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Ethnoveterinary medicines used for ruminants in British Columbia, Canada



The use of medicinal plants is an option for livestock farmers who are not allowed to use allopathic drugs under certified organic programs or cannot afford to use allopathic drugs for minor health problems of livestock.


In 2003 we conducted semi-structured interviews with 60 participants obtained using a purposive sample. Medicinal plants are used to treat a range of conditions. A draft manual prepared from the data was then evaluated by participants at a participatory workshop.


There are 128 plants used for ruminant health and diets, representing several plant families. The following plants are used for abscesses: Berberis aquifolium/Mahonia aquifolium Echinacea purpurea, Symphytum officinale, Bovista pila, Bovista plumbea, Achillea millefolium and Usnea longissima. Curcuma longa L., Salix scouleriana and Salix lucida are used for caprine arthritis and caprine arthritis encephalitis.Euphrasia officinalis and Matricaria chamomilla are used for eye problems.

Wounds and injuries are treated with Bovista spp., Usnea longissima, Calendula officinalis, Arnica sp., Malva sp., Prunella vulgaris, Echinacea purpurea, Berberis aquifolium/Mahonia aquifolium, Achillea millefolium, Capsella bursa-pastoris, Hypericum perforatum, Lavandula officinalis, Symphytum officinale and Curcuma longa.

Syzygium aromaticum and Pseudotsuga menziesii are used for coccidiosis. The following plants are used for diarrhea and scours: Plantago major, Calendula officinalis, Urtica dioica, Symphytum officinale, Pinus ponderosa, Potentilla pacifica, Althaea officinalis, Anethum graveolens, Salix alba and Ulmus fulva.

Mastitis is treated with Achillea millefolium, Arctium lappa, Salix alba, Teucrium scorodonia and Galium aparine. Anethum graveolens and Rubus sp., are given for increased milk production.Taraxacum officinale, Zea mays, and Symphytum officinale are used for udder edema. Ketosis is treated with Gaultheria shallon, Vaccinium sp., and Symphytum officinale. Hedera helix and Alchemilla vulgaris are fed for retained placenta.


Some of the plants showing high levels of validity were Hedera helix for retained placenta and Euphrasia officinalis for eye problems. Plants with high validity for wounds and injuries included Hypericum perforatum, Malva parviflora and Prunella vulgaris. Treatments with high validity against endoparasites included those with Juniperus communis and Pinus ponderosa. Anxiety and pain are well treated with Melissa officinalis and Nepeta caesarea.


Our research co-operatively documented and validated (in a non-experimental way) the ethnoveterinary medicines used by livestock farmers in British Columbia. As scientists we evaluated technology already developed by farmers or community members. Ethnoveterinary medicine is the scientific term for traditional animal health care. Research into ethnoveterinary medicine is often undertaken as part of a community-based approach that serves to improve animal health and provide basic veterinary services in rural areas. The research area of British Columbia had 383 organic farms in 2004, a decline of 1.5% since 2001, on approximately 25,000 acres [10,000 ha]. This represents 1.9% of all farms. There are an additional 77 farms in transition to certified organic production [1]. Only 1.5% of the population of British Columbia lives on a farm [2].

The average wage for farmers working full time in agriculture in the Capital Region of Vancouver Island was $14,000; however 53% of all farms have receipts of less than $5000. It was reported that 7,460 farmers in British Columbia with annual sales of over $10,000 have a low net farm income. The return to assets on these farms ranges from -1% for farmers with sales of $19,000 to $25,000 to 5.2% from farms with sales of over $250,000. Only 13% of farmers report receipts of over $25,000 [2]. In 2003 there were 420 certified organic farmers 51% of which had less than $10,000 in gross sales [1]. Twenty percent of these organic farmers had over $50,000 in gross sales [1]. These figures are important because sustainable agriculture has been defined (by the Federal-Provincial Agriculture Committee on Environmental Sustainability) as that which is economically viable for the present generation of farmers and environmentally sustainable for the future generation [3, 4].

Materials and methods

The research tested the potential of participatory workshops as a dissemination activity or new way of transferring knowledge in ethnoveterinary medicine. The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) developed the workshop method and it is said to have two major advantages: it reduces the total amount of time needed to develop information materials (a user-friendly manual) and it profits from the expertise and resources of a wide range of participants and their organizations. The remedies chosen for inclusion in the manual are those that can be recommended for use by the general public and farmers to alleviate minor diseases and problems. The produced manual can provide a sustainable long-term solution to animal health problems. The workshop method allows participants to pool resources, abilities and information thus multiplying the likelihood of obtaining useful solutions and minimizing the risk of failure.

Ethnoveterinary data for British Columbia was collected over a six-month period in 2003. All available literature about livestock farmers and the secondary literature on ethnomedicinal plants, folk medicine and related fields in British Columbia was reviewed prior to and during the research [512]. The research area in British Columbia consisted of the Lower Mainland, the Thompson/Okanagan region and south Vancouver Island.

A purposive sample of livestock farmers was created to target key informants with the knowledge sought. The sample size was 60. The sample was obtained from membership lists of organic farmers, other specialists in alternative medicine and holistic veterinarians.

Seven of the participants with ruminants had goats and a few had cows; these provided the majority of the information recorded in this paper. Other information came from holistic practitioners, herbalists, holistic veterinarians and participants with horses and pets.

Two visits were made to each farm or respondent. All of the interviews at the initial stage were open-ended and unstructured. A draft outline of the respondents' ethnoveterinary remedies was delivered and discussed at the second visit in order to confirm the information provided at the first interview. Medicinal plant voucher specimens were collected where possible and were identified and deposited in the University of Victoria Herbarium.

The plant-based remedies were evaluated for safety and efficacy with a non-experimental method, prior to including them in the draft outline. Published sources such as journal articles and books and databases on pharmacology and ethnomedicine available on the Internet were searched to identify the plants' chemical compounds and clinically tested physiological effects. This data was incorporated with data on the reported folk uses, and their preparation and administration in North America and Europe. For each species or genus the ethnomedicinal uses in other countries are given; followed by a summary of chemical constituents, in addition to active compounds if known. This type of ethnopharmacological review and evaluation is based on previous work and the use of these methods in the same research study has been published [4]. The non-experimental validation of the plants is presented in the discussion section of the paper.

Validation workshop

Ten participants with experience in traditional human and ethnoveterinary medicine took part in a participatory five-day-long workshop at the University of Victoria (BC), in October, 2003. In the workshop the facilitator asked participants very specific questions in a supportive environment about the medicinal plants used. Each animal/livestock species was covered in a morning or afternoon session, other than the core group, different participants came to different sessions [4]. At the ruminant session the four participants (herbalists and ruminant owners) introduced themselves and their work and were instructed on the participatory workshop method. The participants discussed the previously produced ruminant section of the data. There were two editorial assistants/facilitators in attendance. After the discussions, the ruminant section was edited.

Non-experimental validation of ethnoveterinary remedies

The researcher and the ethnoveterinary consultant completed the non-experimental validation of the remedies in advance of the workshop. A low-cost, non-experimental method was used to evaluate the potential efficacy of the ethnoveterinary remedies [4]. This method consisted of:

  • obtaining an accurate botanical identification of the herbal remedies reported;

  • searching the pharmaceutical/pharmacological literature for the plant's identified chemical constituents in order to determine the known physiological effects of either the crude plant drug, related species, or isolated chemical compounds that the plant is known to contain. This information was then used to assess whether the plant use is based on empirically verifiable principles.

Supporting ethnobotanical data and pharmacological information was matched with the recorded folk use of the plant species [512], to determine degrees of confidence about its effectiveness. Four levels of confidence were established:

1. Minimal level: If no information supports the use it indicates that the plant may be inactive.

2. Low level: A plant (or closely related species of the same genus), which is used in distinct areas in the treatment of similar illnesses (humans or preferably animals), attains the lowest level of validity, if no further phytochemical or pharmacological information validates the popular use. Use in other areas increases the likelihood that the plant is efficacious.

3. Mid level: If in addition to the ethnobotanical data, available phytochemical or pharmacological information is consistent with the use, this indicates a higher level of confidence that the plant may exert a physiological action on the patient.

4. High level: If both ethnobotanical and pharmacological data are consistent with the folk use of the plant, its use is classed in the highest level of validity and is considered efficacious.


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.

Table 1 Ethnoveterinary medicines used for ruminants in British Columbia
Table 2 Plants used as food for ruminants in British Columbia
Table 3 Plants considered poisonous to ruminants in British Columbia
Table 4 Plants used as pregnancy feeds for ruminants in British Columbia

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.


The non-experimental validation of the plants is provided in Table 5. The plants are listed in alphabetical order. As stated previously this validation process was undertaken in the process of preparing the draft manual of remedies and continued after the workshop when the final version of the manual was prepared.

Table 5 Non-experimental validation of plants used for ruminants in British Columbia

We suspected that traditional medicines in British Columbia are derived from the knowledge and traditions of First Nations peoples, and from Asia and Europe. Elders of the Saanich and Cowichan Coast Salish people of southern Vancouver Island treat, or have treated in the recent past, many ailments with bark preparations [6, 10, 11]. Respiratory ailments were treated with bark of Abies grandis, Arbutus menziesii, Cornus nuttallii, Prunus emarginata, Pseudotsuga menziesii and Quercus garryana, digestive tract ailments with the bark of Abies grandis, Alnus rubra, Arbutus menziesii, Malus fusca, Oemleria cerasiformis, Populus tremuloides, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Rhamnus purshianus and Rubus spectabilis, gynaecological problems with bark of Abies grandis, Arbutus menziesii, Populus tremuloides, Prunus emarginata, Pseudotsuga menziesii and Sambucus racemosa, and dermatological complaints with the bark of Mahonia spp., Rubus spectabilis, and Symphoricarpos albus.

One First Nation group used medicinal preparations from Arbutus menziesii bark and leaves for colds, stomach problems, as a post-childbirth contraceptive, and in a ten-ingredient bark medicine for tuberculosis and spitting up blood [6, 10, 11]. Tree barks have also been used to treat fevers, diabetes, kidney problems, sore eyes, and haemorrhaging, and also as general tonics. In most cases, infusions or decoctions of barks are used. The medicines are drunk or applied externally as a wash. Several of these uses are similar to the ethnoveterinary uses described in this paper. These commonalities and those with European folk medicine will be discussed in more detail in future publications.


This research was undertaken with the understanding that the use of safe and effective medicinal plants can reduce farmers' input costs, preserve the resource base, enhance biodiversity and protect animal health. If plants are grown on-farm this will enhance the biological interactions on which productive agriculture depends. Successful medicinal plant use can contribute to farm incomes, maintain the resilience of farm communities, promote self-reliance and contribute to an internationally recognized safe and good quality food supply, in addition to providing improved and affordable livestock health care. It can also strengthen rural community capacity building, leadership and skills development and help preserve the ethnomedicinal heritage of British Columbia.

Ethnoveterinary alternatives (based on medicinal plants) are an option for small-scale livestock farmers who cannot use allopathic drugs or for those larger conventional farmers whose economic circumstances prevent the use of veterinary services for minor health problems of livestock. Participatory workshops in combination with non-experimental validation are an effective means of producing information to be disseminated to farmers in a user-friendly format. Scientists may be motivated to conduct formal validation on plants that they know are being used for specific purposes.

The majority of the plants were used for goats. This reflects the browsing nature of the goat and the corresponding need for their owners to monitor what they were browsing and its constituents. Goats and sheep were the main species medicated or self-medicated on the Pinaceae, Cupressaceae and Ericaceae.

The majority of the plants achieved the mid to high levels of validity. This may be due to the fact that the majority of the respondents were referring to published material [5, 6, 7 and 120 among others] in their decision making. Some of the plants showing high levels of validity were Hedera helix for retained placenta and Euphrasia officinalis for eye problems. Plants with high validity for wounds and injuries included Hypericum perforatum, Symphytum officinale, Usnea spp., Malva parviflora and Prunella vulgaris. Treatments with high validity against endoparasites included those with Juniperus communis and Pinus ponderosa. Anxiety and pain are well treated with Valeriana officinalis, Melissa officinalis and Nepeta caesarea. Verbascum thapsus has high level validity as a respiratory tonic.Zingiber officinale is a good, but possibly expensive, treatment for diarrhea as are the other spices used. This high level of correspondence with the published literature is a reflection of the many ancient folk traditional practices that have been translated into ethnoveterinary practices and also reflects the recent scientific interest in subjecting medicinal plants to clinical trials.

In the participatory manual that we produced from this research and gave to participants, we cautioned against giving goats large amounts of red cedar (Thuja plicata) in early pregnancy (first six weeks) because of a neurotoxin in the plant. Red cedar (Thuja plicata) gives the milk of dairy animals a pitchy flavour. Respondents were initially concerned about the safety of Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) branches fed to goats during pregnancy for its vitamin C content. Western yew foliage is poisonous to cattle and horses, the berries are poisonous.

Many plants designated as weeds by professionals (who have devoted considerable resources to understanding and eradicating them) are included in the diets of ruminants and the non-experimental validation of them suggests that they are nutritious and valuable feed supplements. The preliminary evaluation of the plants used for ruminants in British Columbia indicates that they are practical and possibly efficacious remedies that merit more formal evaluation.


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The research in British Columbia was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Grant # 820-2002-1008. Thanks to Dr. Evelyn Mathias for professional support, to the Herbarium at the University of Victoria, and to all of the research participants. Additional thanks are due to research participants Jan Bevan and Sheelagh MacKenzie-Salas for collecting botanical specimens. Former UVic students Joanne Breckenridge and Crystal Ross collected the other plant specimens.

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Lans, C., Turner, N., Khan, T. et al. Ethnoveterinary medicines used for ruminants in British Columbia, Canada. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 3, 11 (2007).

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  • Echinacea Purpurea
  • Achillea Millefolium
  • Anethum Graveolens
  • Ethnoveterinary Medicine
  • Symphytum Officinale