Herbs for Topical Use

If you haven’t tried herbal products for skin and coat use, you really should.  Not because they’re herbal or natural – because they are effective!

Chemicals are chemicals whether they are inside a plant or in purified form.  Many effective pharmaceuticals were isolated from or based on chemicals in plants.  One thing that makes herbals distinctive in their effectiveness is a low side effect profile.  This is related at least in part to the fact that for every active constituent in a plant there will often be another that has an opposite or moderating effect.

The topical use of herbs has a very long history and is easier to validate than systemic use simply because the results can be readily seen.  The following are some common topical herbal ingredients and their actions.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca) Oil:  Most people have heard of tea tree oil because its use is so widespread.  Tea tree oil is extracted from Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree/bush native to Australia. It has a pungent, camphor-like aroma.  At least 98 components have been identified in the oil.  Tea Tree oil is only needed in low concentrations and excels in antiseptic properties.

Calendula officinalis:  Calendula is the common marigold.  Its use on skin dates back at least 600 years.  They were heavily used in dressings in the American Civil War and World War I.  Formal research has documented that Calendula supports normal fibroblast activity in wound healing and promotes homeostatic responses to inflammation.

Comfrey (Symphytum):  Comfrey is a small flowering herb native to Europe.  Written history of its topical use dates back to ancient Greece although use was estimated to date back considerably before that.  A major component is allantoin.  Inulin adds to its soothing effects.

Lavender:  Everyone recognizes the scent of lavender.  The flowers and oil are used.  You may be more familiar with lavender being used as a fragrance to induce calming, an effect that has been proven by formal research. There is also a long history of topical use.  In addition to gentle support of circulation, lavender works with the homeostatic mechanisms in skin.

Aloe Vera Juice has emollient properties that help to support a normal skin reaction to temporary irritations.  A member of the Lily Family, Aloe Vera has been described in writings dating back to 2100 B.C., and was used across the globe by ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, as well as Indians and Chinese.

Arnica is a plant in the sunflower family that has been in use since at least the 16thcentury.  Arnica helps support a normal inflammatory cytokine cascade in hard working muscles.

A base of apple cider vinegar and grapeseed oil supports normal skin pH and helps prolong the effect of the herbs.

Whether herbal or not, any topical can cause a skin reaction.  If you know your horse is prone to sensitivities, do a test of any product before using by applying a small amount to either the back of the pastern or the inner hind leg just above the hock.

A variety of skin issues can be helped with topical herbals.  They are pleasant to use and typically inexpensive.  Definitely worth a try.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD


About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition https://tinyurl.com/vdxfex5h .
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