Herbal First Aid

Here are my favorite first aid herbs for birds:


Cayenne powder stops bleeding! It also helps to repair tissue and heal wounds. Amazingly, it does not hurt beyond a mild stinging when you apply the powder to a wound. I simply sprinkle the powder deep into the cut or wound and let it form a clump with the clotting blood. I like to leave it on there for a few hours before proceeding with the next steps in wound care. Cayenne also reduces the sensation of pain.


Arnica is one of the best herbs to use for trauma. It minimizes the experience of shock, it helps to stop internal bleeding, and it reduces pain. Since arnica is too toxic to be taken internally: it is best used as a homeopathic remedy, readily available in most health food stores. After a traumatic episode, dissolve one or two arnica pellets in water and syringe into the beak. Repeat every one to two hours until the pain and trauma begin to subside.


There are a few herbs I would never be without and calendula is one of them. Calendula flowers, used as an herbal tea, will disinfect and rapidly heal any cut or wound that does not require stitches (and even some that do!). I take a handful of flowers, pour enough boiling water over them to cover by about an inch, and let this steep for half an hour and strain,. The remaining tea can be used as a disinfectant wash the same way you would use hydrogen peroxide. For shallow wounds that are quick to heal I use the tea as a cool wash, simply soaking down the wounded area every hour or so until the wound looks clean and calm. At that point I will use the calendula wash a few times a day for a day or two until healing is complete. For a deep wound I like to use calendula as a warm compress to draw out any potential infection. When using calendula compresses you need to make sure the tissue doesn’t seal in any possible infection, and the warmth of the compress is important to prevent this. Calendula heals skin so rapidly that if you use it without drawing out all possible infection it will knit the skin shut before the infection can drain.

Two calendula stories:

One time my Bichon Frise developed a foul-smelling, oozing infection all up and down her thigh which I was sure would need conventional antibiotic therapy, but it was late at night when I noticed her infection and I knew I would have to wait until morning to take her to a vet. In the meantime I started using warm calendula compresses on her leg every hour and within a few hours there was no sign of remaining infection. We never did go to the vet as the leg completely healed within a couple of days.

A couple of years ago one of my Princess of Wales parakeets split open the base of his tail: about an inch and a half of skin was wide open. My vet discovered this wound on a house call as the bird was in an aviary and I hadn’t seen this wound although I knew there was something wrong. The bird needed stitches but the vet’s clinic was closed at the time so she told me we would have to wait 48 hours to do the surgery. I asked her if she could stitch the wound in my house – highly unconventional!. She reluctantly agreed and used a topical anesthetic while I swathed the wound with warm calendula compresses. After she finished the stitching, I continued soaking the wound in warm calendula compresses for a few days. The wound healed beautifully and there was never any sign of infection even though we knew that wound had been open for several days prior to the stitching. The vet didn’t know what calendula was, I just told her: don’t worry, this stuff works!


Aloe vera is a soothing, antimicrobial wound healer that comes out of the aloe plant as a sort of thick gel. Aloe is best used fresh from an aloe plant, otherwise it quickly becomes rancid without the use of preservatives. Aloe plants are hardy and easy to keep. When aloe is needed, I simply clip of the tip of one of the leaves and squeeze the leaf to release the aloe. I use aloe as an antibacterial and anti-fungal wound healer when lubrication is needed, i.e. in place of antibiotic ointment. Usually I will cleanse a wound with calendula and then place aloe over the top of it to keep the tissue protected and moist. Aloe is especially good for scrapes and burns which require moist protection in order to properly heal. Aloe is also excellent for foot and leg injuries in birds since it will not mat feathers in the way that an oil based ointment will do.


Echinacea is probably the single best herb for life-threatening infections such as blood poisoning (septicemia). It stimulates immunity so effectively that the body mounts a full-blown assault on any existing infections in a way that no medicine could replicate. Many experienced herbalists use echinacea as the herb of choice with infections such as blood poisoning or MRSA where the patient could die quickly and where conventional antibiotics are often of no use. Birds frequently find themselves at the point of no return with septicemia and echinacea is one of the only effective ways to treat this frequently fatal infection. Doses must be massive and frequent: a one pound bird might require six or seven drops of echinacea tincture every one to two hours for 24 hours, at which point the dose can be tapered off to once every three or four hours for another two days, and finally the dose can be reduced to five times per day for an additional week to ten days. I always keep echinacea (root) tincture on hand in case of this type of emergency. You can buy echinacea tincture in glycerin, but it does not work nearly as well as the alcohol based tincture. If a bird’s life were in danger I would use the alcohol tincture until the situation were under control – then the glycerite could take over for the remainder of the treatment. For smaller birds like budgies and finches, I would use two to three drops per dose.


Liquid Kyolic is a reputable brand of aged liquid garlic. Liquid Kyolic is my favorite herbal product to use for bacterial or fungal infections in the digestive tract (beak to vent). I have used liquid Kyolic for life threatening GI infections many times (it doesn’t work at all for respiratory or blood infections), preceded and followed by lab tests to prove that it not only eliminates crop and gut infections but also leaves healthy flora intact. It appears to work as well or even better than Baytril based on my experiences with about fifteen or twenty serious cases. One time I was able to eradicate a pseudomonas infection that was resistant to all conventional antibiotics, and that actually had been caused by treating a previous infection with Baytril. The vet told me there was nothing that could be done and sent my Eclectus Riley home to die. I used liquid Kyolic three to four times a day for two weeks and Riley made a full recovery with no subsequent relapses, as confirmed by two lab tests following his visual improvement. Liquid Kyolic works quickly, so improvement should be seen within 24 to 48 hours, but I like to continue a course of Kyolic for two weeks before taking a week-long break. Sometimes it is necessary to repeat the two week course, but Kyolic is too strong to use for more than two or three weeks without a break. I use about 6 to 8 drops three to five times daily for a one pound bird, 10 to 12 for a two pound bird, scaling down to about 3 drops for a budgie. I have never seen liquid Kyolic work in finches, and I believe that this is because their metabolisms are so fast that the Kyolic gets excreted before it has time to kill the pathogens in the digestive tract. For these small birds, I find the most effective strategies are to use diffused essential oils in an enclosed cage area and to use strong antimicrobial/immune stimulant teas as their drinking water such as neem leaf tea.


Medicinal grade essential oils (Young Living or Original Swiss Aromatics brands) diffused in an enclosed space can save a bird’s life faster than anything I have ever used. However, it is not always safe or even feasible to use essential oils in emergencies. Sometimes there might be too much risk if, for example, a bird is in respiratory distress and the essential oils could cause fluid build up in the air sac tissue leading to asphyxiation. I don’t think I would use essential oils on a deep wound, or in a case of hemorrhaging where I wasn’t sure whether the essential oils might lead to clotting or perhaps further bleeding. Essential oils combine very effectively with the above listed first aid herbs; however these herbs also stand on their own as reliable allies during times of crisis. I keep plenty of herbs and a wide selection of essential oils on hand at all times to maximize my chances of success during emergencies.

Lainey Alexander

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, nor by any veterinarian. All information, including any product or technique mentioned, is for educational purposes only. None of the information is intended to diagnose or treat any disease.