Herbal medicine was early man’s first line of defense against the many ills and accidents that plagued him. Ancient humans learned from the observation of animals, including birds, how to use leaves, earth, mud and water to make soothing applications. Although the methods were crude, several of today’s medicines are based upon sources as simple as those of ancient man.
Presently, the use of herbs as self-prescribed medication is growing rapidly in the United States. It is an industry with more than $1.5 billion in annual sales. Medicinal herbs are the same natural plant drugs that have been used since antiquity. They remain the only form of medicine for a large majority of the world’s population that lacks access to hospitals and pharmacies.
Some of the popular herbal remedies for people are:
- Backache: Valerian root
- Headache: Feverfew
- Muscle Aches: Capsaicum cream
- Indigestion: Peppermint or Chamomile tea
- Nausea: Ginger (tea, capsules, candy)
- Depression: St. John’s Wort
- Anxiety & Stress: Valerian root
- Iolds and Flu: Echinacea
- Coughs: Slippery elm
- Menopause Problems: Black cohosh extracts
- Sleep Problem: St. John’s Wort or Valerian root
HERBAL TREATMENTS FOR PARROTS
Years ago, only the most experimental-minded of birdkeepers used herbs, because there were no guidelines for their use, nor had dosages for them been determined. As we realized that the potential for harm to our birds by herbal remedies was somewhat less than that of pharmaceuticals, we began to establish dosages by starting with minute amounts and increasing gradually to the optimal level. When using the milder herbs, one might use the method of establishing the correct dosage for a human infant of about ten pounds, and use one tenth the amount for a parrot weighing approximately one pound.
The most popular herbal remedy for the care of parrots seems to be aloe. One popular use of aloe is a topical spray to sooth the irritated skin of birds that engage in feather plucking. Our love of parrots can be extremely rewarding! Most of the time, interacting with them is pure pleasure. But, one of the few drawbacks of keeping parrots as a hobby or a business is the occasional painful bite. It is surprising that although most of us know about the use of aloe vera gel for sunburn, there seems to be little awareness of its merits as an analgesic for other minor injuries.
It will take only one incident of a smashed toe, a cut finger, a scraped knee, or a crushing bird bite from a beak capable of exerting a couple thousand pounds of pressure to convince you of the almost magical pain-killing ability of aloe vera gel. Not only does aloe vera gel relieve pain almost instantly, it also helps to prevent bruising and its accompanying purple, black and blue colors. When you have a cut, abrasion, bruise or painful bite, immediately immerse the wounded area in a thick coating of the gel. For a badly bitten finger, fill a rubber finger cot with the thick gel and wear it on the finger for as long as you like, five minutes is good and an hour is better! The pain will be a thing of the past within the first few minutes. If you have older aloe vera plants with large leaves, you might cut open a leaf and wrap it around an injured finger.
About a year ago, I wrote an account in an on-line newsletter of an adult female eclectus that I own who became seriously ill. After undergoing every imaginable test and treatment protocol by two veterinarians, no diagnosis could be made and the bird was sent home to be “kept comfortable.” In desperation, I went browsing in a health food store with the hope of finding something that might save my beloved bird. Both vets had mentioned liver damage so I decided to try a liver-detoxifying agent called Aloe Detox by Naturade. I was shocked at the immediate response–her appetite returned, she began perching for the first time in weeks and she became responsive to her surroundings again.
After a couple weeks of steady improvement and when she seemed normal again, I took her back to one of the treating vets for blood work. He was pleasantly surprised just to see her alive, and he drew blood for re-testing. He phoned me with the results of the CBC and said “If I had not drawn the blood myself, I would not believe that it came from the same bird. All of her liver values are completely normal!”
In hindsight, I wish that I had kept a log of all her treatments, including the Aloe Detox, but the dosage that I used was, at best, unscientific, being simply all that I could get into her. I made her drinking water half Aloe Detox, soaked her bird bread in it, and put it on everything that she would eat. Being a non-toxic product, I felt that there was no danger of overdosing her. Due to the serious nature of her condition, there was nothing to lose.
The veterinarian who published the on-line newsletter in which I recounted this story became interested in Aloe Detox . Here is what Dr. M.L Simmons says about the product.
“After the hen recovered fully and resumed her role as part of a prolific producing pair, I started recommending Aloe Detox in cases where antibiotics, anti-fungals, and other treatments had failed. The results were so startling that I became more and more convinced that we had stumbled onto something. Sometimes the favorable responses could be seen within two to three hours. We have given it to babies as young as one day old, and to adult birds, with no side effects.We are now using it prior to antibiotics, which so far has resulted in no need for the antibiotics, which can have damaging effects on bone marrow and immune systems. We do not know how Aloe Detox works–it may be a powerful natural antibiotic, or it may be a powerful stimulator of the immune system, or some combination thereof. Initially we use it full strength as the liquid in the feeding formulation. I usually recommend a little BeneBac (probiotic) and a little handfeeding powder mixed well and fairly liquid. Sometimes we have had to dribble the fluid into the side of the beak as the chick was no longer responding at all. (If possible, tubing would be a good approach.)
After a positive response, we reduce the strength of the Aloe Detox by adding water to make up the difference. Then over a period of two days we gradually eliminate the detox gel and replace it with water. Two of my vet friends, initially very wary of “herbal cures”, were convinced to try it and they now keep it in stock in their clinics at all times. (It is a very good vehicle for delivering oral medications in dogs and cats and is absolutely fantastic for canine and feline simple enteric disorders and diarrhea.) This stuff really does work!!!”
Through the internet and by word of mouth, Aloe Detox has become popular with quite a few Avian vets in the U.S. and has been credited with saving many birds, which is most gratifying to me. I think that it should be an integral part of all Avian first-aid kits.
Dr. Greg Harrison, Avian vet of Lake Worth, Florida, also recommends Aloe Vera. In his book, Avian Medicine, Principles and Application, he makes the following recommendation: George’s Aloe Vera (Warren Laboratories) Available as a lotion for topical application on pruritic lesions or as a liquid for oral administration. Solution for treating pruritic skin lesions is made by mixing one-half ounce of Aloe Vera oral liquid with one teaspoon of Penetran, two drops of Woolite and one pint of water.
Echinacea is an herbal preparation made from the purple coneflower plant or echinacea augustifolia. It has been called an herbal antibiotic on the level of penicillin. The plant and its extracts currently are being marketed primarily for their effect of stimulating the immune system through several different mechanisms–stimulation of phagocytosis, increased motility of leukocytes, and increase in T-lymphocytes and interferon production. Echinacea also inhibits hyaluronidase, which may prevent the spread of microorganisms throughout the body. Dr Greg Harrison says that he has seen a clinical response in sick birds who have evidence of infection and in birds following antibiotic therapy. He says too that birds with chronic pin feathers, liver problems, pox lesions, allergic dermatitis, and any clinical sign suggesting the need for immune stimulation have shown response to Echinacea.
Echinacea can be found in health food stores in tablet and capsule form. Toxicity studies in animals indicate that Echinacea is non toxic. Dr Harrison mixes 3 ml of echinacea extract with 7 ml of lactulose, a non-prescription product from pharmacies. He administers one drop twice daily to a budgie-size bird. The recommended dose of echinacea for a parrot is 2.5 drops per kg of body weight, or 5 drops per cup of drinking water. It is thought that echinacea should be administered for only two weeks in succession, followed by two weeks off the herb. Echinacea alone should not be used to treat a critically ill bird that needs aggressive antibiotic treatment.
Echinacea can be used as an indicator of the quality of herbs in a product line. If I wanted to test Brand X herbs, I would buy their echinacea capsules, break one open and put some of the herb on my tongue. If it numbed my tongue, I would assume that it was a good line of products with fresh and viable herbs. If it did not have the expected numbing effect, I would not buy any of the other products of that brand name as they may have little or no effect.
The following is a list of other herbs and the conditions for which they can be used in the treatment of parrots.
Aids in allergies and arthritic conditions of parrots by removing toxins from the body; neutralizing acids, and purifying the blood. Alfalfa stimulates the appetite, and aids in the assimilation of protein, calcium & other nutrients.
Fresh aloe gel is a perfect application for small cuts, abrasions, and rashes on parrots’ skin. It dries and heals the injury.
The active ingredient, capsaicin, is an appetite stimulant and a good natural treatment for sinus congestion in parrots. Used topically, it is an anti-inflammatory agent. Parrots enjoy its fiery taste.
One of nature’s safest and mildest sedatives useful to calm birds in stressful situations. Studies show that this herb also kills the yeast fungi Candida albicans as well as certain staph bacteria.
Exerts mild anti-fungal effect on candida and other types of yeast, and aspergillus. It also has a mild anti-bacterial effect against strep and staph bacteria.
Helpful in diseases of the liver and digestive organs. Useful in the treatment of arthritis.
Used as an immunostimulant. May speed recovery in some cases of poxvirus and in debilitated birds. Also possesses anti-bacterial properties.
Useful herb for protecting and maintaining the health of parrots’ eyes. A strong tea of eyebright, used as a wash, is perfect for irritated eyes on all pets.
Has anti-oxidant properties as well as anti-parasitic properties which kill intestinal parasites. Protects the liver from the damage of chemical pollutants in the air and in food and water supply. Researchers at the University of Cambridge in England found that garlic juice is as strong as the antifungal drugs, Amphotericin and Nystatin, against Candida, a fungal problem sometimes found in parrots. Should be used sparingly and in the form of fresh garlic, not the concentrated garlic powder. Garlic belongs to a family of plants that may cause anemia in animals if given for long periods of time.
Excellent to prevent motion sickness when parrots must travel. Use a few drops of ginger extract in the water, and slices of fresh ginger offered the night before the bird must travel. Very useful against nausea and regurgitation.
A member of the pepper family, and popular among people in the South Pacific islands since earliest times, Kava Kava has sedative and tranquilizing effects. It is useful in some cases of feather plucking and hyperactivity of parrots. This herb is quite strong and therefore must be used sparingly.
Seeds contain silymarin, a flavonoid that is effective for liver disorders. This is the main herbal ingredient of Aloe Detox and the number one herb for the treatment of all liver problems. Milk thistle has been used without side effects for years.
Passiflora incarnata, also commonly known as Maypop acts as a gentle sedative and may be our best natural parrot tranquilizer. Parrots that engage in feather destruction may respond favorably to either Passion Flower, Kava Kava, or St.Johns Wort. Hyperactive parrots or those with compulsive behavior patterns may be helped by Passion Flower.
Or Taheebo is considered a “miracle bark” from a South American tree, with anti-fungal properties effective against candida and intestinal parasites in humans and parrots alike.
ST. JOHNS WORT
Hypericum has anti-depressant qualities and can be tried as a substitute for Haloperidol in some feather-plucking parrots. Not all herbs work the same in all parrots so it may be necessary to try more than one for some symptoms. St. Johns Wort could possibly be a problem if administered to parrots that live outside with access to direct sunlight. The reason for this warning is that there were studies of sheep that ingested extremely large quantities of pure hypericum-perforatum and died of phototoxicity. This may or may not apply to parrots. No studies have been published on the use of St. Johns Wort in parrots.
Sea vegetables such as Kelp, Wakame, Undaria, Kombu and Nori protect parrots as well as humans against several gram positive and gram negative bacteria known to potentiate carcinogens in the system. They posses anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-tumor properties. They are powerful immunostimulants.
Used externally for wounds, burns, rashes, abscesses, boils, or insect bites, and internally for the lungs, coughing, vomiting
Used as a sedative and pain reliever, stronger than most other herbal sedatives. Should be used only with the advice of an experienced herbalist.
Applied topically in a spray, it has astringent and healing properties and relieves itching. Can be used in addition to or as an alternative to aloe vera spray when parrots have itchy skin. Unlike aloe spray, witch hazel usually is preserved with alcohol so it should not be sprayed near the face of a parrot. I prefer aloe spray because of the potential of inhalation of the alcohol in witch hazel.
HERBAL PRODUCTS TO AVOID
- ORAGE: Contains toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids
- CALAMUS: Indian type most toxic
- CHAPPARAL: Can induce severe liver toxicity
- COLSTFOOT: Contains carcinogenic alkaloids
- COMFREY: Contains toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids
- EPHEDRA or MA HUANG: Can cause dangerous increase in heart rate and blood pressure
- HERMANDER: Can cause liver toxicity
- LICORICE: Can cause sodium and water retention and potassium depletion
- HA HUANG: Has caused heart attacks, seizures, psychotic episodes and death in humans
- LIFE ROOT: Can cause liver toxicity
- LOBELIA: Also called Indian tobacco, can lead to vomiting, convulsions, coma and death
- PENNY ROYAL: The oil is highly toxic to the liver and interferes with blood clotting
- POKE ROOT: May be fatal
- SASSAFRASS: Ineffective and carcinogenic
- YOHIMBE: I have received several inquiries about the possible use of Yohimbe bark (and other herbs) as aphrodisiacs for non-producing mature parrots set up for breeding. Yohimbine is on the USFDA unsafe herb list of March 1977 and there is no proof of effectiveness in animal or human studies. Furthermore, it is a powerful drug which causes dilation of blood vessel in animals and humans. It can cause weakness, paralysis, gastrointestinal problems and even psychosis in humans. Experimentation using this herb with parrots could cause death, and at best is ineffective for the intended aphrodisiac effect.
The absence of government or industry regulation on herbs places a burden of responsibility on the parrot owner who chooses to use herbal remedies. We all need to learn as much as we can from reputable, expert sources about the possible benefits and dangers of any herbal remedy that we may consider using. Medicinal herbs contain powerful, pharmacologically active compounds–in other words, they contain drugs. Like drugs, they should be used with caution. We cannot be tempted to apply the idea that “if a little is good, a lot is better”. The advice of an experienced herbalist or holistic healer who is knowledgeable about the scientific literature on herbs is recommended when using any herbal treatment for parrots.