Alternative Therapies for Colic in Horses
Copyright 2008 Alethea Kenney (email:
If you think your horse has a case of colic, CALL THE VET! While you are waiting for the vet to arrive, review some of this information.

Herbs are referred to using common name but scientific name appears following in italics for clarification in identifying herbs used.

As with all therapies, herbs or applications, always use caution and common sense and ask the advice of a qualified practitioner or veterinarian before embarking on any course of action for yourself or your animals. The following is a compilation of traditionally used therapies for colic in horses, it is not meant to be a diagnosis or prescription for your situation or animal.

Normal Values for a Horse:

Body Temperature:
normal: 100F (38C)
mild fever: 102F
moderate fever: 104F
high fever: 105F
resting rate: 28-48 beats per minute
mares may be faster than stallions or geldings
fit horses will have slower rates than pasture potatoes
adult healthy: 8-16 breaths per minute
young (at rest) 12-20 breaths per minute
salmon pink-healthy
blue or purple-lack of oxygen
blotched could be toxic reaction
pale pink-anemia
dark pink may be dehydration or okay, just oxygenated
yellow-kidney disorder or jaundice
(Bird, 2002, p. 13-14)

Potential Colic Symptoms (remember, this is serious, call the vet):

  • Passing hard dry manure or diarrhea
  • Pawing the ground or standing stretched out
  • Turning to look at either side, biting or kicking at belly
  • Restlessness, unable to decide whether to lay down, stand or roll
(Bird, 2002, p. 196).

Types of Colic:

Spasmodic Colic: A spasm of the wall of intestine. Causes include parasites, stress, nervous tension, too much rich food, fast barometric pressure drops (Self, 2001, p. 78)

Impaction Colic: Impaction of food in the large intestine, usually the vet will give painkillers and then drenches with paraffin, linseed or salt water (Self, 2001, p. 79)

Displaced Internal Structure: Something in the large or small intestine or spleen has become displaced or twisted (Brennan, 2001, p. 200)

Other Causes: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the intestinal tract is extremely sensitive to environmental dampness, cold, sudden changes to this damages the spleen and stomach meridians yielding digestive upset (Wynn & Fougere, 2007, p. 422)

Herbs Used Traditionally for One Type of Colic:

Spasmodic Colic: chamomile (Matricaria recutita), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), marshmallow (Althea officinalis), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), licorice (Glycyrrihiza glabra) (Self, 2001, p. 78)

Impaction Colic: comfrey (Symphytum officinale), marshmallow (Althea officinalis)(Self, 2001, p. 79)

Nervous/Stressed Digestion and Colic: probiotic before and after stress, yogurt with honey, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) (Self, 2001, p. 117)

Other Herbs Traditionally Used for Colic (Separately or in combinations):

  • Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) (Self, 2001, p. 26)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) Romm, 1989, p. 3)
  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) (Self, 2001, p. 33)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (de Bairacli Levy, 1991, p. 315)
  • Gentian root (Gentiana lutea) (de Bairacli Levy, 1991, p. 314)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita) Self, 2001, p. 49)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) (Self, 2001, p. 58)
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) (Self, 2001, p. 59)
  • Viburnum (Viburnum opulus) (Romm, 1989, p. 3)
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) (Romm, 1989, p. 3)
  • Willow (Salix alba) (Self, 2001, p. 61)

Herbs Traditionally Used to Recover From Colic:

  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) (Bird, 2002, p. 45)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (Bird, 2002, p. 45)
  • Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium) not in pregnant mares (Bird, 2002, p. 50)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) (Bird, 2002, p. 51)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) (Bird, 2002, p. 54)
  • Linseed oil as laxative (de Bairacli Levy, 1991, p. 315)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum sativum) (Bird, 2002, p. 57)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita) (Bird, 2002, p. 59)
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) (Bird, 2002, p. 62)
  • Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) (Bird, 2002, p. 63)

Essential Oils Recommended for Colic:
Some of these are recommended as topical applications, diluted in carrier oils and some as inhalants. Some horses may react to essential oils (or any foreign substance) and some may not appreciate the scent. Offering an essential oil to the horse to sniff before applying it can tell you if the horse enjoys that scent, will react badly or does not care for that particular odor (Bird, 2002, p. 129). Always dilute essential oils before applying to skin or any internal application. 1 drop of essential oil to every mL of carrier oil (Bird, 2002, p. 112).

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) topical, relieve pain and symptoms (Bird, 2002, p. 113)
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamom) diluted and topical, problems of nervous origin (Bird, 2002, p. 113)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) inhalation or topical, affinity to liver or spleen and immune system (Bird, 2002, p. 117)
Hops (Humulus lupus) relieves cramping, esp. nervous (good with lavender)
Lavender (Lavendula spp.) cramping, esp of nervous origin(Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Lemon (Citrus limon) calms, esp. with fever (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Litsea cubeba decrease gas (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Melissa (Melissa officinalis) relaxes (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Sandalwood (Santalum album) decreases diarrhea (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) anti-inflammatory, balancing and calming, encourages detox (Bird, 2002, p. 127)

Homeopathic Remedies for Colic (Please review materia medica for homeopathic remedies before deciding on a particular remedy. All symptoms, personality and physical clues must be considered in each individual case and may differ from one animal to another or one episode to another. The following list is by no means complete and indications are not given in entirety. Use caution with remedies, or do not use them at all):

Aconitum napellus (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Belladonna (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Calcium carb (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Carbo veg (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Colchicum -gaseous colic or bloat, esp. after eating excess clover, worse between sundown and sunrise, motion or vibration, better with warmth, rest. Colic often in autumn, worse with stretching (Bird, 2002, p. 143)
Colocynthis -gassy colic with distended abdomen, pain in waves or groups, better with firm pressure on abdomen, irritable, chilly, worse with damp and cold, much worse with eating and drinking (Harmon, 2003, p. 25)
Ipecacuanha (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Mag phos (tissue salt) - neuromuscular coodinator and nerve relaxant, muscle spasm, spasmodic colic with pain anywhere along intestinal tract, diarrhea, constipation from stress, muscle twitching or pain in myofascial tissue (Bird, 2002, p. 197)
Nux vomica -impaction or gassy colic, dull or violent pain, worse with motion, irritated with touch, sometimes better with heat (Harmon, 2003, p. 24)

Other Alternatives:

Acupressure and/or Moxibustion over points assoc. with large intestine, soothing to spasmoic colic, BL25 (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Bach Flower Rescue Remedy (Harmon, 2003, p. 24)
Bach Flower Impatiens-prevents recurring mild colic (Brennan, 2001, p. 201)
Massage ears/Reflexology for stomach pain (Bird, 2002, p. 197)

Follow Up Care After Colic Episode:

Linseed oil laxative once a week for several months after episode (de Bairacli Lvy, 1991, p. 315)
Mucilaginous and/or carminitive herbs -chamomile (Matricaria recutita), peppermint (Mentha piperita), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) (Bird, 2002, p. 198)
Example formula: slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), marshmallow (Althea officinalis), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), comfrey root (Symphytum officinale), and 1/2 part licorice root (Glycyrrihiza glabra), 1-2 tbsp. daily for 1 mo. after (Bird, 2002, p. 198)
1-2 cups chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita) to nightly feed for 1-2 mos.
Offer essential oils (see note above), may place these where horse indicates (poll, neck, chest, abdomen): basil (Ocimum basilicum), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), lavender (Lavendula spp.), juniper (Juniperus communis), frankincense (Boswellia carterii), marjoram (Origanum majorana) (Bird, 2002, p. 198)
Repeated episodes require re-evaluating lifestyle for “undigestible” aspects (yours and the horse’s), work, training, living arrangements (Bird, 2002, p. 198)

Some Formulas Traditionally Used for Colic or Digestive Upset (Provided for your entertainment, some appear to be poisonous):

Gassy Colic:
2 parts chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
1 part fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
1 part peppermint (Mentha piperita)
1 part marshmallow (Althea officinalis)
(Wynn & Fougere, 2007, p. 422)

Chronic Dry Manure or Constipation:
4-6 oz of flax or hemp meal/day
2 parts marshmallow root (Althea officinalis)
1 part dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
1 part fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
2 oz distilled aloe juice
(Wynn & Fougere, 2007, p. 422)

Acute Colic:
1 tsp powdered grain and paradise (amomum melegueta)
1/2 tsp powdered caraway (Carum carvi)
20 drops oil of peppermint (Mentha piperita)
1 tbsp powdered slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)
1 pint hot water (from 1854)
(Wynn & Fougere, 2007, p. 422)

2 oz tincture of ginger (Zingiber officinale)
20 drops oil of peppermint (Mentha piperita)
2 drachms (7.4 mL) chloric ether (mix of chloride of sodium, manganese, sulphuric acid and strong alcohol)
1/2 pint of thin gruel
Administer, rub belly, use enemas
(Wynn & Fougere, 2007, p. 422)

Spasmodic Colic:
Warm ale or porter with bit of whisky or 1 tbsp ground ginger (Zingiber officinale) drench of 25 drops aconite root (Aconitum napellus) 1 oz spirit of turpentine with bottle of cold ale or porter (from 1917) (Wynn & Fougere, 2007, p. 422)

Simple peppermint (Mentha piperita) tea (Wynn & Fougere, 2007, p. 422)


Works Cited:

Bird, C. (2002). A Healthy Horse the Natural Way. Australia: Lyons Press.

Brennan, M. (2001). Complete Holistic Care and Healing for Horses. Vermont: Trafalgar Square Publ.

De Bairacli Levy, J. (1991). The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable. London: Faber.

Harmon, J. (2003). Homeopathic First Aid for Horses. VA: MacHelp Assc.

Romm, A. (1989). Editor’s Branch. Journal of American Herbalists Guild. Vol. 4 (1).

Self, H. (2001). A Modern Horse Herbal. Great Britian: Kenilworth Press.

Wynn, S. & Fougere, B. (2007). Veterinary Herbal Medicine. MO: Mosby Elsevier.