Nutrition 8 of 24

Herbs: Medicinal-Nutrient and Medicinal Herbs

Last month we looked at the difference between nutrient and medicinal herbs, with a focus on alfalfa, a nutrient herb. This month we focus on aloe vera and slippery elm, herbs that have both medicinal and nutrient value, and valerian, an herb with medicinal value.


Aloe Vera

Aloe is used both for topical applications and internal consumption. It is considered a cell proliferant, which means it encourages the growth of healthy tissue. This explains its effectiveness for healing wounds and internal ulcers.

Medicinal Properties

Definite Actions

    1. Cathartic action (due to anthraquinones—a yellow irritating substance in the rind)

    2. The benefits of the viscous fiber

  • Lowers bowel transit time
  • Absorbs toxins in the bowel
  • Regulates colonic bacteria
  • Demulcent (soothing) to the digestive tract

3. Cell proliferant action (due to mucopolysaccharides).

Probable Action

Antibiotic action (due to polysaccharides). Aloe juice is primarily water (99.5%). The remaining 0.5% contains:

  • Mucopolysaccharides: These carbohydrate molecules are often combined with protein to form a protective gel-like substance. The mucopolysaccharides in aloe are similar to hyaluronic acid.
  • Anthraquinone glucosides, which are bitter and should not be given internally.

Aloe is often combined with slippery elm to treat ulcers. In addition to its content of viscous fiber, aloe is high in selenium and silicon. Both of these trace minerals are important in healing. Aloe can be fed short-term to help horses recover from a stressful event but it is safe enough to feed long-term for horses with sensitive digestive tracts. Interestingly, insulin-resistant horses that are very sensitive to most carbohydrates tolerate aloe very well. I have also had several horses with apparent stomach ulcers that showed no improvement on SUCCEED or Stomach Soother but did well on aloe and slippery elm.

Slippery Elm

This mucilaginous herb is almost identical in action to aloe. It is the inner bark of the tree that contains the healing properties, and high-quality slippery elm should be yellow or tan in color. A dark color indicates that the outer bark of the tree has been included, making the herb less effective. Slippery elm is high in several B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. Although slippery elm is safe for long-term consumption, there is only a finite supply of it in the world so it should be used only in the short-term. Alternatively, slippery elm can be alternated with more readily available mucilaginous herbs such as marshmallow for long-term use.


Medicinal herbs often have a very bad taste that would discourage their long-term consumption by animals in the wild. Some medicinal herbs such as foxglove, the herb from which digitalis is made, will cause vomiting if ingested in toxic amounts. This protective measure provided in nature is lost when active components are extracted from herbs and made into drugs.


This aromatic herb is often used for performance horses or injured horses who must be confined because it has a strong calming action on the nervous system. Although the name sounds similar, this herb has no relation to the drug Valium.

Medicinal Properties

Definite Actions

  • Central nervous system depressant (due to alkaloids)
  • Antispasmodic (due to alkaloids)
  • Analgesic properties (due to alkaloids)
  • Antibacterial against gram-positive bacteria (due to alkaloids)

Medicinal herbs should be used short-term in most cases. Even medicinal herbs have some nutritional properties and many are safe long-term at low dosages. In my opinion, many herbs that are needed long-term are actually supplying nutrients which are lacking in the diet.

About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy.

Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.

She has authored several books and publishes at her blog.

Madalyn Ward DVM