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Herb Constituents and their Actions

To better understand the medicinal action of herbs it is important to have some knowledge of the herb constituents they contain and the action of those individual elements. Plants are complex sources of a huge variety of chemical elements with a role in not only the plant’s biochemistry but also in the biochemical processes of man and animals.

Coumarins are responsible for the ‘new mown hay’ smell of many of the dried herbs fed to rabbits. Coumarins do not in themselves have a great effect on the body but are used medicinally as a basis for warfarin, an anti-clotting drug.

Flavones and flavanoid glycosides occur commonly in plants. They have a wide range of activities. Bioflavanoids are essential for the complete absorption of vitamin C and occur in nature wherever vitamin C is present.

Bitter Principles represent a large grouping of structurally diverse chemicals which have a wide range of valuable therapeutic effects, many of which are currently being researched.

Cleavers, garlic, nettles and Red Clover are good, all round, tonic herbs.

Garlic, Golden Rod and Yarrow help the body remove excess catarrh.

Saponins are used by the body to build up chemicals similar to cortisones. These then act as anti-inflammatory agents. Plants containing saponins include Chickweed and Golden Rod.

Garlic and Plantain help the body to destroy or resist pathogenic micro-organisms.

Yarrow helps prevent the growth of the disease causing micro-organisms that can infect wounds.

Agrimony, Avens, Bramble leaves, Blackberry leaves, Golden Rod, Mouse Ear, Plantain, Raspberry leaves, Strawberry leaves and Yarrow. These herbs are ‘drying’ in their action. Beneficial for scouring when eaten.

Tannins in herbs are responsible for the astringent action. By acting on proteins and other chemicals they form a protective layer on the skin and mucous membranes. This action is effective both internally and externally. Binding the tissue of the gut reduces diarrhoea or internal bleeding whereas externally they are useful in the treatment of burns, sealing wounds and reducing inflammation.

Fennel & Garlic stimulate peristalsis, relax the stomach and help reduce gas in the digestive tract. Volatile oils contained in aromatic plants aid digestion by stimulating the lining of the colon, increasing the flow of digestive juices and acting as an appetite stimulant. By relaxing the peristalsis in the lower part of the intestines they also help ease griping pains.

Demulcent herbs such as Coltsfoot, Plantain and Marshmallow, which contain gums and mucilages, are excellent soothing herbs. Their action on the body is two-fold; firstly, by reducing irritation and inflammation throughout the alimentary canal, and sensitivity to gastric acid, there is a direct action on the gut preventing diarrhoea, reducing peristalsis through relaxing the gut lining. Secondly, this relaxation triggers a reflex that runs through the spinal nerves to the lungs and urinary system reducing tension and coughing and increasing the secretion of watery mucus.

Fennel, Garlic, Golden Rod and Yarrow help the skin eliminate toxins and promote sweating.

Agrimony, Borage, Celery, Cleavers, Cornsilk, Dandelion, Parsley (for chronic but not acute cases) and Yarrow increase the secretion and elimination of urine. Guinea pigs and dwarf breeds can have problems with urinary tract stones, which, because of their size, can be difficult or impossible to eliminate naturally.

Parsley, Raspberry, Shepherds Purse and Yarrow stimulate and normalise menstrual flow in humans and act as tonics to the reproductive system in rabbits and cavies. Raspberry leaf fed 10 days prior to kindling will ease the birth process.

Chickweed, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Mallow and Plantain soften, soothe or protect the skin.

Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Elder Flower, Garlic, Marshmallow and Mouse Ear help the body remove mucus from the respiratory system.

Borage, Elder Flower, Plantain, Raspberry, Meadowsweet and White Willow Bark help the body bring down fevers.

Borage, Fennel, Goats Rue, Milk Thistle, Nettles, Parsley and Raspberry help increase milk supply in lactating does and sows.

Agrimony, Celery, Cleavers, Dandelion, Fennel, Milk Thistle and Yarrow tone and strengthen the liver.

Herbs with hypotensive properties, such as Yarrow, help to reduce blood pressure.

Cleavers, Dandelion and Groundsel.

Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Garlic, Marshmallow and Mouse Ear help strengthen and heal the respiratory system.

Chickweed, Cleavers, Marshmallow, Plantain and Yarrow help heal cuts and wounds when applied externally.