In the Animal Herbalism course, we are talking right now about developing a working group of herbs we use regularly for dog and cat care, to address the minor issues our four legged friends regularly present us with. I’ve suggested students grow the herbs whenever they can, some or all of them – wildcraft if they have access to pristine areas and absolutely, 100% know the species, or simply purchase the herb in various forms from a high-quality supplier. Getting to know your plants is a long process of working with them, using them in a wide variety of ways – and growing some is about as good as it gets. In this post I thought I’d share a bit about what I grow in my own little Animal Apothecary Garden. Plants of such beauty and usefulness, I don’t know how I’d get along without them. I hope readers as well as students will consider a similar project, too.
First; while I have been studying herbs since the 1980s, I am not a master gardener! Growing these plants has been a learning curve for me as well. I do a fair bit of wildcrafting and am blessed to live where I do, in the Gatineau Hills where most places are untouched by chemicals, and vast acres of wild forest and field is all about me. Some herbal staples I regularly wildcraft include; Prunella vulgaris (Self heal), Solidago canadensis (Goldenrod), Verbena Hastata (Blue Vervain), Stellaria media (Chickweed), Plantago Major (plantain), Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon’s Seal), Agrimonia Eupatoria (Agrimony), Verbascum thapsus ( Mullein), Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) ,Sambucus canadensis (Elderflower) and the ubiquitous burdock, dandelion, stinging nettle, several violets and numerous other species. In addition I make good use of our wonderful medicinal trees, including wild cherry, yellow birch, alder, various conifers and both local populus species.
All of these make powerful wild medicines for my dogs and cats, as well as human family and household. I treat everyday issues like feline abscess, cuts and scratches, soft tissue injuries, transient diarrhea, mild urinary tract infections,an assortment of respiratory conditions, hot spots, arthritis, various mild infections and anxiety with these gifts from the woodland.
Danny investigates a Goldenrod harvest
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is a medicine I use with kennel cough and other acute respiratory conditions.
But there are other plants I have come to rely on and use almost daily, and not all of these are available in the areas surrounding my home. And to be clear – nothing replaces the joy of starting seeds, nurturing the babies, transplanting when the time is right and eventually harvesting the grown plants, to make into tinctures and compresses and teas and salve. There is a depth of relationship and knowledge that comes from growing herbs that is different from wildcrafting, and much different form simply purchasing extracted herbal products or even the harvested and prepared plant material. I would consider my small garden to cover many of the basics that people starting out in herbs could make excellent use of with animals; all are easy to grow and very safe to use, and – taken altogether – the plants cover a wide range of needs and uses. So, here is my own Animal Apothecary garden – what I have grown so far, and very briefly, what I do with it all. 🙂
Calendula, Marshmallow, Echinacea, Hyssop, Skullcap, Chamomile, Yarrow, Feverfew, Motherwort, Catnip, Lemon Balm, Bee Balm, Valerian, Comfrey, Common sage, Evening primrose, Elecampane, Rosa rugosa, Borage, Lady’s Mantle, Wood betony,. This is my core Animal Garden; in years past I have grown Fuller’s teasel (and likely will again) Milk Thistle ( probably not – the plants are too large for my current space and the yield to small for the work it takes) and every year I grow a number of so-called culinary herbs that we use primarily for seasoning, but thyme ( all varieties!) does double duty as one of my favorite steams for my own allergy season and subsequent congestion; rosemary goes into many skin rinses for the dogs, and parsley I use in small amounts with some urinary tract problems.
This group, along with the wildcrafted plants I gather, covers so many of my everyday needs: Mallow, calendula and chamomile offer soothing help for the skin, demulcent support for the urinary, respiratory and digestive tracts, lymphatic support(calendula) and chamomile can be of course used for it’s relaxing nervine properties as well as the anti-inflammatory effect on skin…Motherwort is an important nervine for agitated animals, particularly with injury and feeling fearful; Skullcap helps over time with agitation and chronic discomfort associated with advanced age. Hyssop is a warming touch of respiratory help when used with mullein and elder for viral infection involving the lungs; echinacea gets regular use both internally and topically with my cats as well as dogs. Monarda fistulosa (Bee Balm) is one of my most-used herbs, for both animals and our own species; I use it on its own or in formulas to address infection, anxiety, gastric upset and pain, its diffusive action often helping other analgesics reach the painful area more rapidly.
Of the myriad medicines I make using my own wild rose bushes, I probably use the rose-petal vinegar, rose tincture ( a few drops only) and the dried flowers infused in water for skin relief most often. We humans get the honeys, elixirs, pastilles, and tisanes, and make regular use of rose salve (usually with a variety of other cooling, skin-healing herbs) all summer long. I also like to mix fresh rose infusion with Castille soap for a lovely, cooling and beautifully scented shampoo.
All these plants go into teas and infusions, tinctures and glycerites, are dried and powdered and put into capsules, infused in a variety of oils and used as salve and ointment. All of them are easy to grow, although working with them over the past several years I have learned to move them around, water more or less, harvest at specific times, plant some together and others not so close…it takes time, effort and careful notekeeping to build the Apothecary garden. I am hoping to hear from students – currently very excited! about their own adventures, experiments, successes and failures(that always teach) as the year goes on…and build my own garden as well.
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) a plant I only started using a few years back, but now rely on with both feline asthma and as part of any calming, relaxing formula where there is tension in the animals throat and chest.
I get many of my seeds from Horizon Herbs- a fantastic resource: https://www.horizonherbs.com/
Richter’s has seeds and information galore: http://www.richters.com/show.cgi?page=MagazineRack/Articles/GrowingHerbsIndoors.html
Information on starting seeds: http://www.herbsociety.org/resources/t4k/starting-herbs-from-seeds.html
More information: http://www.herb-gardening-help.com/growing-herbs-from-seeds/
Can’t forget MountainRose Herbs – a nice selection of organic seeds, and so much else as well: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/
Now get growing!