As gardeners, we treasure the summer growing season when we celebrate the sun as a giver of bounty. The summer fire starts to burn and with a little rain, we have the makings of some amazing gardens, flowers and my favorite, herbs. Herbs can go a long way in helping us care for our canine friends if we just know how to use them. One of my most cherished herbs is chamomile. Not only does it have a sunny disposition, it is a friend to both human and canine alike.
Chamomile is a favorite among gardeners and herbalists. It is a white flower with a center of yellow that looks like it is reaching for the sun like an old friend. There are many varieties of chamomile to be found but the most well known is German Chamomile (Matricaria retutica). German Chamomile is an annual flower that reseeds itself. Another variety is Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis). Roman Chamomile is a creeping perennial that lies lower to the ground than its reaching German friend. The word chamomile has Greek roots with Chamos meaning ground and Melos meaning apple. Chamomile flowers have a fresh apple scent. Chamomile can be known by other names such as flos chamomillae, matricaire, sweet feverfew, pin heads, dog fennel, mayweed and wild chamomile. The herb originated in the Mediterranean region of the world and can be found in Europe growing wild.
Just looking at chamomile makes me happy. When planted from seed its newly sprouted shoots can rival the cutest puppy. I sometimes think I can hear them giggling. Francis, my Pug, loves to sit on the chamomile bed and roll around. I let her because I truly believe that the flowers enjoy it.
Besides being joyous, Chamomile is an herbal medicine that can help inflammations, spasms, ulcers, anxiety, wounds, gastrointestinal ailments, round and whip worms, diarrhea, swollen ears, eye irritations and dermatitis. I use it to help relax and wind down at the end of a long day. Francis uses it as an eye tonic when she has been playing in the dirt too much. If you are a herbal newcomer, I always recommend to start out slow and always use German Chamomile for yourself and your pup. A great way to begin using this friendly herb is to make a tea, poultice, infused oil salve or an antimicrobial rinse made with cool, filtered water.
Chamomile tea is an easy way to help calm your pup when she is stressed or anxious. Tea is an especially good place to start before thinking of administering a more liver taxing and sedative medicine. You can give 2 teaspoons or tablespoons (depending on the size of your dog) in her drinking water or let her lap it out of a shallow cup.
A poultice is a soft ball of herbs that are heavy with infused liquid and applied warm. You can make a poultice by using dried or freshly chopped chamomile and putting it into a piece of tightly woven organic cotton. I like to make two at a time so that I can always have a warm poultice to use. Tie the top of the cotton using a string or rubber band. Place both of the cotton balls in a shallow bowl and pour hot water over them. With a clean hand, knead the cotton ball until the herbs are soaked with the water. Gently press the warm ball to the affected area of your dog until the poultice is cool. Put the cool poultice back in the hot water and while it is warming up, use the second poultice. Repeat. Do this 2 to 3 times per day until the affected area is healed.
Salves are another way to administer herbs externally to your dog. To make a lovely chamomile infused salve start with this basic recipe. Get a double boiler or a medium sauce pan base with a smaller pan on top. Fill the bottom pan with water and bring to a low boil. In the top pan place approximately 12 ounces of olive oil and 2 1/2 ounces of dried German Chamomile or 3 1/2 ounces of fresh herbs. Stir gently and place a tightly fitting lid over the top pan. Allow this mixture to warm for two hours while stirring every 30 minutes or so. Make sure to replenish the water in the lower pan if it gets low. When finished, strain the herbs out of the oil using a fine metal mesh strainer. Next, take 1/2 ounce of vegetable wax and 1/2 cup of the infused oil and put into a small saucepan. Warm on low heat until the wax melts. Pour into jars and let cool. If your salve is too hard, add more oil to the mixture until you achieve the right consistency. A good way to test this is to put a sample of the liquid salve in the refrigerator and see how hard it is when it achieves a firm consistency. Once it will hold its shape, you’re done. Now you can rub your newly made salve on your dog’s dry skin, wounds, and other minor topical ailments 2 to 3 times per day until healed.
Infused rinses made with filtered water are known as liquid infusions. Making a cooled herbal liquid infusion is like making a tea. I like to use loose chamomile flowers that have been broken apart but tea bags will do. Take 2 teaspoons of loose flowers or one large tea bag of chamomile, pour a cup of boiling water over it and let it steep for 5 minutes. Strain the chamomile out of the liquid in a fine, mesh strainer and let cool.
This liquid is wonderful for cleaning your dog’s eyes. Eye irritations are referred to as conjunctivitis. It can be the result of pollen, particles in the air, a foreign object or bacteria. To treat mild conjunctivitis, make a chamomile infusion until the water is a strong yellow. Pour through a unbleached paper coffee filter and dilute to 2 parts infusion to 1 part saline solution. Drip into your dog’s eyes 2 to 3 times per day until the inflammation subsides.
Chamomile tea can be used to stimulate appetite for restless dogs who would rather play than eat or dogs that pace and pant excessively. 1-3 teaspoons twice daily before dinner or 30 minutes after dinner is recommended. Another use for an infusion of chamomile is for inflammation of your dog’s skin. This small but mighty herb is an analgesic and a antibiotic which means it has pain relieving properties as well as inhibiting the growth of bacteria. Pour chamomile tea into a spray bottle and mist your dog’s skin 2 to 3 times a day. You can also apply tea with a piece of clean muslin.
Chamomile can also be used in conjunction with other herbs as a treatment. A great spring regimen for your pup is to mix chamomile, milk thistle, and lavender to help support the liver. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of dried milk thistle with 1/16th teaspoon lavender and 1/4 teaspoon of chamomile. Take this mixture and fill #0 to #3 capsules (depending on the size of your dog, basically 0 = large, 1 = medium, 2 = small/medium 3 = small and give one each day to your dog with their food. Do this for a period of two weeks in the spring or early summer.
Grow Your Own
Chamomile is easy to grow in most climates and does well in containers. You can dry it indoors on unbleached paper towels or using a metal screen.
As a relatively non-toxic herb, chamomile is safe for general use. However, care should always be given with pregnant or elderly dogs. Herbs are always better in small amounts and more is not always better. Chamomile can help trigger ragweed allergies so if you or your dogs suffer from ragweed, don’t use chamomile as a remedy. Chamomile can also make asthma worse. Avoid its use if your dog has any trouble breathing, has diabetes, or suffers from low blood pressure. It is also a good idea to avoid this herb for at least 2 weeks before surgery as it has blood thinning properties. For topical use, it’s always good to test for a reaction by making an infusion of the herb and testing it on your dog’s skin first.
Chamomile is a great herb to try and experiment with. With a little practice and confidence, you will be able to make a mild medicine for you and your dog to use when life gets a bit hectic and overwhelming. I hope it brings you as much joy as it does Francis and me.