Our natural environment is in continuous change, and animals are continuously adapting to the emerging physical, mental and environmental challenges. The ability to adapt to change is natural, and the ability to respond positively to changing circumstances is what defines success in the natural world.
Herbs that can support animals through times of change and challenge, enabling them to remain strong and resilient are referred to as adaptogens.
Important Herbal Adaptogens
The term ‘adaptogen’ originated in Russia in the 1950’s when researchers began exploring the beneficial effects of herbs on workers, soldiers and athletes. Research was initially focused on Siberian ginseng, but since then a growing list of herbs have been found with similar remarkable benefits.
- Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
- Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula)
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
- Pennywort (Centella asiatica)
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
- Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
- Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
- Sutherlandia (Sutherlandia frutescens)
- Withania (Withania somnifera)
In times of challenge, stress, or serious illness herbs with adaptogenic qualities can help promote resistance, normalise function of the body and mind, and optimise healing. Adaptogens are generally very safe herbs and are often used as general tonics to support convalescence and rehabilitation. In older animals, adaptogens typically support vitalty and promote longevity. While in working animals and animal athletes, adaptogens can help enhance performance. In short, adaptogens support an animal’s natural vitality, resilience and ability to adapt.
Uses of Adaptogen Herbs in Animals
- Chronic stress-related illness
- Convalescence and rehabilitation after serious illness or injury
- Age related problems, to promote longevity
- Athletes in training to enhance strength and endurance
- Adjunctive therapy in cancer
Herbal Adaptogens in the Garden
While adaptogens all share the general properties mentioned above, they also each have their own particular qualities. Some adaptogens are relaxing in nature, while others are more stimulating. Some are cooling, while others are more warming. Selecting the best adaptogen for your animal takes these differences in qualities into account. Let’s take a look at a few herbal adaptogens that you should be able to find in a local nursery if you don’t already have them growing in your happy animal garden.
- Pennywort leaves (Centella asiatica) – Pennywort, or gotu kola is a calming, cooling herb, useful to support tissue healing and to ease anxiety or tension. We have seen pennywort in earlier articles on stress relief and wound healing in animals. Pennywort is also an adaptogen and provides tonic support to older animals. In particular, pennywort can help as a cognitive enhancer (improving brain function) in cases of senility, and has a supportive role to play in the treatment of cancer. Pennywort leaves can be picked fresh, chopped and added directly to the food.
- Sutherlandia leaves (Sutherlandia frutescens) – Also known as cancer bush, this attractive indigenous herb has many of the properties of an adaptogen. Sutherlandia is useful for a variety of ailments in animals including wound healing, viral diseases, diabetes, liver disease, arthritis and cancer. Sutherlandia leaves are quite bitter, and may need to be disguised with something tasty when giving to animals. However, the bitter taste is useful when using Sutherlandia to support a healthy digestive function and improving appetite.
- Withania root (Withania somnifera) – Also called winter cherry, ashwagandha or Indian ginseng, Withania is indigenous to South Africa as well as Asia and Southern Europe. In addition to topical applications in wound healing, Withania is useful to improve mobility in arthritic animals, and as a general tonic for frailty in older animals. Withania is a relaxing herb, helping to relieve anxiety while promoting strength and vitality.
These herbs can easily be added to the food. For fresh herbs use 1-2 teaspoons for dogs, and 2-3 tablespoons for horses. When using dried herbs use half this amount.
Words of Wisdom
Helping animals adapt to change and face life’s challenges is best done in a holistic way. Like us, animals can be supported in their vitality with regular exercise, good food, plenty of rest and opportunities for play and socialising with others. Always consult your veterinarian if your animal is on medication, pregnant, lactating or undergoing surgery before using herbs.