The benefits of herbs can be utilized in more ways than just internal ingestion.
The body can absorb herbal blends through the skin by way of bathing. Skin is not typically thought of as eliminatory organ; however, it is the largest eliminatory system that the body has. It is the first protective barrier that invading substances must attempt to penetrate. The skin is designed to work two ways: the first, to absorb elements that the body needs through osmosis; the second, to release internal toxins through perspiration, rashes, boils, etc. Skin must discern between invaders and substances that need to be absorbed into the body.
Animals have the additional layer of their coat of hair or fur that serves an additional purpose. Their coat is not only designed to keep them warm in the winter, but it serves to help keep them cool in the summer. Animals also have the extra barrier to help keep impurities, bacteria, etc., from penetrating the skin. This can also be a detriment to them, since things tend to cling to hair that may not be able to attach to the bare skin. A thick coat may prove to be the perfect breeding ground for fungus, mildew, insect larvae, etc.
It is important to keep our animals clean without compromising the coats natural oils that serve to keep the skin lubricated and healthy but may also serve as a barrier against extreme weather conditions. We can address such issues as fungal conditions, parasite infestation, and muscle soreness by way of hydrotherapy. It is not as easy to give an animal the type of soaking bath we people think of as the ultimate indulgence. We can however achieve the same effects by adding herbs to their bath buckets. We have been doing so for years when we have added braces to their water.
The old time bath braces may have been made of herbs, while the ones we tend to find available today are loaded with many chemical components. We don't tend to think how detrimental applying chemicals to the skin can be. We have accepted the product availability without question, assuming that if it is on the market it must be good for them. Now that our consciousness has been raised we must avoid the chemicals. Luckily, as our consciousness has expanded, so have our choices. All we have to do is read the labels!!
When using herbs externally, we not only have the benefit of them as it is absorbed into the skin, we have the added benefit of appealing to the sense of smell of the animal to affect their healing. Aromatherapy is an art unto itself using the sense of smell to trigger body responses. It is something that must be taken into consideration when formulating a herbal bath blend. For example, if the intent of the bath is to calm and settle an animal, then the essential oils of herbs that have a history of calming should be included. We humans can go into any health food store and find companies that have dedicated themselves to creating bath products to create specific moods ranging from calming to heat producing to muscle relaxing, etc.
Any basic shampoo or brace formula may be customized by adding essential oils or actual herbs to the base. It is important to remember that an essential oil is a highly concentrated substance that may be hazardous to use full strength or directly in contact with the skin. It must be used in small doses (by the drop) and always applied within a carrying agent.
When working with actual herbs, it is important to know which herbs work best when fresh and which ones work best dried. When soaking herbs in a shampoo type substance, it is best to soak them in the base and strain them from the menstrum prior to using. The best way to work with cut herbs is to place them in some sort of porous holder, so that they will not be free floating and be able to get stuck on the skin and coat. It may be very difficult to get them out of the hair once they have dried on. You certainly do not want to leave any herbs on the skin that the animal can lick off and ingest.
It is recommended that cut herbs be placed in a holder that serves the equivalent purpose as a tea bag. You may find this is a perfect way to recycle old stockings or single socks (that the dryer has not eaten yet) or cheese cloth or muslin squares that you can tie off into sachet type bundles for infusing.
Calming & Relaxing Baths: You may want to add such herbs as Lavender, Lemon Balm, Elder Flowers or Rosemary Leaves.
Stimulating/Circulation Increasing Baths: You may want to add Ginger, Yarrow, Boneset, or Cayenne.
Fungal Fighting Baths: You may want to add Basil, Thyme, Myrrh, Golden Seal, Thuja or the essential oil of Tea Tree Oil, to name a few.
Easing of Muscle Soreness/Sprains/Strains: You may want to add Arnica, Rosemary, Thyme, Lobelia Peppermint or St. Johnswort for nerve pain (this has been known to cause photo-sensitivity in cattle).
Keep Pesky Pests Away: You may want to add Marigold, or essential oils of Pennyroyal, Citronella or Eucalyptus.
Soothing of Dry Inflamed/Itchy Skin: You may add Aloe Vera Gel, Chickweed or Oats (made by soaking oatmeal in a sock and squeezing out the mucilaginous liquid from sock into the bath water.
Infection Fighting Soaks: You want to use anti-microbial herbs such as Echinacea, Golden Seal, Chickweed, Oregon Grape Root, Barberry, Myrrh, and Thyme, to name a few. (See article on "Wound Healing")
HOT VERSUS COLD APPLICATIONS
An important aspect of Hydrotherapy is the use of temperature to help affect healing. If there has been a trauma to the body where there is loose blood as in hemorrhaging, you do not want to apply heat to the area, until the internal bleeding has stopped. If you are dealing with muscle stiffness, you want to use warm water to help loosen up the tight muscle. Cold will tend to cause contraction of the muscle, which may exacerbate the situation. If the desired goal is to increase circulation to an area where it may be restricted, you may want to alternate between hot and cold baths. The typical protocol for people is 3 minutes hot and 1 minute cold. If you want your herbal blend to soak deeply into the skin, you may want to use hot water since heat will tend to dilate the pores and enhance the penetration.