Wednesday, November 10, 2010



Susun S. Weed, herbalist

Herbs are extremely effective in countering infections if used lavishly, repeatedly, and skillfully. Larger animals, like goats may be given tinctures directly into their mouths. I dose smaller animals, like dogs, cats, and rabbits, by adding tinctures to some liquid, usually milk.

Herbs That Counter Infecti

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea augustifolia) is my mainstay anti-infective

Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) is a specialty herb with broad-spectrum abilities

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is not recommended.

Poke (Phytolacca americana) kicks the immune system into high gear.

Usnea (Usnea barbarata) is a lichen that counters deep-seated infections.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) says she runs a “school of self defense.”

I rely on echinacea root tincture, poke root tincture, and yarrow flower tincture for ninety-nine percent of all infections that I deal with. Occasionally I make use of usnea, and lomatium. I have used goldenseal only once in forty years of practice – externally, at that.

GOLDENSEAL is, I believe, overused. The plant itself is so overharvested that it has become rare in the wild. Consumers are enjoined to buy only cultivated root products in order to protect what little goldenseal is left. Goldenseal root, taken in any form, tea or tincture, kills and damages gut flora and, if used in large doses frequently, can stress and ultimately cause damage to the liver and the kidneys. I avoid it.

ECHINACEA is one of the most widely-used and most commonly-known of all herbs. I “discovered” it in the early 1970’s when looking for herbs to replace goldenseal in herbal formulae. In an old book of Eclectic herbs, I found Kansas Coneflower root listed as an effective agent against all infections. (Ask me what they called it in the book; I can’t write the name they used then as I would get in trouble for using a “bad” word nowadays.) I was able to procure both purple coneflower (E. purpurea) and large-leaved coneflower (E. augustifolia) roots, as plants for my garden and as dried herbs to use medicinally. I soon became enthralled with the beauty of the echinacea flowers and the power of her roots to heal.

It took me several years to learn that more is better with echinacea. I was cautious at first, treating it just like the antibiotic drugs I was familiar with. I limited my doses and limited the amount of time I used it. But as we grew to know each other, I stopped thinking of echinacea as a drug that could harm and began to regard her as a longevity tonic and an ally who could prevent as well as treat infections. (Let us remember that pharmaceutical antibiotics are not meant to be used to preventatively.) David Hoffmann, herbalist and author, reports that mice fed echinacea on a daily basis live twice as long as their echinacea-less litter mates.

I prefer to use E. augustifolia/angustifolia. It is difficult to cultivate, so I buy dried root and make my own tincture from it. (Instructions for making your own tincture are in all of my books and at my website: All my experiences relate to this species.

E. purpurea is the species most commonly offered for sale as a ready-made tincture. If made from the fresh root – and only the root (no leaves, no flowers, no seeds), and offered by itself (no goldenseal or other herbs mixed with it), E. purpurea is probably as effective as E. augustifolia. Echinacea has become a favorite landscaping plant. Purpurea grows rapidly, stays in flower for many weeks, is tolerant of drought, cold, and poor soils, and spreads through seeds.

The effective dose of echinacea root tincture is a large one, given frequently. How large? I use one drop per two pounds (or kilo) of body weight. A 300-pound goat needs 150 drops as a dose. A dropperful is generally about 25 drops, so 150 drops would be six dropperfuls. More is not a problem; less is not enough. I repeat the dose every one to four hours depending on the severity of the infection.

Echinacea nourishes the creation of white blood cells, up to, but not beyond, the capacity of the blood. (It can’t create leukemia, for instance). A blood test will show elevated levels of macrophages soon after the first dose. Continued use will help maintain the body’s ability to counter infective bacteria. Echinacea enhances the immune system; it is safe to use even when there is an auto-immune disease present.

When I raised chickens, I was horrified to find that all the feeds for chicks contained antibiotics. Instead, I added about an ounce of dried, ground E. purpurea root to a pound of feed. It worked well; but my chicks were not crowded, nor did I ever have more than a few dozen at a time.

POKE is a large, unusual-looking plant found primarily in rich soils in the eastern half of North America. The freshly harvested root, immediately tinctured, provides an agent that “pokes” the immune system and gets it going. Poke is one of the few scary plants that I use. All parts of it are considered poisonous if incorrectly prepared or used in excessive doses.

Country folk relish poke salat. A salat is a cooked green; young poke shoots are treated with boiling water to leach out the poisons and then cooked. I have enjoyed pokeberry jam and poke berry pie, although the seeds are quite poisonous. (So are apple seeds, apricot pits, and peach seeds.)

The dose of poke root tincture for people starts at one drop per day due to poke’s propensity for causing hallucinations when the dose exceeds ten drops a day. Poke contains many poisonous substances, including asparagene, an alkaloid that can damage the kidneys over time.

Since I don’t care if a sick animal hallucinates, I don’t hesitate to give large doses to them if I think it’s needed. If I don’t get the response I want from generous doses of echinacea given hourly for six hours in an acute situation, I bring on the poke. I generally add the poke tincture to the echinacea tincture in the ratio of one dropperful of poke per one ounce bottle of echinacea. Then I dose the echinacea as usual. Each dropper of echinacea contains about one drop of poke tincture.

I use poke only as needed. And never longer than is needed. It is especially effective in countering mastitis and engorgement of the udder from overeating proteins, such as alfalfa or acorns. Poke is not easily available. One source is

YARROW counters infection, inside and out. The leaves or flowering tops, used fresh or tinctured is my favorite topical anti-infective. I discuss yarrow in my class (and notes) on treating injured animals. The tincture is for sale in most health food stores.

LOMATIUM has been shown to suppress the growth of sixty-two types of bacteria and fungi. It is also anti-viral, making it useful when the cause of the infection is uncertain. It is especially active in the mucus cells of the respiratory passages. It counters all colds and flus in humans and animals. Tincture of the freshly dug root, in doses as small as 5 drops taken three times a day, is used against brucellosis in goats and tuberculosis in humans; it is extremely useful in dealing with neonatal pneumonia. Lomatium tincture is not widely available. One source is

USNEA is a common lichen found on pine trees and fruits trees in cool, moist locations around the world. I have harvested usnea as south as New Zealand, as far north as Ontario, Canada, and as far west as California. It looks like old man’s beard and is related to it. The tincture of the properly-prepared plant is bright orange. Like lomatium, it has a special affinity for the lungs and respiratory organs. Like echinacea, it builds the immune system instead of stimulating it. Usnea is indicated if the infection is very deep-seated.

I use dropperful doses several times a day for mature animals with breathing difficulties. Dropperful doses, given every few hours, can counter rattles in the lungs of newborns. Usnea tincture is for sale in many places.


  1. Thanks for posting this great article - I love Susun's work and am anxious to see what she says about animal care.

  2. About echinace, I am not using it because it has been proved that it does nothing!

  3. About echinace, I am not using it because it has been proved that it does nothing!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hi Meg, What could I try with new goat babies that have diarrhea and sores on their anuses? I could feed their mom some usnea (old man's beard, right?). I have Lomatium - should I try giving the babies a drop each in some slippery elm paste?