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.

Black mortar and pestle with fresh picked herbs, over white background.

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 with activities even against antibiotic resistant strains and fungi.

Calendula officinalis:  Calendula is the common marigold.  Its use on skin dates back at least 600 years.  They were heavily used in wound dressings in the American Civil War and World War I.  Formal research has documented that Calendula stimulates fibroblast activity in wound healing, assists with closure of pressure sores and has anti-inflammatory effects.

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, which is documented to speed wound healing and has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects.  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 has healing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Rosemary and Thyme:  Not the Simon & Garfunkel album, and not your Thanksgiving turkey either!  These common edible herbs are also used topically both for their wonderful aroma and the mild antimicrobial effects they have.

Plantain:  Plantain is a member of the banana family.  It’s long, fat leaves can be used to make a poultice for wounds or skin irritations.  Like Comfrey, it is rich in allantoin.

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 from wounds to itching 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.
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