbal Soundbite – the cursory tidbits about using herbs for animals, that very often gets tacked onto a blog or magazine, almost as an afterthought, and is almost never written by a real, practising, knowledgeable herbalist.
Now; lest that sound snooty; I hasten to add that I think the real arrogance occurs when those with marginal (or no!) herbal knowledge presume to teach others about herbs, based on an article or two they pulled off the Internet (and we all know, everything on the Internet is so very reliable) In the cases I am thinking of, several times over the past month alone I’ve seen doses that were absurdly high, or herbs written up without clear information as to species, contraindications, proper preparation or even accuracy as to the herb’s family, actions and applications.
I find this unacceptable. It disrespects the lifetime of learning that every serious herbalist commits to, and the real power (for healing and, when abused, for harm) that plant medicines provide. And while many herbs are relatively safe in large doses, there can always be reactions and drug interactions and contraindications for longterm use. Because it is natural does not mean it is safe. Because it is listed as “good for such and such ” does not mean it is optimal for the specific animal, either. Herbalism is much more than selecting a herb from a list of conditions and giving it willy-nilly to an animal (or a person for that matter). It’s powerful medicine and needs to be respected.
So how does the average person know what to trust? well, quality in herbal writing has some very clear characteristics. Let’s just take the Monograph, which seems to be what the writers I’m fed up with are trying to do. You, the confused reader, can easily spot a good monograph from a “soundbite” if you know what to look for. Here’s what a good, thorough monograph looks like : https://thepossiblecanine.com/silybum-marianum-milk-thistle
Note the following salient features; this is standard procedure for writing up a herb, so if the method of presentation you are reading does not include them all, or is vague about any of this, I’d recommend questioning the validity.
Here’s what a good herbal monograph should provide:
Latin name,common names: Important to make the distinction here, if a herb is not clearly identified, it’s very possible to get the wrong one.
Parts Used: because with some herbs we use root, or bark, or aerial parts…or berries…
Clinical Actions: there should be a full list, not just the one or two the herb is most commonly used for
Energetics: While this may seem esoteric to many, it’s actually an integral aspect of herbalism and even if you, the reader, don’t fully get it – it’s still one hallmark of a good monograph- (NOTE that many people find energetics very easily understood – after all, cooling/warming (for example) are very readily experienced when just tasting a herb.
Constituents: So important. I can’t believe it gets left out, or one or two mentioned only.
Indications for use: Obviously, what the herb can be sued for, which is indicated by the Actions but it’s good to have a full list. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is good for much more than migraine, but the soundbites rarely mention that.
Preparations: This section describes how the herb is best used – the extraction method/menstruum is critically important.(assuming you are working with herbs and not powdered extracts in plastic bottles!)
Dosage: Should offer a range according to bodyweight and what preparation is used
Safety Considerations/Contraindications: You’d think this would be a given, but so often it’s passed over completely, or a vague reference “see your vet before using” – because as we all know, vets are herbalists!
The above are all essential, in my view, whenever anyone writes about a herb and suggests its use with animals. In addition to these basics, I like to see information on the natural history of the plant, how to cultivate it, if you are so inclined, traditional uses as well as modern, organ affinities (implicit to some extent, in Indications for Use, but it’s good to have it isolated and spelled out, too) and – so so important – Personal Clinical Experience! A practising herbalist will be able to talk about various cases, how the plant was prepared, whether it was given alone or in formula, at what dose, how well it worked, and more. This is perhaps the cornerstone of a great monograph, because let’s face it, with a little effort even the posers can look everything else up. You can’t fake experience, and you can’t fake depth of knowledge.
And that’s what I look for in anything I read and take to heart. We owe that much to the animals we treat…and to the herbalists who devote their love to the study and practise of the art.
Echinacea purpurea and Borago offinicalis, two popular and generally safe herbs, both of which have specific contraindications for usage.