Herbal vemifuges (parasite killers) and anthelmintics (parasite expellers) have been around a long time. Personally, I would in this one instance stay with the modern synthetics as the more effective and safer protocol. It seems to me in the years of my using modern wormers that I have never experienced an adverse side-effect on my horses. This I cannot say for many other veterinary drugs. However, I will list some of the common herbs felt to be of use in combating parasites plus cite a few references on how our forefathers applied them.
First, let me copy what my much admired veterinary herbalist, Juliette de Bairacli Levy has to say on the subject. "For mild cases of worms in horses and foals, garlic treatment given morning and night is generally sufficient. Merely add three to four grated roots of garlic to a mash of bran and molasses, continuing the treatment for several weeks; or give nightly, for two weeks, six four-grain garlic tablets [I don’t agree with this, I would go fresh garlic, all the way]. All worm treatments are best given when the moon is waxing and near the full. The worms are stirring, breeding and easier to dislodge. This is a French peasant belief which I have found to possess much truth. Also, feed plenty of pulped carrots, first removing any stringy ends. Further, provide access to couch grass and brambles. Guard against bot-worms by the practical measure of allowing the horse always to keep its full length of mane and tail, which is nature's provision against fly attacks, as the horse fly is the carrier of this worm; and also by rubbing with garlic brew or oil of camphor or eucalyptus or oil wastes (sump oil from garages) the areas where the horse fly likes to deposit its eggs, for these eggs when swallowed will develop into bot worms. I learnt this oil waste treatment from a mule-driver in Tiberias, Israel, who in turn had learnt this from Spanish gypsies. I have since found that this anti-fly treatment is in popular use with Mexican horsemen. The waste oil is merely applied with a cloth where flies especially trouble them. It is very effective and is harmless. A little oil of eucalyptus can be added to the sump oil with increased good effects. Early spring grass is one of the best and most natural vermifuges for horses and cows. The milk of mares when they are feeding on the spring grasses, and also on the shooting leaves of hedges and trees will have a vermifugal effect upon the suckling foal, which is highly beneficial and essential to true well being. For a state of worm infestation, fasting is necessary, general treatment being a preliminary two days’ cleansing fast, then night and morning dosage of balls made from three to four grated garlic roots bound with flour and honey or tracle, or three to four N.R. Herbal Compound tablets, followed one hour later by a drench of one pint of linseed oil (if procurable), otherwise substitute four pints of cane molasses stirred into a mixture of equal parts of warm water and milk—one pint, with eight tablespoonfuls castor oil added. Then feed a warm mash of bran with further molasses and turn the horse out to grass. Feed also broom tops and all possible seedy things such as pumpkin, mustard, seeded parsley, nasturtion, melons, etc. The oldest and most famed equine worm ball, which is non-poisonous, is aloes, made from 6-8 drams of aloes juice (1 dram = 1/8 oz). The animal has to be prepared previously for the aloes ball by feeding on cold bran mashes for 24 hours.”
“For the persistent tapeworm: fast the horse for one day, a total fast, which means even withholding all water. In the evening of the same day give one wineglassful of turpentine (approx 2 oz) mixed into one pint of linseed oil or molasses substitute. One hour later give a large warm mash of bran and molasses. Four days later give another pint of linseed, now without the turpentine; repeat the whole treatment in 2 weeks time if necessary. Turpentine can also be given by lumps of sugar. Use up the prescribed turpentine dosage by lumps of sugar, soaking the turpentine into the sugar lumps, but not over-heavily so as to prevent the horse from eating the sugar. I have found male fern very effective in deep-seated tape worm. For the horse, male fern is best given as extract in capsules. Such are obtainable from herbalists, sold for human use. Treble the dose prescribed for humans. It is essential that tapeworm treatment should be given when the moon is waxing close to full and not when it is waning. However, unfortunately, with modern man’s increasing reliance on chemicals for all the ills of animals in his care, male fern capsules are now difficult to obtain. Home made pills from cayenne pepper, in powder form, mixed with powdered wormwood, four teaspoonfuls pepper to two teaspoonfuls wormwood, made into balls with honey and flour. Human saliva or saliva from the horse will help to bond the pills Roll well down the throat.”
So you see how involved Levy’s herbal treatments can be! Much easier to dose your horse with a modern wormer, eh, but I am confident that Juliette knows her stuff and this would be the best procedure should you go herbal.
From Daniel Mowrey’s “The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine”: “American research has shown that the presence of allicin, the odoriferous principle and allyl sulfide is responsible for this [vermifuge] and many other beneficial properties. Round worms, pinworms, tapeworms, and hookworms all succumb to the volatile powers of Garlic. “ This is why I would avoid any aged garlic powder or other over-the-counter garlic preparations. Allicin is best elicited from smashing fresh garlic and feeding immediately.
Other herbs know to have parasite killing or ridding properties include: Alkenet, alstonia bark, American senna, apricot seed, arbor vitae, balmony, balsam fir, banana root, beech, bistort, black hellebore, blue cohosh, buckbean, blue flag, buckhorn, butterbur, butternut, chamomile, camphor, carrot, cascara sagrada, castor oil, catnip, cloves, culver’s root, elecampane, European pennyroyal, false unicorn, fennel, feverfew, gentian, garden sage, glycerine (non-herb) goat’s rue, hops horehound, horseradish, hyssop, jalap, American wormseed, knotgrass root, leek, mandrake, mullein, onion, peach, plantain, pomegranate, primrose, pumpkin seeds, purslane seeds, red lobelia, red mulberry bark, rue, self heal, senna, sorrel, stinging nettle, swamp milkweed, tansy, thyme, thymol, tobacco, turkey rhubarb, valerian, vervain, watermelon seeds, white birch, white oak, white poplar, wild carrot, wood betony, wood sage, wormwood.
Some interesting tidbits from “Farmers Horse and Cattle Doctor” (1871): Bots—“Some writers on veterinary practice contend that the only thing that will dislodge bots from a horse’s stomach, is to let him have a run at grass in the month of May or June [Levy’s theory on spring grasses!]. Take potatoes, which are always at hand and pound up a sufficient quantity and put them in a strong cloth to strain out a quart of clear juice…and drench your horse with it. This remedy has never been known to fail in the last stages of the most severe cases.” Other worms—“Give the horse 1 teaspoonful of oil chenipodtium (worm seed oil) with half a pint of castor oil. For the pin-worms, give 1 oz Aloes dissolved in one pint of strong decoction of Pink-root, at the same time give an injection of 1 oz of Aloes dissolved in soap-suds. I once saw an immense number of worms discharged from a horse, by giving him two to three bushels of chaff from bearded wheat about a peck being given him each day. Worms in horses may be destroyed by giving white Hellebore and Sulphate of iron, one-eighth of an ounce of each. Worm seed 1 oz, all pounded fine, and given in bran mash at night. Another recipe—Open the bowels by giving 5 drachms of aloes and 4 drachms of powdered gentian. Follow this up by daily doses of 4 drachms each of oxide of iron and powdered gentian. Keep this up for a fortnight, and at the end of each week, five two ounces of oil of turpentine in ten ounces of linseed oil. Give every three days, an injection of two oz of oil of turpentine in a pint of linseed oil.”
From “Dr. Chase’s Receipt Book” (1898): Bots—“He took a handful of that (tansy), bruised it, added a little water, squeezed out the juice and put some bots into it. They were dead in one minute! Since then I have had it (tansy tea) given to every horse. I have never known it to fail of giving entire relief.” The book goes on to say: “There is undoubtedly more to the virtues of tansy for bots than appears upon the face of it; for the following item has been more recently going the rounds of the papers: “Tansy tea is said to be a sure remedy for bots in horses. Experiments tried upon bots show that while they resist the action of almost every other substance, they are quickly killed by tansy. It is an easy matter to test it, by those who keep horses, when some of the bots have been passed, by putting them into some of the extracted juice of the tansy leaves.””
Another interesting piece from the same book, in regard to cayenne’s effect on bots and colic: “A friend of mine near Ann Arbor, makes the following his dependence. He says: steep one dozen good sized red peppers in 1 quart of water, strain and give the whole while warm. Work off, in an hour, with 1 pint of Currier’s oil. He said this remedy can be depended upon—neither colic nor bots can stand before it, and it will not hurt the horse nor cattle either. Red or cayenne pepper is the purest stimulate we have, and hence I have not a doubt it will do as he assured me it would. As it will warm up the stomach to do its work, and prevent the further accumulation of gas or wind from the indigestion and thus cure colic and give bots a legal notice to vacate the premises.”
To summarize, I still think the easiest and most efficient worming is with our modern chemicals, but if you prefer to go herbal some form of drench utilizing the above herbs may be best—as our ancestors discovered. Note that our forefathers knew it was important to prepare the horse for these herbal worming treatments by fasting and treating according to the moon cycles. I would advise these two items not to be dismissed lightly.