By Dr. Becker
Today I’m very pleased to be interviewing a long-time acquaintance, Greg Tilford. Greg is an herbalist who works exclusively with animals. He owns a company that manufactures herbal extracts used by veterinarians all over the world, and he’s also author of the book Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet's Life.
A Child with a Passion for Plants
As a child, Greg was obsessed with nature. He wanted to grow up to be a mountain man. He was raised by a single mom who encouraged him to learn about the natural world that existed beneath the asphalt. His interest in herbs began as a kid playing in the sage-filled canyons of Southern California. By the time he was 7 or 8, he was taking his friends on “field trips” to show them plants that were edible, and plants that were not.
Greg was curious about the origin of plants, how they were transplanted to other regions, and how people learned of their attributes. For example, one of the first things he learned was that dandelions probably came over on the Mayflower and spread across the country as white settlers moved west. They used the dandelion as both a food and a medicine, in everything from salads to cancer treatments. Greg found that fascinating.
Pulling the Plug on Conventional Life
In his 20s, Greg started making herbal tinctures for his own use. His wife was also studying herbal medicine. Both had conventional jobs in Southern California that were burning them out, and so they decided to “pull the plug, live the dream, and do the Grizzly Adams thing,” as Greg describes it.
They cashed in their retirement accounts, bought 40 acres on the side of a mountain in Montana, and lived on the land for 11 years. That’s where Greg grew to be an expert on the role of plants in nature, often by observing how animals made use of them.
Initially, Greg worked with herbal medicines for humans. He wrote books on edible and medicinal plants of the west. He wildcrafted herbs for the nutraceutical and herbal industries. His passion was finding ways to use plants in an earth-conscious manner. All life on this planet uses plants, and Greg wanted his use of them to be symbiotic with nature. He didn’t want to simply exploit plants for human use, so his focus became the interactivity between plants, animals, and the environment. Through his exploration of nature in Montana, Greg developed a deep appreciation, love, and respect for animal herbalism.
In the early 1990s, Greg became interested in opening an herbal tincture company for humans, but he quickly realized there were many such companies already in existence – but none for animals. So he began calling holistic veterinarians around the country, asking if there was anything a Western herbalist could do to make their jobs easier in serving their animal patients.
Why Herbal Tinctures Work So Well for Pets
Several holistic vets told him that they needed a product to detoxify the body by removing excess stomach waste. That means liver support, from a holistic herbalist’s perspective. So the first formula Greg created was a detox agent consisting of very gentle liver support herbs. He was skeptical at first because in humans, a similar tincture must be used for 2 to 3 months to achieve results. He was concerned the product wouldn’t be appealing to a veterinarian or pet owner who, for example, planned to try to give it orally to a finicky cat.
Greg came up with the idea to add vegetable glycerin, which has a sweet taste, to the tincture to increase palatability. He also called his holistic vet customers and confessed his concern that they wouldn’t be able to convince their clients to keep giving the tincture for 3 to 4 – or even 6 to 8 weeks in order to see results. But much to his surprise, he began receiving calls within just a week that the tincture was working. Skin conditions were clearing very rapidly.
Greg remained skeptical, but the calls kept coming. Some of the holistic vets even offered to show him clinical results that his formula was working. Greg quickly realized that his herbal tinctures worked more freely in animals than in humans. You can find out more about Greg’s products at his website, Animal Essentials.
This has been my experience as well. Animals have higher metabolisms than we do, and a dog’s or cat’s average lifespan is around 15 to 20 years versus 80 for humans. Everything happens faster in our pets than it does in us. In clinical trials with animals we don’t have to wait 3 months or 3 years to see results. Often we see results in 3 days.
All Herbal Products Are Not Created Equal
I think one of the reasons Greg’s herbal products are so effective is because he’s a stickler for purity. Also, he was a master herbalist first and used his knowledge to build a company, rather than the other way around. These days, the market is saturated with herbal products of wildly varying quality. I asked Greg to discuss why it’s important to know the source of the herbal tinctures we buy, as well as who is blending them.
Greg explained that with herbal medicine, there are no absolutes, but rather, ranges of active components in a plant. Nature doesn’t create every plant equally. The first company Greg harvested herbs for insisted not only on good physical quality, but also that the plants be harvested at the right stage of growth, from the right environment. Ethics in harvesting is extremely important.
The quality of the source of the herbs and the way in which they are harvested has a direct relationship with how effective the therapy is. Greg believes it goes beyond science to a natural paradigm of healing. There is interconnectedness between the body of the animal, the person treating the animal, the health of the plants being used for therapy, the environment the plants grew in, and when and how they were harvested. It’s all interrelated and very important. What Greg has strived to do throughout his career as an herbalist is to stay connected to the source of the herbs as intimately as possible. He likes to be able to tell his customers, “I can show you the ground this plant came out of.”
Overharvesting of rare plants is a big concern these days. Greg is one of the charter members of United Plant Savers, an organization whose mission is to preserve wild strains of North American plants. We’ve lost many species of plants in North America, and worldwide, we’re losing thousands of species every year.
Greg tries to buy certified organic herbs whenever possible, and there are only a few plants he can’t buy that way, for example, myrrh (molmol), which comes from Africa.
Staying on top of sustainability factors isn’t easy, but there are some very dedicated organizations out there working on it, including the American Herbal Products Association, as well as United Plant Savers. These groups produce yearly tonnage reports on wild harvested plants and keep track of wild populations and sustainability, taking into consideration not only human impact on the plants, but also pollution, land development, overgrazing, and other factors.
Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life
I asked Greg to talk about his wonderful book, Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet's Life. He explained that he wrote it for a couple of reasons. Number one, he wanted to share his love for, and what he has learned about, plants and animals. But he also wanted to educate people who administer herbs to animals that it isn’t as simple as saying, “Okay, this herb is good for this disease, or that symptom.”
There’s a philosophical side to the use of herbs, and principles that set herbal medicine apart from all other types of medicine. When the principles are followed, it becomes clear what can be accomplished with Western herbs vs. pharmaceuticals or any other healing device. Greg believes the principles by which the plants are used almost outweigh the selection of the plants themselves.
I agree. Once you understand the intimate interrelationship between the plant, its environment, the receiver of the energy of the plant, and how the life force of the plant acts on the life force of the receiver (in this case, a pet), you realize it’s a continuous circle.
Greg’s herbal tinctures contain ingredients that have had a good life. The plants have been ethically harvested, the herbs are blended correctly using the right process, and the tinctures are created with the intent to help heal animals. The end product is more effective because Greg puts thought and research into every step along the way.
Greg’s tinctures are focused on the specific needs and nuances of animals, which is also very important in terms of their effectiveness. When he first began creating his pet products, there were a lot of people trying to use human products successfully on animals. These days, it’s much easier and safer because Greg and other veterinary herbalists have focused specifically on tinctures for animals. Thanks to their work, we now know exactly which herbs to use and how to use them.
Greg believes using Western herbs in veterinary medicine forces the user to understand the most natural needs of each individual animal being treated. The principles Greg teaches call for vets and pet owners to learn about the individual animal they are caring for, not from the perspective of what humans need, but what the animal needs.
Herbal Medicine Can Help Us Conquer Pathogens
I asked Greg for his thoughts on the current situation of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains like MRSA. Bacteria evolves, but so do plants, and it seems to me that plants, plant extracts, and essential oils have great potential for treating some of the tougher health challenges we’re faced with today.
Greg’s perspective on the current antibiotic crisis is that bacteria are simply evolving faster than conventional science is creating new drugs. When herbalists use an antimicrobial plant like olive leaf, for example, they’re bringing hundreds of constantly evolving natural substances into play vs. a single-substance antibiotic drug.
Greg sees herbal medicine as the cutting edge in the fight against pathogens. Looking at it from a holistic perspective, we must learn how to conquer bacteria instead of trying to kill them. Bacteria have been around forever, and it’s time to go back to nature and understand its rhythms and balances. We’ve ignored all that, and now we’re creating “Frankenbacteria,” as Greg puts it. He believes herbs can usher in an end to the antibiotic era.
Many thanks to Greg Tilford for sharing his story and wisdom with us today. I so appreciate what he has done in creating wonderful herbal tinctures for animals, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in the future!