In herbal medicine plants that help wounds to heal are known as ‘vulneraries’. Vulnerary comes from the Latin vulnus meaning ‘wound’. Our companion animals often get small cuts and scrapes, and vulnerary herbs can be used as first-aid and to help support the natural healing process.
Well known vulnerary herbs include Aloe, Bulbine, Chamomile, Lavender and Sour Fig. These herbs can all be grown in the garden and used when required to help an animal’s skin to heal. Some herbs can be used just as they are, while others can be transformed into a variety of useful preparations.
Herbs to Support Skin Healing
Aloe (Aloe spp.) – Although Aloe vera is perhaps the best known, other aloe species are also beneficial to the skin, like our indigenous krantz aloe(Aloe arborescens) for example. Cut off a leaf and apply the inner juice or gel directly on to the wound. Aloe leaf gel is cooling, soothing and moistening and useful to help ease inflamed or itchy wounds.
Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens) – Bulbine is another indigenous herb with a leaf sap that has wound-healing properties. To use Bulbine, break off a leaf and squeeze out the slimy leaf gel. Like Aloe, Bulbine has cooling, soothing and moistening properties. Bulbine gel dries to leave a flexible, protective layer over the wound that helps prevent infection and keeps the wound from drying out.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Chamomile flowers are known for their soothing properties on the skin. A tea made from Chamomile flowers can be used as a wash to help sooth an irritated or itchy skin. Chamomile is also calming to the mind, a useful property in anxious or irritated animals.
Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) – Great smelling Lavender leaves and flowers can be made into a tea and make a useful wound wash. Rich in essential oils, Lavender is useful as a rinse to clean wounds, help reduce infection and promote skin healing. Lavender also has a slight analgesic effect, helping reduce any associated pain or discomfort. Like Chamomile, Lavender is relaxing and can help calm anxious or nervous animal.
Sour Fig (Carpobrotus edulis) – Sour fig is another indigenous herb and an ideal wound wash. The succulent leaves of the Sour Fig contain a tannin-rich juice that is astringent. Astringent herbs bind proteins on the surface of the wound, helping to stop minor bleeds and prevent a wound weeping excessively. Pick a leaf and squeeze out the juice directly onto the wound for best effect.
First-aid from your Herb Garden
Small wounds or cuts should first be cleaned and disinfected. All the herbs mentioned above can be used, but a tea made from chamomile or lavender are perhaps most useful here. When cool, use the herbal tea as a wash or spray to flush out any dirt and reduce infection. Sour Fig juice can also be used in the initial phase and will help to stop any excessive weeping or minor bleeding. Rinse the wound frequently until you are happy it is clean. Once the wound is clean and any weeping has stopped, use herbs like Aloe or Bulbine to protect the wound and promote healing. These herbs can be applied as often as required to maintain a healthy, protective barrier on the wound as it heals.
When to See a Vet
To be safe, have your vet check on any wound that is not superficial. A deep cut or laceration may need to be sutured, and some wounds may require the badly infected or dead tissues to be removed surgically (debridement) to improve healing. Bite wounds are notoriously risky. The puncture wound may look minor on the surface but serious damage can occur below the surface. Bacteria can be carried deep into the tissues with serious consequences if the resulting infection is trapped or spreads. Depending on the site of the bite vital organs can also be damaged.
Words of Wisdom
Remember that healing is optimal in animals that are happy and healthy. Don’t forget to pay attention to your animal friend’s nutrition, lifestyle, environment and relationships to ensure they heal well.