Same pathologies, a different therapeutic approach. Short introduction to veterinary herbal medicine


  • Veterinary allopathic medicine could find an ally in veterinary herbal medicine as long as they are used in a perfect balance
  • Plants are complex drugs and have complex actions
  • Synergy
  • Plant associations enhace the desired effects
  • non-existent side effects


Over the years, Veterinary Medicine has seen a continuous evolution: new ways of investigations, new medicines and new treatment protocols. However, the faster we evolve, we sometimes forget about the foundation of medicine: elated by the new technologies, we leave behind the importance of how valuable things like anamnesis, palpation, percussion, auscultation and a basic physical check could be. Very often, when performed by an experienced veterinarian, these things could show details that modern technology can miss.

Similar to what was said above, we lose sight of the healing power of plants: ‘vis medicatrix naturae’ like the father of Medicine, Hipocrates, said.

I would like to mention that I am not an advocate of an entirely usage of alternative medicine, but I support a slowly approach of pathologies, preferring not to take the aces out of my sleeve at the beginning of treatment. I incline myself for a simplistic way of treatment, natural substances with no side effects, giving in this way a chance for the body to tackle the disease and regain the homeostasis. There are situations where a rough choice of a treatment is necessary, like an acute infection, but this could be continued with a light, natural way in order to remove or to lower the side effects of antibiotics.

In my opinion, allopathic medicine would make a great team with complimentary medicine, as long as there is a perfect balance between them. Using one of them, should not exclude the other one.

Why should we use plants for treatments ?

1.Plants are complex medicines with complex actions:

Plants contain more active substances than synthetic obtained drugs. Other than the main active principle, they contain other things like minerals, vitamins, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugars, amino acids and others. All these together, could enhance the effect the of the active substance, could help in a better absorption and lead to better effects compared to other drugs.

Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

For instance, Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) contains the following active constituents, as the studies have shown (Butterweck 2003, Simmen 2001):

  • Amentoflavone (inhibits binding at serotonin, dopamine,delta opiate and benzodiazepine receptors
  • Quercitrin, Isoquercitrin, hyperoside, rutin, quercetin, kaempferol inhibit dopamine beta-hydroxylase
  • Hypericin: binds D3 and D4 dopamine receptors, beta-adrenergic receptors
  • Hyperforin: inhibits neuronal uptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), affects cell membrane fluidity and enhaces glutamate, aspartate, and GABA release
  • Hyperin: decreases Calcium influx in brain cells
  • Pseudohypericin: inhibits activation of NMDA receptors

Every single substance has its own way of action and all together act like a whole.

Saintt John’s wort is mainly used to treat depression. The drug alternative for treating depression is called paroxetine. It has a more defined effect compared to the other components of the plant, but by its own, paroxetine is not efficient for every individual, most of the times, trying to tackle depression could take longer until the right protocol is established. Having said this, all the components of the plant, could work in a much more effective way, together.

As a whole, the plant of St John’s wort, cannot be compared with any other known drug. Shall you ask a naturopathic doctor about the main active component of a plant, the answer you’ll get all the time would be: the whole plant is the main active component!

Why to use the plant as a whole than using only one isolated component

  • All the components of the plant could help the patient through their complex action given by their additive, antagonistic and synergistic effect.
  • Some of the components may lose their beneficial effect once isolated.
  • Some of the plant constituents could be unknown yet.


All of the plant’s components could have additive, antagonistic and synergistic effects, at the same time.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), as a whole, is less toxic than its active ingredient, digoxin, because it is diluted by another component of the plant which antagonizes its effect.

Additive effects are easy to set when all the constituents are isolated and well known, but synergistic effects are more difficult to set, a lot of studies being carried out at the moment on this topic.

The synergy between the components of a plant, could have two different ways: pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.

  • Pharmacokinetics: one component could enhance the intestinal absorption or the usage of another component
  • Pharmacodynamics: two components interact towards the same target

These kind of interaction do not match the entire definition of synergy, therefore, Williamson (2000) decides about these two action to be called polyvalent actions and medicinal actions.

Barberry , Berberis aquifolium

Barberry , Berberis aquifolium contains berberine, which is an alkaloid with antiviral, antiparasitic (giardia), antifungal, anti inflammatory effects and also regulates the level of prostaglandins in renal and cardiovascular diseases.

Many of the naturopaths have used for long time plants that contain berberine to treat the infections. Using berberine by its own, could lead to antibioresistance, but while using the whole plant, no side effects have been observed. Some of the scientists have been wondering of the reasons that organisms do not gain antibioresistance while using plants containing berberine and it has been discovered (Stermitz, 2000) that one of the plant’s components inhibits the process when a bacteria could gain resistance over an antibiotic. The component is called: 5-metoxihydnocarpin.

3.Plant based prescriptions are different for every other patient

Back in the time, one plant that was efficient over one pathology, was called a ‘simple’.

Cranberry is one good example of a ‘simple prescription’ for urinary infections. Now days, plants are mixed, combined and called ‘formulas’, but a good knowledge of how ‘simple’ plants work is required first.

Mixing more plants together, has the benefits of a wider spectrum of actions of all the components found in the plants. By doing this, we can increase a particular characteristic of one plant, or just for some of the plant’s constituents. Doing this requires a lot of experience and knowledge by the veterinary physician.

Naturopathic formulas

In naturopathic medicine, formulas (mixing the plants) could be the key of success. Veterinary naturopaths are trying to anticipate and to treat the pathologies and possible side effects of the treatment in a proactive way. A formula should look like this:

  • One or more plants with multiple way of actions in order to tackle the main disease symptoms
  • If the plants contained in one formula cannot not fix the main problem of the patient, they should at least lower the side effects of the other drugs and combat other symptoms of the disease
  • Plants that should help other body systems or that could reduce the symptoms.

4.Plants: a different approach in chronic diseases

Due to the changes that have occurred lately, diseases that affect both the humans and animals, are different compared to what it used to be centuries before. There have been designed efficient drugs to combat diseases caused by parasites or bacteria, but there is yet a lot to be discovered about degenerative diseases, like cancer. In these side of the medicine, plants should be given more trust, mostly due to the lack in side effects.

Modern veterinary medicine is not very familiar with the naturopathic side. With all this, nature’s way should not be ignored, mostly when conventional drugs fail to give the desired outcome.

However, this type of medicine holds hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands of years of empirical experience, and should be further investigated and deepened, because it could open up new pathways and perspectives in research and therapy.


Plants act in completely different way when compared with conventional drugs. Due to the fact that the plants contain nutrients and their components are polyvalent, the clinical effects of the herbal formulas can be far greater than the usual drugs. And, probably the most important benefit for plants is that they do not have adverse effects on the body.

DVM Ana Simion
DVM Ana Simion
veterinary physicianBucharest, Romania. She graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest in 2013. She is very passionate about her job, internal medicine, dermatology and most of all very interested about natural and alternative treatments, a side of medicine that she wishes to implement in Romania on a larger scale. She is the owner of the successful blog

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