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- Ethnoveterinary medicines used for ruminants in British Columbia, Canada

One hundred and twenty-eight plants are used in total. There are 78 plants used for health and diet in ruminants that represent several plant families (Table 1). Fifty-four plants from many plant families are used as food (Table 2). Eleven plants are considered poisonous (Table 3). Eleven plants are used specifically during pregnancy (Table 4). All of the results were discussed at the workshop and included in a practical manual on ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM) in B.C. that was given to each participant. The results are outlined by category below.

Various injuries – abscess

A root decoction of Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium/Mahonia aquifolium) or root decoction of Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is given as the drinking water for seven to ten days. Ruminants are also feed ample amounts of fresh or dried comfrey (Symphytum officinale).

Cuts, scratches

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) infused oil is considered beneficial for the reversal of numerous skin and tissue conditions. It is used only after the threat of infection has passed. It is not used on deep wounds since it is felt that calendula may seal the wound too quickly preventing drainage. It was claimed that olive oil does not work on cows as an ointment since it does not absorb into the skin; lanolin does.

Chewed up leaves of yarrow (Achillea millefolium), are put on wounds and then wrapped with breathable tape. The spore mass of puffball (Bovista pila, Bovista plumbea) is applied to hoof trimming 'nicks' that bleed excessively. It is then wrapped with breathable first-aid tape. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and calendula (Calendula officinalis) are used on injuries only after the threat of infection has passed (see wounds).

Dehorning adult animals

After horns are sawed off, the wound area is cauterized with a hot iron to deaden the pain. Once the initial bandages have been removed (after two days), the cavities are packed with Usnea lichen to enhance the healing process.

Dehorning – disbudding

Disbudding of young kids is done with a hot iron. If the scab left after disbudding is knocked off and excessively bleeds, dried puffball (Bovista pila, B. plumbea) sporemass is applied to the wound which is then bandaged if possible. Clean puffball spores (Bovista pila, B. plumbea) are dusted on wounds left from removing loose scurs (horns) or small horn regrowths.

Proud flesh

Goats are treated for proud flesh with several herbs. Wound-knitting herbs (comfrey – Symphytum officinalis, goldenseal-Hydrastis canadenis or calendula – Calendula officinalis) are not used on fresh wounds since they are thought to close the wound too quickly, before it has healed underneath. Bee propolis is also used as a wound treatment Proud flesh is dealt with by scrubbing until it bleeds twice a day with a stiff scrub brush. Then hydrogen peroxide is applied using a syringe. A purchased product called 'Wonder Dust' antifungal powder is sprinkled on the wound. Once the wound is healed vitamin E, and infused oil or salve of St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) or essential oil of lavender (Lavandula officinalis) is put on the area. Another treatment involves a comfrey poultice (Symphytum officinalis) made with 1 tsp curcumin or fresh grated turmeric and bromelain (crush 1 or 2 purchased pineapple or papaya enzyme tablets for papain).

Sternal abscess

The gleba (sporemass) of Bovista pila or Bovista plumbea is applied to wounds. Alternate applications are made with the salve recorded below or with poultice of yarrow, or a combination of them both is used to draw out the pus. A salve is made with 1/2 cup honey or sugar, 1/2 cup alum, 1 vitamin C pill (or ascorbic acid powder) and 1/2 cup ground Usnea spp. (old man's beard lichen).

Deep wounds, broken horn, shearing cut, wire cut

Wounds are bathed with a slimy tea made of mallow (Malva sp.) (3 tsp mallow aerial parts steeped for 15 minutes with 1 cup of boiling water). Another treatment consists of the infused oil of St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) (2 cups of olive oil and 1 1/2 oz (50 g) Hypericum flowers in a glass jar, stored in the dark for 2 months before straining and using). Another treatment consists of a wad of clean spider web put on the bleeding wound. Cornstarch is sprinkled on the wound to help blood clot.

Another treatment consists of a wash made with an infusion of 2 tsp dried aerial parts of self heal (Prunella vulgaris) steeped in 1 cup of boiling water and allowed to cool. Ample fresh or dried comfrey aerial parts are fed. To boost the immune system and fight infection, Echinacea or Oregon grape teas are given for seven days. These are made with 1/2 cup coarsely cut dried Echinacea or Oregon grape roots simmered in water for 10–15 minutes. One cup of tea is diluted in 1 gallon of water and given as the only drinking water.

Bovista pila or Bovista plumbea puffball gleba (sporemass) is applied to a clean wound to stop bleeding. A chewed leaf of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used as a poultice to staunch bleeding on a superficial wound. Leaves of shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) can be used instead of yarrow.

White line abscess or foot rot

After paring out the rot, a zinc-based or copper-based liquid is put into the pared-out pocket, with old man's beard lichen (Usnea spp.) inserted into cavity to hold the liquid in. If the animal is lame (pus pockets forming) it is treated with penicillin for three to four days. Copper-based liquids are not used for sheep.

Wounds – bruises

Wild arnica (Arnica sp.) leaves or flowers (1 or 2) are rubbed on to bruises or the crushed leaves are bandaged on the wound. Arnica is not used on open wounds. Arnica is only used externally (or as a homeopathic drug). Ointments containing bee propolis and other bee products are used to seal wounds and protect them against flies. Pine tar is used to seal wounds and keep flies out.

Management – Bedding

Big leaf maple leaves (Acer macrophyllum) are used as bedding to ensure that grass seeds do not get into the compost. These leaves are raked up and stored dry in autumn.


The same fly control remedies are used on all ruminants. Bunches of vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla), European rue leaves (Ruta graveolens) or European pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) are hung in stables and the milking room. These are kept out of the animals' reach as some are mildly poisonous. Animals are rubbed with oil that has European pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) soaked in it. This is not used on pregnant animals. Lavender (Lavandula officinalis), cloves (Eugenia caryophyllata) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) essential oils are dissolved in water and used for fly control. Citronella is also used for fly control.

Flystrike (maggot infestation)

All ruminants are treated for flystrike with comfrey salve, if the wound is partially healed or if it is not deep. Pine tar is applied if it is warm weather (corresponding to the fly season).

Caprine arthritis

Turmeric powder (Curcuma longa) (1 tsp to 1 tbsp depending on the animal's weight) is added daily to moist food. Results are seen in two – three weeks. Goats are given cut branches of native willows such as Scoulers willow (Salix scouleriana) or Pacific willow (Salix lucida spp lasiandra).

Pre-show protection

An Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) tincture is given to animals before shows. It consists of 4 ounces of dried Echinacea purpurea or augustifolia root or 1 or 2 fresh Echinacea chopped roots. A jar or glass bottle is half-filled with the chopped fresh or dried root. Vodka, brandy or rum is added until it covers the root completely. This is stored in a dark place for two to eight weeks. It is shaken daily for the first week then weekly for the remaining weeks. Then it is decanted into a tincture bottle. One tsp of Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or augustifolia) tincture per animal in is added to the feed bowl daily for self-medication (immune stimulant) at least six to ten days before the show. A by-product from processed Echinacea can be used instead of a purchased product to reduce costs. Nettles (Urtica dioica) are fed daily for a few weeks before the show.

Pain killer

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) or valerian (Valeriana officinalis) are used as pain killers for goats. One tbsp of chopped valerian root is steeped in 1 cup of hot water for 20 minutes. The pot is covered to retain the essential oils. Or 1 tbsp of chopped catnip herb is put in 1 cup of hot water and steeped for 10 minutes. Or willow twigs (Salix sp.) are given since they contain salicin.

Urine scald

Propolis cream (propolis, beeswax, shea butter), or any barrier salve are used on sheep with urine scald.

Various health issues – CAE (Caprine arthritis encephalitis)

The following treatments are given as palliatives only. Powdered turmeric (Curcuma longa), 1/2 tbsp per day, is mixed into the food. This is said to prolong the life of the animal and add to its comfort. Finely chopped branches of native willow (Salix sp), Scoulers willow (Salix scouleriana) and Pacific willow (Salix lucida spp. lasiandra) are added to the food.

Deformed kids (case history)

A doe had produced kids with front limb deformities two years in a row (from different sires). The owner speculated that the doe had been eating mouldy bits of hay that other goats refused during early pregnancy. Therefore during the subsequent pregnancy, the owner regularly fed the doe turmeric with the result that the doe gave birth to completely normal triplets. The dose was 1/2 tbsp turmeric (Curcuma longa) added daily to the feed three weeks prior to breeding and for at least a full month after breeding to 'detoxify' the system of the doe. The owner repeated the treatment the following year during pregnancy with the same result – normal triplets.

Respiratory conditions

Goats are allowed to browse on mullein (Verbascum thapsus) as a respiratory tonic (self-medication). Several crushed cloves of garlic are given orally as an antibiotic for goats that aren't milking. A strong tea (decoction) of Oregon grape root (Berberis aquifolium/Mahonia aquifolium) or Echinacea root (Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea augustifolia) is given as the only source of drinking water (1/2 cup of coarsely cut dried Oregon grape root or Echinacea root in 2.5 cups of water, simmered for 10 to 15 minutes). One cup of the resulting fluid is diluted with 1 gallon of water and given as the drinking water.

Unidentified sickness

The animal had the following symptoms: low energy, tail down, stressful bleat, separated itself from herd, was hunched, had difficulty lying down (and other symptoms). It was given whole leafy branches of blackberry (Rubus ursinus and laciniatus), grape (Vitis sp.), and willow (Salix sp), free choice.

Urinary stones

Sheep and goats with urinary stones are given 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar twice a day diluted in 1 cup of water, orally.

Diarrhoea, scours

A combination of fresh plantain leaves (Plantago sp.), flower heads of calendula (Calendula officinale), tops of nettles (Urtica dioica) and leaves of comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was given. If blood was seen in the stool, 1/2 tbsp of slippery elm bark powder (Ulmus fulva) was added. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) flower head tea is given to calves with sore stomachs.

Branches of long needle yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa) are put in the pen of young animals (four weeks old, still nursing) with grey pasty diarrhoea. They can then eat it free choice. Animals will self-medicate with aerial parts of fresh cinquefoil (Potentilla sp). An alternative treatment consists of a drench made with 1 part or 1 tsp marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), 1/2 part dill seed (Anethum graveolens), 1 part bark of white willow (Salix sp) and 1 part inner stem bark of slippery elm (Ulmus fulva). If not already powdered it is ground and mixed with water before drenching. A pinch of cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylandica) and a pinch of ginger (Zingiber officinalis) can be added. If there is blood in the feces then 1/4 part cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) is added to control coccidia. A dose of 2 tbsp is used for animals over 50 lbs. A dose of 1 tbsp is used for animals under 50 lbs. The drench is given once a day until the diarrhoea stops (two to three days). Goats are allowed to self-medicate with the charcoal from a cold wood fire. Animals are starved for one day, then purged with a senna pod infusion (Senna sp.). Afterwards they are drenched with slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) powder to soothe the stomach.

Eye problems (Conjunctivitis)

Infected eyes of cows are treated with eyebright tea (Euphrasia officinalis) which is applied several times by soaking gauze and dropping the tea onto the eyes. Alternatively a tea made with a chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) tea bag is allowed to cool, then the teabag is dipped back in the tea and a few drops of tea are dropped into the eye of the animal.

Parasites – Internal parasites (endoparasites)

The following are blended together: 5 leaves of wormwood (Artemisia sp.), a handful of sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus), a couple of fresh minced or crushed garlic cloves (Allium sativum), left-over onion and skins and honey to sweeten. The mixture is fed once a week as a preventative. Dried ground nettles seeds added to feed (Urtica sp.) are given free choice. Limited results are seen from 3–4 fresh minced cloves of garlic and tops added to the feed.

Conifers fed free choice are said to prevent worms. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), red cedar (Thuja plicata) and juniper (Juniperus communis) are given. Common juniper berries (Juniperus communis) are said to be effective against liver fluke. Alternatively each goat gets 1/2 tsp wormwood (Artemisia sp.) in its feed. This treatment comes from an owner who uses wormwood (Artemisia sp.) infrequently and whose goats do not like it. Branches of the following are fed in winter time: cedar (Thuja plicata), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus). Alternatively goats are given 2 drops of tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) on the tongue at milking time. This does not cause an off-taste in the milk. Goats are allowed to self medicate on long needle yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa). Animals are fed armfuls of carrot (Daucus carota), celery (Apium graveolens), parsley (Petroselinum sp.) or parsnip tops (Pastinaca sativa).


Feeding ample amounts of branches of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is said to prevent coccidia.

External parasites – Lice

Bark shavings of cedar (Thuja plicata) are put in the bedding. Powdered neem (Azadirachta indica) is brushed into the coat. Neem is used less often than clipping. Alternatively the infused oil of pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is rubbed onto the top of the head and the spine of the goat – it is brushed well into the coat.

Dairy issues – Mastitis

Goats and sheep with mastitis are given one-third cup of apple cider vinegar diluted in water twice a day. A tea of yarrow (Achillea millefolium), honey, sea salt, burdock root (Arctium sp.) and white willow bark (Salix sp.) is given. It is made with 1/3 cup of yarrow (whole chopped plant with flowers), 1/3 cup chopped burdock root and 1/3 cup chopped white willow bark. Three cups of boiling water are poured over the herbs and steeped for 15 – 20 minutes. Sea salt and honey is added. When cool, the herbs are applied as a poultice, or a cotton cloth is dipped in the warm infusion and put around the udder until the poultice cools.


Cows with mastitis have apple cider vinegar (1/2 cup) added to the grain and fed twice a day. Cows are treated only if they show susceptibility. Woodsage (Teucrium scorodonia) tincture is infused in the udder. An infusion of cleavers (Galium aparine) is made by steeping 1 tbsp of cleavers in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes. This is then drenched to help boost circulation in the udder and for lymph support.

Milk production

Pregnant and lactating goats and cows are allowed access to fresh nettles or wilted cut nettles. Milking ewes are given a tea of dill seed for milk production. Dill seed (Anethum graveolens) (2 tsp) is steeped in 1 cup of boiling water for 10–15 min. Or 1/2 cup dill seeds is steeped in water overnight. This is then boiled until very dark in color and strained. Each animal is given 1 cup of this dill tea per day as the drinking water. Armfuls of comfrey (Symphytum officinale) are reputed to increase butterfat and act as a laxative. A handful of fresh or dried leaves of thornless raspberry (Rubus sp.) is given free choice.

Udder edema

A handful of dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) leaves and/or cornsilk (Zea mays) are fed as diuretics. Both can be dried (on a cookie sheet on low heat -100 to 200 degrees- in the oven) and used in the winter. Fresh or dried comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaves and/or stems are also fed.

Milk reduction (drying off)

Goats are dried off using a paste of 1 tsp of dried sage (Salvia sp.) in water. The paste is put on the udder. Alternatively the tsp of dried sage is fed by crumpling it on grain with molasses for palatability. A couple of stalks of comfrey (Symphytum officinale) are given every couple of days during the lactation period.


Sheep are fed kelp (1 tsp per animal for two weeks), three times a year to keep their coats healthy. One tbsp of bee pollen fed by hand daily is said to keep sheep tame and healthy. Sheep eat aerial parts of the following species: nootka rose (Rosa nutkana), blackberry (Rubus sp.), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), oregano (Origanum sp.), thyme (Thymus sp.), sage (Salvia sp.) and tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus).

Goats are allowed to browse resinous plants in winter to help them maintain body heat: red alder (Alnus rubra), fresh and dried leaves of arbutus (Arbutus menziesii), grand fir (Abies grandis), hemlock (Tsuga sp.), young or thin branches of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), inner bark and fronds of red cedar (Thuja plicata), inner bark of big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). Western yew (Taxus canadensis or Taxus brevifolia) is eaten without problems by goats, deer and moose. If goats are stall-fed, they are given a variety of branches, clean weeds, and fruit/vegetable trimmings. They are fed apple pulp (Malus sp.), chopped-up pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo-vitamin A), and clean fruit/vegetable scraps from the kitchen.

Goats relish the following: thistle (Cirsium arvense), blackberry branches (Rubus ursinus and Rubus laciniatus), burdock (Arctium minus or Arctium lappa), canary grass (Phalaris canariensis), cleavers (Galium aparine) (helps coats), chicory (Cichorium intybus), crepis (Crepis capillaris), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), fireweed (Epilobium augustifolium), hairy cats ear (Hypochaeris sp.) (stems especially), honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium) and huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum, Vaccinium parvifolium). Nettles (Urtica dioica) are used as a tonic. To accustom animals to nettles it is given dried and ground in feed first, then wilted, finally it is given fresh.

Goats will also browse miners lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor) (said to give a sweet flavour to the milk), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), plantain (Plantago sp.), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) especially in winter; native and domestic rose and rose hips (Rosa sp., Rosa nutkana), salal (Gaultheria shallon), Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium/Mahonia aquifolium), salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), silver-green/pathfinder (Adenocaulon bicolor), thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla), and weeds such as lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album), chickweed (Stellaria media), sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis), wall lettuce (Lactuca muralis) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is given as a calmative.

Trace & other minerals

Sunflower seeds are fed with the shells to add the calcium needed for growing kids, and pregnant and lactating does. Washed (sand-free) seaweeds fresh from the sea, such as bladderwrack are given to provide iodine and trace minerals. Flax (Linum usitatissimum) whole seed (milder taste) is fed to improve the coat. One tbsp is given with each feeding of grain. Goats search for horsetail (Equisetum arvense) in spring. Twelve goats (one pen) are given 6 dried horsetail plants (Equisetum arvense) or they are given it fresh once or twice a month (free choice). Dried nettles (Urtica dioica) are sprinkled on the food daily or when available. A handful of dry dandelions leaves (Taraxacum officinale) is given every week when available. Kelp, a 3-litre pail for 90 cows, is put into the bottom of the hay manger so that the cows have "free choice" access to that much each day.


Ruminants are fed kelp to provide trace minerals and improve fertility. At each feeding 200 goats are given 1/2 cup kelp or they are given 1 cup/day. Kelp is fed more often in winter to reduce costs. The quantities are not increased otherwise the milk will test positive for iodine. One or 2 tbsp brewers' yeast mixed in with the kelp helps rumen bacteria. If sheep are fed (grain) consistently by 9 a.m. during the pregnancy, it is said that they will lamb in the daytime.

Fresh raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus) are uterine tonics and can be given before the dams are bred. Dried, stored leaves are also used. If ample amounts are available they are fed as hay in late pregnancy to tone the uterine muscles. Alternatively 1 tbsp of the leaves is put on top of the grain daily two to three weeks before kidding or lambing. A postpartum supplement consists of 1/2 tbsp of raspberry leaves daily. Blackberry and raspberry leaves (Rubus spp.), branches of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) are fed during pregnancy for their vitamin C content. Molasses is fed to prevent pregnancy-related ketosis and the selenium in the diet is increased. Pregnant and lactating goats and cows are given access to fresh or wilted nettles (Urtica dioica) and fresh leaves and flowers of dandelions.

Red cedar (Thuja plicata) is fed if the animals are deficient in copper (this treatment is not specific to pregnancy. Large amounts of red cedar (Thuja plicata) are not given in early pregnancy (first six weeks) because of a neurotoxin in the plant. Red cedar (Thuja plicata) makes the milk pitchy flavoured. Shore pine (lodgepole pine or jackpine) (Pinus contorta) may cause abortion. Goats like to nibble broom (Cytisus scoparius) which can act as a cardiac tonic but they are not given broom during pregnancy.

Fresh air, sunshine and exercise are used to help the animals give birth. Hay or bundles of weeds are thrown on the snow so that they have to plough through the snow for them. During the summer, green plants such as willow (Salix sp), fireweed (Epilobium sp.), pea vines (Pisum sp.), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), black Siamese-twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) and wild raspberry (Rubus sp.) are cut and dried in bundles. During the winter, when animals are pregnant, a bundle is fed every Sunday.

Pregnancy toxaemia – ketosis

Animals are hand fed all and any tasty forest browse (e.g. salal (Gaultheria shallon), huckleberry (Vaccinium sp) or armfuls of comfrey (Symphytum officinale).

Retained placenta

A handful of leaves of English ivy (Hedera helix) is fed at the time of birth, to contract the uterus, and prevent retained placenta. A tincture of lady's mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) (90 ml twice a day (after evaporating off the alcohol) is given for uterus infection after calving, diarrhoea or for retained placenta. Alternatively it was given as a drench for five days. There are reports that cows eating Alchemilla vulgaris have tainted milk.

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