Treating a Cough Holistically

Expert Katherine Drovdahl weighs in.

Q: My horse has a mild cough caused by dust and allergies. What safe natural herb I can give him? And which work best, fresh or dried herbs? 

Carolina Brooks 

Fairfield, California

Katherine Drovdahl, MH, CR 

A: I applaud you for seeking natural ways of supporting your horse with his condition. Allow me to lay some vitalist foundation for you, which is a narrow branch of herbalism that focuses on cause, not just symptoms. If this were my horse, here are some things I would do.

In any lung problem, it will often take longer for the horse to heal himself than in other issues. The lungs do not get to rest while they heal, so that tender, weakened tissue is aggravated with every breath that contains particulate in it while it is trying to simultaneously heal. So do what you can with your horse’s environment to reduce his exposure to dust while he is healing. Spraying a light coat of water on his hay at feeding time will help dust and particulate stick to the hay rather than become airborne. To reduce his lung exposure, stir just enough olive oil into his grain to stick the dust to it so he can’t breathe it in. Also, keep feeders dust-free for each feeding, keep stall mats in stalls without dust-prone bedding (or use clean oat straw for absorption) and wipe down stall walls as needed. If your horse is on pasture, try to keep it green and avoid dry, dusty paddocks where possible. 

If allergies are involved, besides supporting the lungs, I would seriously consider supporting and cleaning the liver. At the root of nearly every allergic situation is a liver that is backlogged with toxins from what your steed has breathed, consumed, medicated and had on topically from fly sprays, grooming products, etc. This backlog may work its way into other weak or damaged tissues in the horse—in this case, the lungs.

Equine bodies do not readily remove synthetics from their systems, so we get to assist them. It takes four months for an average liver to regenerate itself cell for cell; so I like to see at least a four-month program but up to a year or more in more toxic individuals. Allowing for three regenerations is not uncommon. We see improved wellness and performance as a result. As the liver cleans, the allergies should dissipate. My favorite herbal choices are dandelion and milk thistle seed or quality herb products. 

Poor intestinal motility (horses with a tendency to colic or impact in their intestines) must be remedied with a bowel nourishing/cleansing program before moving on to liver cleansing, or toxins released during cleansing may not be eliminated fast enough from the horse, which would then further compound the issue you are trying to address—in this case, weaker lungs.

For allergies I like using blends containing stinging nettle, eyebright and ginger. For lung support, I prefer herb blends with any combination of eucalyptus, coltsfoot, thyme, mullein, peppermint, lobelia inflata (small amounts) or lungwort. I also like using comfrey. I am not much of a fan of single-herb use, as the synergistic effect of using blends that are built properly gives a much better and quicker result. 

You can use fresh herbs or dry herbs. The key is that they are quality herbs and not cut with fillers as is common today. Fresh herbs can be obtained where there has been no chemical fertilizer or spraying for at least three years. They also need to be at least 50 feet from a roadway or much further from a busy road. An 800- to 1,300-pound horse would require one packed cup of fresh herbs given three times per day, six days per week for this chronic situation. One-quarter cup of dry, powdered herbs or one-half cup of cut and sifted (small herb leaf bits) would be given. I personally find the herb powders the easiest with horses. Mixed with blackstrap molasses and rolled in some whole oats for a horse treat is an easy way to serve them their herbs. You can make up to a week’s supply at a time and keep them sealed in the refrigerator. The black strap molasses will also help build your equine’s bloodstream. What athlete could not benefit from that?

Katherine Drovdahl, MH, CR, obtained her Master of Herbology from the School of Natural Healing. She is a certified reflexologist, a certified equine iridology technician and has international certification in aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. Owner of a creature and human herbal-products business, she authored the book The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal. She lives in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon (






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