Wild Yam is one of a thousand of herbs out there that can benefit your horse, but each herb, despite having similar capabilities regarding inflammation, can be quite different in their overall mechanism of action. Thus, no one herb is right or beneficial for each and every horse. Wild Yam is one that is quite unique and an herb that I have found to have tremendous value in the right horse for a variety of reasons and issues. The capabilities and potential are quite significant!
Wild Yam or Dioscorea oppositifolia, commonly referred to as the Chinese Yam, is one unique herb that has been used for thousands of years to benefit various aspects of health. Interestingly enough, this is one herb that is commonly overlooked when it comes to equine health and soundness.
For many horse owners, they are seeking specific benefits to an herb or food, which may or may not be applicable in a broader sense. Targeting or managing inflammation and pain is one key area that many seek, and though there are thousands of herbs that can benefit this aspect of horse health, again, no one herb is right for each horse.
Herbs have energies and traditional uses to them. While many, if not most herbs, do possess capabilities to modulate the inflammatory response, their energies are different. Some herbs are viewed as being cool, cold or even warm or hot. This is their energy. Then, additionally, herbs are viewed as having specific tropisms or organ systems which they target in their action. The energy and tropism of the specific herb is what dictates whether it would be appropriate and beneficial to your horse, or potentially harmful. The only way to determine this is to find the pattern that is present within your horse at that point in time. Another push to visit the online course mentioned below! Help yourself to some information and then help your horse.
Wild Yam; Benefits, Energies and Actions in the Horse
Wild Yam is a powerful herb, but specific for certain situations in the horse. While it possesses very potent medicinal capabilities it is not right for every horse. Let’s look at the energy, tropism, and traditional uses of Wild Yam and see if you make some decisions regarding your horse.
As a quick note, this information is taken from my online course on Introduction to Herbs and Foods in the Horse. I highly recommend checking it out as it is a great in-depth source of information, which can greatly benefit you and your horse, helping to reduce regimens often down to 2-3 different herbs. This simplifies things and also reduces overall cost when applied properly.
Wild Yam (Dioscorea oppositifolia)
Wild Yam is a tuber, not much different from a potato, which is found in warm, tropical climates. It is viewed as an herb, but really is a food.
- Energy and taste: Neutral and sweet
- Tonifies Qi and nourishes the ‘spleen’ and ‘Yin’
- Moisturizes the body
- Targets the heart, lung, kidney and spleen
Okay, what does all of that mean? In the course mentioned above, the basic theories and terminology behind Traditional Chinese Medicine is explained for a more complete understanding.
Essentially, Wild Yam, is a moisturizing herb that targets kidney function and digestion. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Wild Yam is used to support digestion, kidney function, and Yin. Yin is essentially the moisture or water component to the body. TCM and other alternative pathways do not recognize the concept of “inflammation”, but more so usually target the pathways that create it.
Outside of TCM, research indicates that Dioscorea species contains a high level of specific fibers that can enhance and support a healthy digestive microbiome, which goes along with TCM usage. In addition, Dioscorea species also appear to impact the inflammatory response and can also support kidney function, based on research. So, it appears that research supports traditional uses of the herb or food, being Wild Yam.
Wild Yam- Benefiting the Right Horse
The hard part that can come with using herbs properly in the horse or other species is knowing WHEN to use them. A person could read the description above and make the determination that ALL horses or people could benefit, and while this is true on one level, it is incorrect on another.
Wild Yam is viewed as a kidney YIN tonic, helping to remoisturize the body from the inside out. However, Yin tonics are viewed as being ‘heavy’ in nature and can challenge digestion in some instances due to this fact. They are generally cooling in nature, while Wild Yam is viewed as being more ‘neutral’. Most Yin tonics are related to the female gender, as Yin is more cool or feminine in nature, which is how and why they can benefit the overly anxious horse. Interestingly enough, many Yin tonics or Yin food contain inherent phytoestrogens, which can be beneficial to some of the female gender in all species.
Which horse is the ‘right’ horse for Wild Yam?
When I think of Yin tonics, in my mind I see a thinner horse in body composition. Think of mild dehydration or a state where there is decreased water content to the body. This would result in a thinner body type or frame in the horse. In addition, considering that the water aspect of our bodies provides a ‘cooling’ property, many of these horses are viewed as being ‘hot’ in nature. This is not always true and really dependent on the level or degree of their Yin deficiency state.
Many of these Yin deficient horses are therefore harder keepers, thinner body frame, more excitable, very active, and nervous many times. This would coincide with the typical harder keeper with gastric or hindgut ulcers. It would also go along with those thinner horses that have dry fecal balls that crumble when they hit the ground. This would also relate to the typical harder keeper Thoroughbred with inflammatory airway disease, where there is a dry cough. Additionally, this is evident in the harder keeper horse with ongoing tendon conditions or poor hoof health and growth, and even ‘dry’ joint conditions. All are instances of decreased ‘Yin’ or moisture to certain areas of the body in the horse.
One can focus on the problem, such as ulcers, foot problems, anxiety, or inflammatory airway disease, but these conditions are all secondary to a primary problem…which is often a Yin deficiency.
When is Wild Yam NOT right for my horse?
This is an important question and while many horses can benefit from a Yin tonic at the right dose, some simply cannot handle it to be honest as they can be hard to digest, sitting heavy upon the stomach. The main horses that I rule out, at least in the initial phases, for a Yin tonic are the easy-keeper types or the horses that tend to carry excess body weight. These types are prone to digestive problems on a deeper level, connected with dampness, and given this, the Yin tonics can create more harm than good. In these horses, you must manage the underlying condition first, before proceeding to a Yin tonic.
What is the typical dose of Wild Yam in the Horse?
I will tend to use 15-50 grams per feeding of a concentrated Wild Yam Extract, which is measured out on a small gram scale. Most Yin tonics, including Wild Yam, are very palatable and sweet, which is due to their natural level of carbohydrates. Don’t shy away from that statement! Most of the natural carbohydrates found in whole foods and herbs are complex and usually have a lower glycemic index when prepared properly. Thus, instead of harming a horse with metabolic issues, they can actually help. In fact, Wild Yam is one main herb used in Chinese Medicine to help combat metabolic issues!
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN