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Posts Tagged ‘herbs for dogs’

The world of natural and alternative health can be complicated. We, as a people, have forgotten so much about the benefits of using the plants around us to heal our bodies. Not only that, but we have forgotten how to use them. Salves, tinctures, extracts, essential oils, teas, syrups, glycerites…what’s the difference? Well, there is quite a bit of difference, actually, but today we are going to talk about a relatively new form of herbal medicine.

Hydrosols.

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White pine hydrosol

Haven’t heard of them? Don’t know what to do with them? Then, read on, my friend!

First, though, let me tell you what a hydrosol is NOT.

Hydrosols are not floral water, which is simply the process of infusing water with flowers by letting them sit over a period of time to absorb the essence of the flowers. Floral waters have their own limited range of healing properties, but they are not the same as a hydrosol

Hydrosols are not water with essential oil added to them, which can be dangerous when ingested.

True hydrosols are created using a steam distillation process to extract the beneficial properties of the herbs that cannot be obtained any other method. This is the same process used to obtain the essential oils from plants, but renders a completely different finished product. Instead of writing out the entire process, let me direct you to this website, HydrosolWorld, that has a wonderful explanation of the whole process.

To simplify for those of you who don’t want to read all the details, here’s a breakdown:

  • Hydrosols are the perfect balance between herbal teas and essential oils. They are safe to use internally and externally, unlike essential oils which should NEVER be used internally. Because they contain many of the same elements as the essential oils, they offer a wider range of benefits than a simple herbal tea.
  • Unlike herbal teas, hydrosols have a long shelf life. Depending on the herb, the shelf life can range anywhere from 6 months to several years, so they are much easier to keep on hand for a quick-fix when you don’t have the time or energy to whip up a batch of tea.
  • Hydrosols can be used topically for instant relief from many issues.
  • Hydrosols can be used safely on most animals and children
  • Hydrosols can be used to replace the water portion of your skincare recipes in things like soaps and lotions.
  • Hydrosols can be added to your cleaning routine to add a gentle fragrance, or to kill bacteria and viruses.

So, why aren’t you hearing more about hydrosols? Because they have only recently been studied for their medicinal benefits. In the past, hydrosols have been nothing more than the byproduct of essential oil making, rather then the main goal of the distillation process. The remaining water (hydrosol) was simply pitched out as being useless. It was a bit surprising to many when they realized that hydrosols were actually quite potent and effective in their own right. The multitude of benefits they provide is still being studied and experimented with, as is the range of plants that produce the best hydrosols.

Of course, being the enterprising soul that I am, I had to jump on the bandwagon.

The first step was obtaining a distiller. Thanks to a wonderful friend and business associate, I finally got my distiller. I admit, I was a bit scared of the whole process at first. It seemed so technical and science-y. What if I screwed it up?

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My beautiful distiller!

Turns out, it wasn’t so scary or difficult after all. Now, I am a bit addicted to creating new hydrosols. I am distilling all of my favorite herbs….red clover, wild plum blossoms, yarrow, elder flowers, spearmint, white pine….and I have so many more on my list. If only there was more time in a day!

Now, I have a refrigerator full of fabulous hydrosols and I have been experimenting like crazy! The time has finally arrived to share them with you all.

Choosing where to start with hydrosols is the first step to forming a glorious addiction. My next few posts will cover the hydrosols that I personally have created and worked with. I will give a detailed list of all the things each of them is good for, how to use them, when not to use them, and which ones are good to keep on hand for emergencies.

Let’s start with one of my personal favorites, elder flower hydrosol.

The hydrosol has a mildly green, floral fragrance that blends well with many essential oils, making it perfect for creating spritzers, room and fabric deodorizers, and surface cleansers that provide antibacterial and anti-viral action.

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Elder flowers in bloom

Most people are familiar with the healing power of elderberries. High levels of Vitamin C make it a must-have for cold and flu season, but there is much more to the elder plant than just the berries. Elder is known as the medicine chest of the country folk’ because of the many health-enhancing benefits it contains. Besides being a potent antibacterial and antiviral, elder flowers are also antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, diuretic, styptic, analgesic, and a mild laxative. These qualities make it useful for a variety of issues, including:

  • Kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • To fight colds and flu
  • Sinus infections
  • Soothes respiratory disturbances by dispelling mucous and congestion
  • Boost function of the immune system
  • Applied topically, helps reduce pain and swelling in joints due to arthritis
  • Stops bleeding
  • As an oral rinse for dental issues and toothaches
  • Soothes the symptoms of allergies
  • Regulates blood glucose levels
  • Soothes inflammation of the eyes
  • Circulatory stimulant
  • Encourages perspiration
  • Treats viral infections like measles, chicken pox, shingles, and Epstein Barr.
  • Purifies the blood
  • Cleanses the lymphatic system of toxins and debris
  • A natural diuretic useful for eliminating water retention, bloating, gout, and edema
  • Beneficial for liver disorders
  • Heals urinary tract infections
  • Eases headaches
  • Applied topically, it helps heal cuts, wounds, and burns
  • Helps fade blemishes and age spots

When using it internally, we take 1-2 teaspoons in a glass of water. It has a pleasant flavor that blends well with fruit juices, too.

Elder flower hydrosol is handy when your pets are in need. A spritz or two on hot spots works wonders to heal the flesh and soothe the itch, and will help soothe anxiety. Adding a spoonful to their water is helpful in many conditions, including kennel cough and other respiratory issues, or to boost the immune system. It also works well for reducing pain and inflammation associated with arthritis in the joints.

For the more spiritual among us, the essence of the elder plant can add an extra bit of power to rituals and ceremonies. They are considered sacred to the angelic realm and Druids, who call it the ‘Tree of Life’, as well as anyone seeking to work with the Fae. It is known as the medicine chest of the country folk’ because of the many health-enhancing benefits it contains.

The Elder plant represents the 13th month as part of the Ogham, the calendar tree of the Celts. This is the month of the Winter Solstice which is a time of transition between light and dark ~ death and rebirth. Elder helps ease the transition between these two periods.

Elder has long been associated with the fairy world, and is considered to be a plant of the faerie land where wood spirits and elves make their home in her roots.

Elder’s spiritual essence is believed to open the psyche, and is associated with the heart chakra, helping to cool anger and ground the spirit.

I’m sure I haven’t covered all of its uses, but this is an excellent starting point.

As always, I must remind you all that, no, I am not a licensed physician, and all of the alphabet government agencies insist that herbal medicine has little or no healing properties, so this could all just be a big old mess of snake oil. I am not qualified to diagnose you, and I most certainly am not allowed to heal you or offer you any ‘medical’ advice. No government agency has approved any of these statements or claims. If you are taking any herbal medicines, you do so at your own risk. You should always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal products, especially if you are currently taking any prescription medications.

If you are feeling brave or rebellious and want to see what all the hype is about when it comes to hydrosols, check out my Etsy store, Tamara’s Herbes, where you can find all of my hydrosols, as well as other natural health and beauty products created to help soothe the body, mind and spirit!

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Wow, talk about questions you never wanna hear from your family and friends!  I guess I should have expected it, though.  And, in all fairness, it is probably a good question to ask around our house.

No…I’m not feeding my family dog food.  Well, not really…ok…kind of…

Let me explain.

I’m sure you figured out by now that I’m kind of a ‘natural’ freak, right?  So, it really shouldn’t be a surprise when you learn that I’ve applied that to my entire life ~ including my dog.  Living 2 miles from a dog food factory doesn’t help.  I gotta tell you, there is nothing more stomach-turning than walking outside on the days they are cooking their food and being greeted by the smell of…well, I don’t really know how to describe it.  Either way, I sure don’t wanna feed that to my dog.

So, what’s the alternative?  For me, it was  raw food diet.  I know the arguments against it.  Really.  I do.  I’ve read and heard them all.  After weighing all the evidence, though, I’m convinced it is the better option.

I’ll admit, I tried it on our cat.  She wanted no part of it.  I tried it on a couple strays that we took in.  They weren’t going for it either.

Then, we got Lucy.

Lucy

She’s adorable, right?  I know!  That was 6 months ago.  Notice, if you will, the sad, soulful eyes…the beautiful red coat…the fat little buddha belly…

The day we picked her up, she was 6 weeks old and living in 20′ x 15′ area with her mom, her dad, two other adult dogs and a two litters of other puppies.  You could smell them from the driveway and we couldn’t get back to her without stepping in multiple, immense piles of dog crap. She was the one on the bottom of the pile of puppies that were all attempting to eat from one metal trash can lid.  She was the smallest and she kept getting shoved aside by the others.  She would whimper and dive back in.  It was sickening and heartbreaking.  And when she spotted us and looked up at us with those big brown eyes, it was all over.

The drive home was a nightmare.  She stunk to high heaven and she must have puked on my car mat 5 times.  My shoe, she got twice.

Then, we got her home and set her down in the yard.  Her first poop revealed a massive amount of worms and her little body just shook on her wobbly legs.

Okay, I know what most of you are thinking.  ‘You took her straight to the vet or you got her some dog wormer, right?’

You do realize that’s like asking if I took my kids to the doctor to get their vaccines updated, don’t you?

Instead, the little light bulb over my head sprang to life.  Here was an animal that just might accept the raw food diet.  Of course, I didn’t have any on hand, nor did I have the stuff necessary to make it.  So, I settled for an all natural dog food until I could make it to the grocery store.  In the mean time, I studied up on the best foods to incorporate, the necessary herbs to get rid of the worms, and the supplements I’d need include to meet all of her needs.

The first few days, we just kept her on the commercial dog food.  Call me lazy, but it was made with ingredients I could accept and she seemed to like it.  The herbs, we started immediately.  We used diatomaceous earth, psyllium, clove, anise, juniper berries, wormwood, turmeric, alfalfa, kelp, pumpkin seeds, parsley, thyme, cayenne and slippery elm.  Within hours, she was eliminating tangles of worms like I can’t even explain.  It was easily one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I should also insert here that, if you have not been trained in the proper usage of herbs, don’t run out and buy these and try mixing them yourself.  If you don’t know the correct proportions and proper dosage, you are going to cause your dog more problems than you are going to fix.

After about a week, she was down to only a couple of worms a day being eliminated and within 2 weeks, the worms seemed to have disappeared completely.  I wiped the sweat from my brow and turned my attention back to the raw food diet.  While the commercial food was alright, I noticed that she was still having belly issues.  Loose stool, terrible gas and constant growling/gurgling sounds in her stomach.  A bit of research revealed that this was a common problem with coonhounds.  Adding rice to their food was the recommended course of action.

It was time.  I gathered my list and headed to the grocery store.  This was my list:

Sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, eggplant, carrots, celery, squash, zuchinni, garlic, peppers (green, red and yellow), apples, grapes, cauliflower, asparagus, oranges, chicken, fish, lamb, brown rice, brown eggs (we only use free-range, grass fed)

The true beauty of my plan was that, with the exception of the kale and mustard greens, these would have been on my list anyway.  The downside, this was gonna cost a bit more than a bag of dog food.  However, it was going to be a lot cheaper than a vet visit and treatment.

When I got home, I set to work preparing my first batch of raw dog food (aka BARF.  Yes, really.  Go ahead…google it!)  I had to take into account a couple of things when starting this process.  1)a  dog’s digestive system doesn’t break down fruits and veggies like a humans.  This means that you need to make the individual pieces as small as possible so the food gets broken down and absorbable before it gets eliminated from the system  2) Dogs need more protein than humans, as well as raw  bones and flesh.  Cooked food is as harmful to animals as it is to humans.  Don’t believe me?  Let me know the next time you see an animal cooking its dinner.

So, I started cutting.  And I kept cutting.  And cutting.  Two hours.  I’m totally not exaggerating.  After two hours, I had a very large bowl of salad ready for my dog.  Almost.

My next task was to cut up a chicken.  I got an antibiotic and steroid free, free range, grass fed chicken, including the internal organs and neck bone for $6.50.  It was thick and tender and raised locally.  Bonus!  I broke the chicken up into pieces and cut the meat into bite-size chunks, then mixed it in with the salad.

Next came the brown rice, garlic and eggs (The entire egg.)  We ground up some sunflower and  pumpkin seeds with the egg shell and added that.   Someone suggested wheat germ oil, aloe vera juice and olive oil.  Since these are common items in our house, we added those.  We poured in some honey and added the herb blend.

Then, we were finished.  I put some in a gallon bucket and stuck it in the fridge.  I filled a couple of gallon freezer bags and stuck them in the freezer.

And, I filled a bowl for Lucy.  She never flinched.  In fact, she inhaled her first bowl and tried to mug us for the rest of it.  She hasn’t stopped eating since then.  My dog will take you down for a bite of your salad.

Now, fortunately for me, this was just a few days before Yule.  Let me tell you how that works around our house.  It’s December 23 and suddenly we all realize that we only have one day of shopping left and we have gotten nobody anything at all.  So, we all take turns trying to sneak off and get the best ever present possible.  It seems to work for us.  Usually.

I’ll admit to this ~ I’m a sucker for a handy kitchen gadget.  It doesn’t matter if I’ll ever use it or not.  It really doesn’t even matter that I don’t truly know what it is for or how to use it.  I still want it.  If you really wanna bring me to my knees, put a new food processor or juicer in front of me.

That’s what my family did for me this Yule.  I got a new food processor, a new blender and a new juicer.  Jackpot!  If you could only imagine what a happy girl I was!

My juicer cut my dog-food making time way down. What took me nearly 3 hours to make the first time, now takes about 30-45 minutes and I have enough food to last her about 2 weeks.   I just throw everything but the meat in the juicer.  It shreds up the fruits and veggies and separates the juice from the pulp.  After I run it all through the blender, I mix it all back together.  This way, the pieces are all super-small, so her system digests them much more efficiently.  She is still getting all of the vitamins and other nutrients her body needs, plus the fiber from all of the shredded plant foods.  I make up larger batches of the herb blend and just add some to the food.  I put in  a bit of distilled water and apple cider vinegar.

The downside, like I mentioned earlier, was the cost.  I’m the first to tell you that, in order to be sure your dog is getting everything they need, it requires a large assortment of foods. If you choose this route, you can expect to spend $20-$25 per week  on food/herbs/other ingredients if you have a small-medium-sized dog.  That’s if you shop carefully.  For medium-large dogs, add an extra $10-$15 to that.

I have found that the extra cost is well worth it.  This is Lucy now.

Lucy 7 months old

As you can see, she’s growing up beautifully.  At just over 7 months old, she is already 24″ tall (at the shoulders) and weighs just over 35 lbs.  Wikipedia states “Males should be 22-27 inches (56-68.5 cm) at the shoulder, with females slightly shorter at 21-26 inches (53–66 cm). Weight should be proportional to the size and bone structure of the individual dogs, with a preference towards leaner working dogs rather than heavier dogs. Generally, weights will range from 45 to 70 lbs (20.5 to 31.75 kg).”

She looks a bit skinny most of the time, but she is by no means malnourished.  She has broken 2 leashes in the last month.  Her newest game is to pull my teenage daughter down the street on her bike.  It is second only to playing ‘follow the nose’.  It is a chore to take her for a walk because her nose tends to lead her astray and before you know it, there you are being drug down the road by this skinny red bag of bones.  Oh, the indignity!  I don’t wear skirts on our walks anymore.

The point of that was, obviously, this is working for us.  I have recently adjusted her herbal supplement blend.  We kept her on the original blend for 6 months to be sure the worms were completely gone.  Now, we’ve taken out some of the original herbs and replace them to  include some herbs that promote bone and joint growth, as we learned that this type of dog is prone to hip and joint dysplasia later in life.

Just for giggles, I guess I should post this, also.  The vitamins and minerals that a dog needs to attain maximum health are these:

Vitamin A, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, D, E, K, Folic acid, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, iodine

Let’s compare that to what Lucy’s diet includes:

Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, E, K, folate, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, sodium, zinc, amino acids, chlorophyll, folic acid, iodine, chlorine.

That’s just in the spinach.  Do I think we should just feed our dog spinach and leave it at that.  If you really think that, please stop reading and back away from your monitor.

You should definitely check out some of the links I’m including.  This is by no means something you should undertake without studying for yourself both sides of the issue.   Learn about the specific needs of your breed of dog.  Learn what their common ailments are later in life.  Seriously consider the cost and effort required.

A last word, then I’ll end this eternally long post.  In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to see this diet work near miracles. A family member owns a Blue Heeler who is 12-13 years old.  She has always enjoyed doing what Blue Heelers do…herd livestock.  Unfortunately, this means she’s taken a few horse-kicks in her time.  She developed severe arthritis that made it difficult for her to get up/down and to move around, which contributed to her becoming overweight.  A tumor developed near her front leg that was about the size of a baseball and her eyes were cloudy with cataracts and red. She was barely able to see and she was almost totally deaf.

She started on this diet and within 2 weeks, she had lost a noticeable amount of weight, she was getting up and down far more easily, the tumor shrank to approximately half the size and her eyes were becoming clearer.  Within a month, her eyes were clear, the tumor was about the size of a golf ball, her hearing was improving, she had lost nearly 10 lbs and she was playing with other dogs.  It was truly an unbelievable thing.  Had I not seen it for myself I wouldn’t have believed it.  Fortunately, the owners kept a video diary and a journal of the experience.

Here’s some great links to check out:

http://workingdogs.com/vcbarf.htm

http://www.njboxers.com/faqs.htm

http://www.seefido.com/html/your_pet_and_barf_diets.htm

One more last thing…you all know I’m not a vet.  I’m not trying to tell you to run out and start your dog on this diet.  I’m not here to debate the topic.  I’ve already made up my mind.  I’m not telling you that most of the common ailments found in dogs will improve, nor am I telling you that your dog may live a longer healthier life.  That would be almost like giving advice and I can’t give you advice on your dog’s health and/or nutrition.  I’m just a simple herbalist.

Okay, I’m shuttin’ up now.

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