Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Wisdom of Sage

Since giving birth to Cassander, Shekhinah has followed in her mother's hoof prints (Tahoe, was my first horse as well as a rescue) and failed to stop producing milk after Cassander was weaned. Honestly, I never thought much of it since Tahoe had the same issue and I have known several other mares over the years who had the same condition. Then Shekhinah got mastitis and after that I realized that this is a problem and started looking into herbal solutions. It was suggested to me to try Sage for Shekhinah.

We didn't have the money in the budget at the time to purchase the herb, but we did have this one little Sage plant in the yard that appeared to have seen better days. As I have mentioned before, I am not much of a gardener, but I was willing to try anything to help Shekhinah. Every day I would go out with a grateful heart and trim a little off the plant to add to Shekhinah's supplements. Sage has always been a favorite of mine and I would breathe in the way it smelled and wish that I was a better tender of plants so that I could help this Sage be healthier. While harvesting what I needed for Kinah, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of dead and unhealthy parts to the plant and I thought, well it probably doesn't need that, so I cut those off.

I was deeply concerned at first that by taking from the plant it would struggle more and possibly even die, so I was very careful where I cut and how much. Sometimes I would stop for a few weeks to give it time to grow. And grow it did. That was the wonderful thing about this Sage plant, the more I trimmed off the dead and tended to it, the better it did. I felt the healing energy of the Sage in all I did with it. Not being a gardener, I loved that I could make something grow and become healthy. I babied it. I talked to it. I thanked it. I appreciated and loved it.

In return, Sage taught me that sometimes even though something has been a part of us for a very long time it isn't helping us grow. Sage taught me that to grow and be healthy sometimes the best thing to do is cutting something out of our lives, and by attending to all aspects and parts of ourselves we can cultivate a healthier more alive overall being.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Proactive verses Reactive

I find one of the more difficult things for people, when learning to integrate herbal healing and health into their lives and the lives of their animal companions, is the change needed to one's mindset. Western medicine is based on the idea that we react to what is happening to our bodies. When our head hurts, we choose from a number of pills on the market designed to alleviate pain. When our stomach is upset, once again we choose from numerous products that can be taken to soothe heartburn, indigestion, or a variety of less than pleasant dietary upsets.

A more Eastern or holistic approach would be to look at the problem as a symptom, clue or small piece to a larger health paradigm. What type of headache is it? For example, is the pain dull or stabbing, general or localized? Diet plays an important role in most health conditions, so when people come to me for nutritional consults for their animals the first place I look is diet.

The reason holistic medicine is often referred to as "complimentary medicine" in modern society is that it tends to work over a long term integrative period. While there are many things that can provide immediate relief it is not the same as taking a pill. Frequently, when something is out of balance in a system, a critical key to success of any treatment is identification and changing that which is causing the disharmony in the first place. This requires most of us to take far greater responsibility for our lives, health and the health of our animals then most of us are accustomed to doing.

Long term change takes time and commitment. One of our goals with our Herbal Classes is to find ways to help, teach and support people in this process. Once people are able to get past what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming and impossible amount of information, understanding the needs of our bodies and those of our animals can stop being frustrating and start being fun. The geeky inner mad scientist in me loves discovering and researching new herbs and then going about trying them on myself or the horses to see if I have found better and more effective means of health enhancements. I love having a journal and documenting the changes I find and tracking the data. Perhaps because I am terrible at crosswords puzzles and these are puzzles I can solve that I find them a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend my time. Herbs are powerful and can have extreme side effects, so make certain that if you choose to experiment with them, that you do so from an educated and responsible place.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Animals as Herbalists

I have been extremely fortunate lately to have the opportunity to connect with a number of excellent Herbalists, (just one of the many good things that have been made possible from our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs), but for most of my previous herbal education I found some of the most influential teachers to be the animals themselves.

My first introduction to herbs for horses was from my first horse Tahoe. She had an affinity for Dandelions and Red Clover and whenever I would hand graze her she had this knack for locating them both. I remember asking my trainer at the time about it and she said it should be fine, but not to let her have too much clover because it can make them sick. There was nothing about what Dandelions or Red Clover could do to enhance Tahoe's health or why this horse might be craving them and seeking them out. I frequently feel as though I should apologize every day to Tahoe for my ignorance and Thank her for her patience. It is amazing to me that even though she died in 1997 the lessons she tried to teach me still affect me today, both in herbs and in working with other horses.

When we open ourselves up to guidance I feel that it shows up sometimes in unexpected places so we have to keep our eyes and our awareness open. My most recent guide to herbal medicine has come in a feathery form. Our neighbors have peafowl and for reasons I can't quite figure out, I adore them. This young male in particular has started hanging around every time I am making the horses supplements. It started out with him coming up to the doorway and watching me, but I have noticed this Fall he is doing a lot more than watching. He tips his head, clucking slightly and shakes his top notch. I began to offer him Borage, which now he will take right from my hand. I was concerned initially with just how much of the fresh Borage he ate, but I reminded myself that he probably knows what he is doing. This behavior I have seen in the horses and dogs as well. They will gobble up a bunch of an herb fresh, sometimes for several days in a row and then not want it at all for awhile. I know it frustrates the volunteers and people I try and help with herbal formulas because they always want ratios and timelines and more structure then I can provide. Herbs are personal and individual and we have to listen to those little voices and pay attention for them to be the most effective. Or, if all else fails, take advice from a peacock.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tumors and Turmeric

With the start of our recent Capital Campaign we have the opportunity to raise awareness as well as funding. Some people have followed us for years, but hopefully there are a lot of new faces who are not aware of our success with healing horses with cancer. For so many of us cancer is this dark shadow we live in fear of. We are like the Native Americans who have no reference for Columbus's ships and therefore can't see them on the horizon, but notice the disturbance in the water on the shore. I have had people tell me it's not possible to cure cancer or as my Dad says "Prove it." Now you see it, now you don't isn't exactly the response people want. We have horses that had cancer when they came to us and now they don't. In the past we have been too busy trying to save them to really document what we do, let alone share our results and treatments via blog and Facebook posts. We hope to be able change all of that with the support of our fans and their generous donations. We will start by sharing some of Nehalem's story.

If you aren't familiar with our mare Nehalem who suffers from Equine Lymphoma, please refer to our previous post regarding the disease. One of the main herbs we use in treating Nehalem's cancer is Turmeric.  Friends tease me that I am so passionate about Turmeric that if it were a man I would be married to it. In my defense, if I had a man who did as much as Turmeric, I would marry him. Turmeric is the one herb I rarely rotate off of. It does everything and it does it well. Liver, digestion, helps clean the blood, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmotic, anti-tumor, anti-fungal, anti-arthritic, anti-mircorbial and much more. Turmeric does not like abnormal tissue growth which is great for all kinds of obvious reasons, but the one that surprised me was it removes proud flesh (a form of scar tissue) on horses.

In addition to the Lymphoma, Nehalem has a sarcoid the about the size of a fist on her underside almost directly in front of her teats. We find sarcoids to be more common on horses with immune compromised issues and have used Turmeric successfully in treating other horses with them (including Konah). The sarcoid is currently about a quarter of the size it was and over the last year with us being able to keep Nehalem on her Turmeric fairly consistently we have had the opportunity to watch it change and peel off. It is currently going through a shedding cycle and we are hopeful that this may be it's last and that it fall off and be gone for good.

I do often say that if you can only afford one herb for your horse most of the time that herb should be Turmeric. My disclaimer being that if you fail to treat the system as a whole and try to make Turmeric take care of every need you have without helping him to do his job, you will not find the same result we have experienced here at 3TF. Most of us at one point or another have had a boss or co-worker who made our job much harder than it needed to be. That's what's like for Turmeric when you don't support the whole system.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fall Favorite

One of the things we talk a great deal about with our Herb Walks is that to be really effective when using herbs it requires us to think differently. With so many horses depending on us for their well-being and money not always being available I will frequently re-research the herbs around the property that we have on hand. One of my favorite new combinations came about almost by accident.

I tend to be a bit like a fickle teenager when it comes to herbs. I get crushes on herbs and become completely infatuated with a new one and then for months everything is all about how amazing this herb is and I want to know everything there is to know about this herb because he is just so great! Then a few months later a new boy band appears on the scene and I'm off again into an equally dreaming state. Luckily, my room for herbal knowledge is great and even though my heart suddenly belongs to another I still remember my Spring (or Summer or Fall or Winter) crush.

Borage was my new Spring heart throb this year. I was looking for an herb that I could use in rotation with nettle to meet the horses needs for vitamins and although borage didn't really fit the bill for that I was excited by some of the other things he could do. We had an issue with several of the horses having spring coughs and borage seemed to be more than up for the task of lending assistance in that area. Borage can be a tad on the prickly side, although nothing like another favorite of mine nettle, he is a beautiful plant. I do not consider myself a gardener, as much as I am a gardener groupie. I have some friends who are amazing gardeners that I hang around and listen to and admire (and drool) over their creations. So the fact that I could grow amazing and beautiful borage plants in our garden deepened my love for borage by no small measure.

When feeding borage to the horses I cut it up with scissors immediately after harvesting it from the garden, as it doesn't tend to stay fresh for long. The horses have never seemed to mind the prickles, but I do try to get the younger, more tender looking, leaves or flowers. I notice especially when feeding fresh herbs the horses tend to pick what they want and leave the rest. The fresh cut borage smelled amazing. As the summer wore on I noticed the horses showing less of an interest and their coughs went away, so I stopped feeding it. By late summer, though borage had practically taken over the garden. I didn't want to see it go to waste so I decided to start feeding it again. It was around this same time that someone sent me an article about the benefits of using rosemary for coughs. Our Poppy pony has struggled ever since getting really sick a couple winters ago with a dry chronic cough. Even with the horses and dogs I still think the way herbs smell and taste together should play an important role in choosing what to give. Fresh borage and rosemary smell amazing together and make the most remarkable looking salad. I am tempted to wash it up and have it with a side dish for dinner. It has become all the horses' favorite Fall herbal combination.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why 3TF Chooses Herbs

I get asked all the time about how and why I got involved in using herbs for horses. Right after college I was lucky enough to work for two different alternative veterinarians who introduced me to a different way of thinking about horse health care. One vet specialized in Acupuncture and Chiropractics and the other was trained in Homeopathy. I think that through my experiences with these women the door was opened to all kinds of possibility. Although I spent some time studying Chinese medicine and was first introduced to herbal healing through Chinese medicine I wanted to connect more with what was going on in my own backyard, so to speak. I love the forest of the Pacific Northwest and it seems I can never live anywhere for very long without feeling the pull to come home, so about ten years ago I started studying and experimenting with more local herbs and how they might enhance 3TF horses' health and performance.

With the economic decline I was forced to get more creative about meeting the health needs of 3TF's horses and I turned more and more to herbs for filling those requirements. I noticed that the more I looked the more I was able to find ways to help our horses by the plants I was finding around our Creswell location. For a few dollars in seeds as well as receiving donations from friends with abundant gardens we were able to significantly expand what we are able to produce here at home. We not only continue to invest in our own gardens as funding allows, but we have an abundance of several herbs and have been able to help others do the same do the same by sharing that which we have extra of. Live plants as well as seeds are always available for people attending our Herb Walks.

Our Herb Walks were born out of a desire to share and support others in similar difficult economic circumstances as well as being able to share the passion and excitement that comes with re-connecting with our natural environment. It is impossible to be connected to our environment and actively harming it at the same time. I can't begin to tell you how much more satisfying it is to go into the garden and harvest leaves from the plants we have, or take the dogs for a quick hike in the woods to grab some of what I need. Using herbs I feel also better connects me to my horses, because when I am with them I am checking for subtler things. Does Poppy's coughing sound dry and unproductive? Do her eyes appear to have excesses mucus? What's her energy level like? If it all sounds too much or too hard don't worry, once you start to get the hang of it, it becomes a rewarding challenge. It always reminds me a bit of my favorite childhood game Clue.

Our Herb Walks are designed to support people on their herbal journey. As we wrap up our 2012 Herb Walks we already have our sights set on even more wonderful and empowering herbal classes for people. We couldn't have done it without all the help from our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs who have made these Herb Walks possible for a number of disadvantaged youth and people working in equine rescue and we look forward to bringing herbs into many more people's lives in 2013.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Lemon Balm

One of the difficult things for us about Fall is we seem to find ourselves looking at all the things still left to do. There is a kind of denial that happens as the nights grow colder, but for me what really drove the point home was when the Lemon Balm started to turn. It is with a heavy heart that I cut the last of it by the fistfuls for the ponies at feeding time, knowing that we will not see each other again in this way until the spring. Luckily, if I miss Lemon Balm too much I can still find a high quality, organic source of it through our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Lemon Balm was the Prom Queen of herbs for the 2012 Herb Walks. One of the things we try to teach people with our Herb Walks is how to open up to their natural intuition and find the herb that most speaks to them. This is a long forgotten skill for most of us and one of the things I deeply appreciate about working with animals and herbs is animals tend to still be fairly in touch with this intuitive side of themselves. I notice with animals, as with people, the closer we are to our natural environment and way of being the more this intuition expands. I have noticed over the years the longer the 3TF horses and ponies are on herbal supplements, the clearer they become about what their needs are making it easier for me to choose their herbal formulas.

One of the things we use Lemon Balm for is to help with horses and ponies who have thyroid problems. Many horse owners have experienced either first hand or through a friend's struggle with a horse that seems to gain weight on air. Problems with the thyroid are often related to problems with metabolic function. Lemon Balm is an excellent choice to try for horses who tend to have problems with excessive weight as it is a nice gentle herb that tends to blend easily with other herbs. With it's refreshing smell and taste there is just something about Lemon Balm that feels like summer. One of my favorite ways to let our horses and ponies choose their dose is to cut it up in the water trough.

Lemon Balm is also good for spasmodic colic and is considered a good choice for treating depression. Anyone who has smelled Lemon Balm can attest to it's uplifting quality. Like most herbs it is not a suitable choice for those who are pregnant and I would encourage and assume anyone who is pregnant to consult a professional before adding any supplements, herbal or otherwise to their diet.