When a flower doesn't bloom, you fix the environment it grows in, not the flower
"There is a herb growing for every disease," so said Abbe Kneipp (1821-1897), original founder of the Naturopathic Medicine movement. And I'm with Abbe, because the EquiNatural mission is to proactively help our clients support the healthy equilibrium, the functioning integrity and the vitality, the 'vital force', of their horse, on a personal level, via a physiomedical* approach, via natural, bioactive, organic herbal phytonutrients.
(*Physiomedical - a natural doctrine or practice, specificially by the use of herbal medicines. Origin mid 19th centrury, earliest use found in 'Physio-medical Recorder'.)
However, I'm so often asked how herbs work, so here's my take on herbalism. For starters, herbs have worked traditionally in traditional medicine for thousands of years, all over the world, in every culture. Your grandparents and their grandparents before them? Wherever they came from, there was herbal medicine.
Every plant, no matter whether a humble weed or a Chelsea Show winner, is aromatic, and the aroma comes from its volatile (essential) oil. Horses, as it happens, are extremely sensitive to these oils. They instinctively know, through a plant's natural aroma, which ones will benefit them medicinally.
Nature's botanicals work really well for our horses, and this could have something to do with the fact that their state of health follows the seasonal rhythms of nature - as plants grow and fade with the seasons, so horses follow the seasonal pattern to forage for them. And let's not forget that our wild horses have always been plant foragers with only themselves to rely on for their survival; their foraging knowledge and ability is literally written in their DNA.
How herbalists view it all
(and how it might differ from a more conventional western drug approach)
In the first place, if we think of herbs as gourmet, selected, specific, concentrated, healing foods, it’s a much better way of understanding what we’re doing here compared to a drug delivery system. Agreed, for the best part of the last 100-years most drugs were made from plants anyway, but todays' drugs have moved on - they're one specific compound, sometimes the same as what was in the plant, but without the added synergy and buffering chemicals that a plant has.
Today's drugs take that one specific compound and chemically mimic it, so straight away it's synthetic, and modified, and it can overwhelm the body’s systems because, basically, that's what it's designed to do.
That said, it usually does what it does very well - thank all the goddesses for Morphine, say all my bones I've broken in the past - but as we know, while powerful, they're synthetic, they can cause side effects, and they leave toxic residue behind. The body is better able to use medicinal plants in a more gentle way because their natural chemicals spread across many metabolic pathways, the body recognises them, knows what to do with them, and uses them where they’re needed without risking side effects.
Ultimately, we look at the body as being optimally healthy, in other words what the body would normally look like and how it would normally function, along with it's potential, and we look for deviations from that to then help get back to that optimal point of health, instead of saying "Well, as you’re average that means you’re okay, so don’t come to us until you’re broken."
Plants experience the same stress factors that we do
Like us, plants are also exposed to nutritional stress, physical stress, free radicals, radiation, and of course, toxins. Plants, however, deal with these stress factors differently than us.
Over eons, plants have created their own intricate biochemical solutions to these problems, which also work particularly well with mammalian biochemistry. When we ingest them we gain the same benefits as the plant, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune enhancing, hormone balancing, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and even anticancer properties, with science taking the modern application of herbal therapy to much higher levels of plant knowledge.
Modern-day herbalism has evolved to understanding the medicinal effects of specific biochemical substances found in herbs, with the application of herbal medicine selecting herbs for the specific bioactive properties they offer.
The 3 key factors for herbal therapy :
- Potency - use of modern herbal extracts concentrate the medicinal benefits.
- Synergy - combining different herbs with different properties to maximise the efficacy of each individual herb.
- Purity - highest quality ingredients are essential for maximum benefits; just one of the reasons why we use organic.
Herbs v Conventional Medicine
First, we need to remind ourselves of what dis-ease of the body is; ‘dis-ease’ simply means that the body is 'not at ease', as in an inner disharmony.
When something goes wrong with health, it's usually caused by a malfunction of the body’s eliminative processes, under pressure from environmental pollution, poor diet and/or the modern lifestyle. Dis-ease happens right down at cellular level, so when toxins come into the body and start messing with the cellular physiology, they need to be eliminated so that happy, balanced homeostasis returns.
So why use herbs over conventional medicine? It's all down to the differences in how they work and function, as in natural v. man-made. The primary role of herbal/naturopathic therapy is the targeted detoxification and cleansing of specific organs in the body, whereas modern medicine is mainly concerned with managing/blocking the symptoms of disease.
Ask anyone, even yourself - why do we take a pill? Simple - to stop or relieve something, i.e. that splitting headache. However, you and I know that the pill won't bring about a forever fix - it's to stop feeling the pain from the headache so we can get on with our day. What it won't do is address the toxic load that's causing the headaches, which means it won't be long before another one comes knocking on the door again.
Ask any conventionally trained medical professional and they'll tell you they train in physiology, but practice pharmacology. Once qualified, they're then trained to prescribe appropriate pharmaceutical medications to alleviate the presenting symptoms as quickly as possible. This method works perfectly in our modern-day, pressured conventional world - we need a quick fix to continue managing our modern-day, pressured lives. This fix is usually administered via powerful, laboratory-made, chemically synthesised medicine, which is designed by scientists to purposefully interfere with the body's physiology by blocking those symptoms which are making us uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence ...
... there's that 'holistic' word. Not everyone likes this word. To some, the word 'holistic' makes eyes glaze over as, yes I know, it can conjure up images of whacky hippies dancing round a stone circle with didgeridoo in hand. But stay with me for a second and give me a chance to briefly explain without hopefully sounding too tree-huggy, because trust me - while yes, I do own a didgeridoo (an original, beautiful, authentic, aboriginal hand-painted gift from the Aussie relatives), I am no tree-hugger, promise.
Defined from the Greek word 'holism', it simply means 'all, entire, total'. That's it - that's all there is to it. It just means 'the whole', as in the whole individual - mind, body, spirit, emotions. We've all heard of the phrase 'we are what we eat', but we're also what we breathe, think, say and see, and it's not always a case of one-size-fits-all because everyone of us, horse or human, is unique.
So, back to holism, and it's the theory that promotes management of the whole individual; you can't achieve healthy by simply managing (blocking) the symptoms of unhealthy. Given the chance, the body wants to heal - it doesn't like being out of balance. And when the body heals, it heals everything - you can't keep one dis-ease while healing the rest.
This is how herbs work. The body is an extraordinary organism because every part is connected via an intricate web of mind, body, spirit, emotions. Herbal medicine sees the body as a whole instead of an assortment of disconnected parts. Instead of blocking the irritation of the symptom and shoving the problem deeper down where it may then manifest into a chronic condition, herbal medicine manages the whole dis-ease, right down at cellular level. When taken as a tonic, the medicinal properties in herbs can help avert the root causes of the dis-ease. In other words, herbal medicine functions on the whole, and the whole then functions as a whole again.
Let's get back to Physiomedical
The one objective in physiomedical treatment is to restore a healthy equilibrium and the functioning integrity, as in the 'vital force', of the individual. Sounds simple enough? (Top Tip - remember that word functioning).
Trouble is, you’ve got biology getting in the way, because this ‘vital force’ operates at the body’s cellular level as a positive energy. If there’s no vital force or positive energy in the cells, then we've got internal problems which eventually present as external symptoms.
An integral function of this vital force is the body's continual elimination of hostile invaders, aka toxins from the environment such as pollution, infections or viruses. And ... another toxic residue which comes from conventional medicines because they're made from chemicals in a lab and not natural.
A quick digress on symptoms, and why we should be glad of them, because they're really important. Symptoms are Red Flags - by the time those flags are waving, they’re already pointing to a deeper level of physiological imbalance. We need symptoms to give us the opportunity to support the body back to a normal, balanced, healthy state.
Naturopathic herbal medicine is all about helping the body function towards this, which is why it’s so important to firstly recognise, then understand, those symptoms which are negatively affecting normal function. This way we can help restore the body to a normal state by targeting the source of those symptoms where organic changes in the body’s cells and tissues have taken place, and not simply block the presenting, surface-level symptoms while leaving the physiological imbalance in place.
And herein lies the difference between physiomedical, bioactive, functional phytonutrients compared to conventional modern-day medicine. For us to continually reach for symptomatic relief without focusing on what’s going on deeper in the system, simply paves the way for the underlying cause to develop into a chronic state of dis-ease, which, rest assured, will bring about its own cascade of further problems.
So what is Functional Medicine?
As Google will tell you, 'functional medicine' is a 'personalised therapy method, addressing the underlying causes of disease to achieve the highest expression of health'. Or to put it another way, functional medicine is medicine by cause, not by symptoms; it helps us discover the underlying triggers of dis-ease, working away from the traditional symptom-treating focus of medical practice to a more individual-centred approach.
Functional medicine is the medicine of How & Why: why is this symptom occurring now and how did it happen? It looks at the body as one unique integrated system, looking at the way all the systems work together instead of isolating single organs and dividing them up into medical specialties. By identifying the root cause of symptoms, imbalances are corrected on a completely personalised basis.
You probably won't be surprised to know that many regular practicing GPs and medical specialists are moving away from the practice of conventional medicine, turning towards what's now being officially recognised as Functional Medicine. If you've seen the BBC programme, Doctor in the House, you'll be familiar with Dr Chatterjee, an NHS GP who is now very well known in the field of Functional Medicine. Originally a practicing GP specialist and after his son became very sick, Dr Chatterjee did the reverse of what most doctors do and decided to 'de-specialise', going back to general medicine in order to assess the body and its symptoms holistically - there's that word again.
So back to our horses, and here at EquiNatural I very much operate in a similar way by following the principals of Functional Medicine. I fell into this methodology by accident, after Kelso, my husband's first horse, got very sick back in the mid 2000's, and was subjected to an extremely stressful, not to mention avoidable, experience with the vet. Kelso was treated conventionally with several meds which over a 4-week period made him significantly worse. By the 4th week I was told to have Kelso PTS. By then I was broke from the vet bills, and broken emotionally. (See * About Us for the the full story of Kelso's remarkable, not to mention quick, recovery when I then took control).
It was this experience that led me to seek a different approach to my horses' health, which subsequently became EquiNatural. I look at a horse's background, history and diet, taking into account the interactions between lifestyle, environmental and emotional factors which all influence long-term health. By working this way, looking a little deeper and taking each horse’s case as individual, the aim of EquiNatural is to proactively support the health, body and vitality of the horse on a personal level, via natural phytonutrient, bioactive, herbal health, to restore a healthy equilibrium and the functioning integrity of our client's horse.
Without doubt, this sits best with me if our ingredients are organic, human-grade, non-irradiated and always non-GMO, with no trace of chemical toxicity during the growth and post-harvesting period. Which links us nicely to ...
Chemical-free and a little bit of Eco-Friendly
The reason I originally changed my own horses’ feed regime to as-near-to-organic was after seeing my herd metabolically crash back in 2006/2007 (* About Us).
Briefly, we were living in Wiltshire at the time in a delightful rural location near the Westbury White Horse. However, we were also situated around 4-miles east from a concrete factory chimney which belched out a daily sulphur cloud in a westerly direction. And ... we were also surrounded by crop fields which were repeatedly sprayed with chemical fertilisers.
It was only after my horses' characters and health started changing beyond all recognition that in despair I started researching a cleaner, healthier lifestyle for them. Changing to as organic as I could was part of that change, and remains so.
Many of us now consider a degree of organic and chemical-free in our lives, mainly due to concerns about the rising levels of chemicals that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. It’s no secret that the use of chemicals and synthetic additives in food production can be extremely harmful to health, and by feeding organically-grown natural products is a way of reducing the risk of toxic side-effects and ill-health.
With my EquiNatural hat on, using natural, organic ingredients wherever possible in our product range became the only practice I wanted to follow, ensuring that as per my own horses, our clients' horses would also benefit from the guaranteed, safe assurance that the stringent practices and certification behind a certified organic status ensures that no chemicals are used.
As a result we only make products which I would be happy to use on myself and my own horses, dogs, cats, chickens and sheep. This also meant that I naturally gravitated towards suppliers who meet rigorous standards based on ethical sourcing of ingredients, natural chemical free ingredients, a commitment to low environmental impact and sustainability, and free from cruelty.
You'll see the difference; your horse will feel the difference!
For us, there is simply no compromise - we dig deeper to find out what's really going on with your horse, whether it's diet, lifestyle or environment issues, and support your horse's health by toning it with phytonutrients grown free from agro-chemicals, produced to ecological standards, and contaminant/heavy metal tested. Our blends never have any artificial ingredients, fillers or additives of any description whatsoever.
Our herbs look like real plants, not dried-up dusty chopped stalks; as one client described her order, it was "like the meadow coming to her door". Our herbs are full of vibrant colour, bursting with natural aroma and flavour, nourishing and nutritious, and jam-packed with their essential biological substances and oils. I'll go so far as to say you simply can't get better.
And the best bit? Working towards a lifestyle-based prevention principal, alongside real food, they really do work - just have a look at our Lovely Words page 😊