Herbal (botanical) medicine involves the practice of prescribing plant products, or products derived directly from plants, for the treatment of disease. Herbal medicine has survived since prehistoric times, in part because, until recently, there were no effective alternatives. Some plants do contain biologically active ingredients, and some pharmaceuticals in widespread use today are identical to, or derivatives of, bioactive constituents of historic folk remedies. Indeed, herbal and botanical sources form the origin of as much as 30% of all modern pharmaceuticals.
Evidential support concerning use of plant products in veterinary herbal medicines for patients is scarce and ranges from effective and safe to ineffective and risky. However, the methodologic quality of primary studies on herbal medicines for many species is generally poor. In addition, data that directly compare herbal remedies with well-established pharmaceutical products are often not available. However, as the database on herbs continues to grow, veterinarians seeking to prescribe natural, plant-based compounds should inspect the latest scientific literature for information on the compound or product of interest.
Making a rational decision about an herbal product requires knowledge of its active ingredients, its safety and adverse effects, and whether the herb has been shown to be as good as or better than pharmaceutical products available for the same purpose. This information is incomplete or unavailable for most standardised herbal extracts. Standardization of veterinary herbal medicines (crude drugs/extracts) is necessary to establish their quality, consistency, and reproducibility to ensure that one or more of the veterinary herbal medicine's key phytochemical ingredients or other ingredients are present in a defined amount. In addition, there are no standards or quality control testing of the products regularly recommended for animals. Risk versus benefit questions must be considered for products with unclear constituents and unknown active ingredients.
The appropriate translation of drug dosage from one animal species to another and the translation of animal dose to human dose are both very important from the point of safety and efficacy of drugs. Moreover, forced administration and mixing of drug with fodder are usually done to administer the drugs to animals.
Medicinal herbs contain a vast range of pharmacologically active ingredients and each herb has its own unique combination and properties. Many herbs (whole plants) contain ingredients which have several effects that are combined in the one medicine. It would be appropriate to weigh the risk-benefit ratio based on the scientific evidence and experience of a prescriber while prescribing such herbal medicines in the interest of animal health.