From folk medicine to scientific studies – herbs have come a long way
Historically, the use of herbal medicines can be traced back to our ancient ancestors. As soon as humans were able to pass on their knowledge in writing, they began to create clay tablets, scrolls, drawings and other documents about the use of plants, including descriptions and recipes. In the Classical Period of Greek philosophy (around 500 B.C.), the use and handling of herbs and medicinal plants began to develop into a kind of theory, with a rudimentary, pre-scientific character. Works by Hippocrates, Galen of Pergamon and Hildegard of Bingen are cited in the literature even today. Well-known names like Dr Wilhelm Heinrich Schüßler or Sebastian Kneipp likewise show the desire of Europe’s population for natural, herbal medicines in the 19th century. Demand rose in research into medicinal plants, because as scientific knowledge expanded, so too did medicinal knowledge, which began to require proof of the medicinal effects of herbal infusions and phytomedicine. After experience over many thousands of years, the transition from the obscure, magical effects of herbs to the scientifically proven, biochemically verifiable processes of herbal medicine has been achieved but is far from complete.
Horses and herbs – a (pre)historical overview
The horse’s evolution over geological periods has been well researched and documented. 55 million years ago, the ancestors of today’s modern horse fed exclusively on fruits and leaves. It was millions of years later that grass became their main source of nutrition and the steppes a common settlement area. An equid’s instinctive feeding on fruits and herbs thus shows a long genetic origin. Since our animals usually don’t have free access to fresh growing herbs, and since horses are often imported to other climate zones with different vegetation, it is the responsibility of horse owners to care for their horses accordingly.
The history of herbal medicine includes documentation and recipes of herbs fed specifically to animals (primarily farm animals such as horses, cattle and sheep). These records were compiled and published in the 17th and 18th centuries as distinct remedies for the treatment of animals. The emergence of universities of veterinary medicine brought an expansion of access to phytomedicine and scientific research into traditional formulations and experiences (passed down from tradition and lore). The treatment of animals with medicinal herbs is a broad field and, used along with conventional medicine, has great potential for application in veterinary practices.
What works for my horse?
The use of herbs as feed supplements serves to promote animal health and improvement to performance. The book Heilpflanzenkunde für die Veterinärpraxis (Herbal medicine for the veterinary practice) lists the following benefits:
- stimulation and promotion of the body's own natural and physiological functions and self-healing powers (example: metabolism, intestinal function, immune system);
- inhibition/reduction of pathogenic germs (example: dermatophytes, pathological intestinal bacteria);
- promotion of health against harmful and illness-inducing substances in the air we breathe, in water or in feed (example: promotion of liver function and respiratory tract);
- antioxidant and radical scavenger activity to regulate destructive processes (example: ageing processes, consequences of inflammatory processes).
In general, it should be mentioned that the distinct feature of herbal medicinal products is their combination of active ingredients with indifferent substances (such as dietary fibre or concomitant substances) which together enable more efficient absorption and conversion of the active ingredients in the body. These substances are not found evenly distributed in the plants, but are concentrated either in the leaves, fruits, seeds or roots. The degree of effectiveness of plants fluctuates with their seasonal growth, harvest time, storage, etc., which can be kept moderately stable by controlled planting, harvesting and storage. For this reason, Ewalia uses herbs and other ingredients exclusively in pharmaceutically proven quality.
Which groups of active substances are contained in herbs?
are also known as "healing poisons" because of their strong effect. Alkaloids are not suitable as main active ingredients in therapeutic infusions (like belladonna), but they are used as secondary active ingredients in the pharmaceutical industry.
refer less to the taste of a plant, but more to the action directly associated with it. They are divided into three groups.
Pure bitter substances (Amara tonica):
These stimulate the secretion of gastric juices and also have a toning (strengthening) effect. Bitter substances help to fight loss of appetite and to promote digestion. They are also often administered to patients who are convalescing or in weak condition. Examples: gentian, walnut leaves, yarrow
Aromatic bitter substances, Amara aromatica:
These contain both bitter substances and essential oils, thus providing additional effects (see Essential oils) by acting not only on the stomach, but by extending their effect into the intestines (carminatives) and also influencing kidney and bile function. Essential oils have antiseptic, antimicrobial and antiparasitic properties. Example: yarrow
Pungent bitter substances, Amara acria:
Bitter compounds combined with pungent substances are more likely to be found among non-native medicinal plants, such as ginger. They improve circulatory function, which is significantly influenced by digestion.
are plant-based ingredients that are highly volatile but hardly or not at all soluble in water. They usually have a strong smell when concentrated in the plants, like peppermint. In plants they are mainly deposited in so-called "oil containers” – the oil cells, ducts and glandular hairs – and often comprise over 100 individual active ingredients. Essential oils have been observed to have anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diuretic, spasmolytic (antispasmodic) and toning (strengthening) effects on the stomach, intestines, gallbladder and liver. They combat bacteria and fermenters – and presumably also viruses, but do not kill them.
are always part of the overall effect of a medicinal plant, therefore they cannot be ascribed a direct, individual effect. Flavones have different chemical and physical properties, but do share some characteristic effects: they support abnormal capillary fragility, certain cardiovascular disorders and spasms in the digestive tract.
pharmaceutically speaking, are ingredients that are able to bind proteins of the skin and mucous membrane and convert them into resistant, insoluble substances. They remove the breeding area for bacteria that have settled on injured skin and mucous membranes. Tanning agents are generally recommended and used for external application. Example: oak bark, bilberries
have such a wide range of effects and diversity that it is not possible to summarise them. Some flavonoids and bitter substances are often also glycosides. Glycosides have the following in common: they can be split by hydrolysis (splitting under water absorption) into a sugar and a non-sugar (aglycone), the latter largely determining the effect of the medicinal plant.
is primarily found in plants from the Equisetaceae, Boraginaceae and Poaceae families. They absorb silicic acid from the soil and store them in their cell membrane or cell substance. Silicic acid is an important component of the organism, especially of the connective tissue, skin, hair and hooves and is therefore used specifically for ailments.
are plant-based glycosides which, together with water, produce a durable foam, emulsify oil in water and have haemolytic effects, i.e. they allow the blood pigment to escape from the red blood cells. The saponins’ surface activity causes the viscous mucus in the bronchi to liquefy, making it easier to cough up. They also have aquaretic effects and can, for example, flush out oedemas. Saponins also increase the absorption of herbal active ingredients.
Mucilage in the botanical-pharmacological sense refers to carbohydrate-containing substances that expand strongly in water and yield a viscous fluid. These mucilaginous drugs are only present in large quantities in a few plants (e.g. in marsh-mallow). Mucilaginous substances combined with other active substances reduce irritation, form a fine protective layer around the mucus membranes and have slight purgative effects because they loosen stools, absorb water and swell. They also slightly reduce any sour taste in herbs or herbal blends.
Vitamins, minerals and trace elements
These essential nutrients are necessary for the organism to build up structural substances (connective tissue, bones, teeth) and cell structures. They supply building blocks for bodily enzymes and hormones, activate metabolic processes and influence organ functions and water balance. Minerals, trace elements and vitamins are water-soluble and therefore often used for healing purposes. Rose hips and sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), for example, are the main suppliers of a variety of vitamins and trace elements.
Why use herbal extracts and not just dried herbs?
The innovative dosage form of pure herbal blends in liquid form without additives was developed with veterinary surgeons and equine therapists. The abundant customer testimonials confirming the positive effects of herbal liquids are easily explained.
With standard commercial blends of dried herbs, the herbs are only broken down into their components during the temporally limited digestion process. This leads to a loss of essential active substances. In contrast, the soluble ingredients of EWALIA Natur pur herbal liquids are absorbed directly and can provide immediate effect, exploiting the herbs’ effectiveness.
What’s special about EWALIA Herbal Liquids?
- Unique formulas and balanced herbal blends developed by a team of experts with outstanding feedback from our customers
- All natural – NO added sugar or chemical additives or preservatives
- Pharmaceutically proven quality of herbs and their active substances
- Gentle production adapted to each herbal blend
- High bioavailability through liquid dosage form
Author: Bianca Becker-Slovacek, 10 December 2018
- Blaschek, W. (2016). Wichtl - Teedrogen und Phytopharmaka. Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft.
- Pahlow, M. (2013). Das große Buch der Heilpflanzen. Hamburg: Nikol Verlag.
- Reichling, J., Gachnian-Mirtscheva, R., Frater-Schröder, M., Di Carlo, A., & Widmaier, W. (2008). Heilpflanzenkunde für die Veterinärpraxis. Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer Medizin Verlag.