Growing Herbs for Horses

By Shari Frederick

Illustrations by Glenn Strickler


HHH: Horses instinctively seek herbs to maintain good health.

In a perfect world, horses freely roam in search of food while grazing on herbs and a wide variety of plants, trees and brush to maintain a natural healthy balance. The burden to build up today's generation of fragile immune systems now rests on the horse owner.

HHH: Herbs treat the 'whole horse' and are beneficial for horses of all ages.

Herbs work to maintain health, correct imbalances and treat the whole horse! Specific herbs and their doses vary, as does the sensitivity of each horse with that herb. No two horses are exactly the same. Develop a working knowledge of herbs either personally or through an equine herbal expert. Do your homework and start out cautiously.

HHH: Several excellent companies prepare herbal formulas for equine use.

It is faster and easier to leave it to the experts. Some herbs simply won't grow in all areas. While traveling or when winter has taken its toll on your garden, prepared herbs can come to the rescue. Try Meadowsweet Acres, Riva's Remedies, Hilton Herbs (Chamisa Ridge), and others whose philosophies, quality, and commitment to clean, potent product are a priority.

HHH: Try common local fresh weeds and herbs that grow in your area (first).

Many herbs are grown or can be obtained locally. Organics can be special ordered from your garden center from a variety of species. Brace yourself…there are over 20 species of garlic! Many herbs look a lot like each other. Plants appear different with seasons and various stages of growth. Buy an herbal identification book with clear photographs. Hemlock (poisonous) looks similar to Queen Anne's Lace and yarrow; there are at least 25 species of St. Johns wort that are toxic to horses. Don't take any chances. Always check the botanical or Latin name of an herb BEFORE planting it or giving it to your horse. The difference may be life or death. Select equine safe herbs, then learn how/ where/ when to plant, grow, and harvest your herbs for greatest potency.

HHH: Plant water friendly herbs around your water trough, or an herbal hedgerow in your pasture.

Stratify and sow seeds, or plant herbs from old fashioned, wild organic varieties. Toss manure beneath some parts of a hedgerow; leave other areas dry. If possible position an overflow on a nearby water trough to vary soil environments. Parsley and rosemary like wet but not soggy soil. Position herbs such as dill (assists digestion), horsetail (assists bones and is an anti-inflammatory), horehound (for digestion and circulation), nettle (to support anemia and circulation), etc. within a hawthorn bush hedgerow, whose thorns protect herbs from being grazed to the ground. This acts as a windbreaker and allows your horse to self medicate. Add basil, rosemary, tansy (single-leaf), thuja, and rue to repel insects. Net or low-fence the hedgerow to establish young plants if necessary. Plant hops (Humulus lupulus) on fence or trees as a vining herb to nourish the nervous system of restless horses. You can also seed your pasture; be sure to let seeds fully establish before allowing your horses in the area. Otherwise, put herbs near or in your garden and access them for equine use when needed.

by Glenn Strickler

Where and How to Plant Herbs:

Below are planting options for equine medicinal herbs that are hedgerow/ pasture/ full sun friendly (unless otherwise specified by &PS = and partial shade, WT = water trough friendly, L-M-HW = low-moderate-high water needs, WD = well drained, PP = Pasture preferred):

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) - Uses: whole body tonic, assists gassy digestive system, regulates mucus and over-acid stomach. Spray topically to soothe insect bites. Prefers organic matter soil. Plant with red clover, chicory, dandelion, and narrow leaf plantain. MW

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis miller)- Uses: gel topically healing, deters scarring, reduces inflammation. Do NOT use rind. Deny equine direct access. Plant in private garden or inside, prefers bright light, dry between waterings; will not survive frost and freeze in winter (bring indoors). Put in larger pots and it can grow very large. LW

Arnica (Arnica montana) - Uses: healing anti-inflammatory, orally and topically, but never on open wound, use as a cool-down rinse after massage or heavy workout.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) - Uses: increases sweating, reduces fever.

Borage (Borago officinalis) - Uses: skin. Plant next to lemon balm - it will protect lemon balm from damaging grasshoppers that like them both, prefer borage, yet do little damage to borage. Sun, &PS, MW, WT

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) - Uses: leaves and seeds, strengthens blood-vessel walls especially lungs, aids exercise recuperation, muscle function, bones, and joints. Include with other grains on occasion. P

Calendula/ Marigold (officinalis) - Uses: flower aids skin, stress (as does lemon balm), inflammation; dilute for eye wash, combine with yarrow for antiseptic. Prevents muscle tightness along with clovers; cautionary gastrointestinal uses. Repels insects. MW

Celery (Apium graveolens) - Uses: anti-inflammatory, antifungal, digestive, kidney stones; a balanced diuretic (as are juniper and parsley). (maximum 1 tablespoon/ day of seeds)

Chamomile (common - Anthemis nobilis) - Uses: colic aid, calming sleep aid, deters trauma prior to travel, a great after-bath rinse, reduces itchy irritation, apply with soaked cotton as a compress for swollen eyes. &PS M-LW, WD

Chickweed (Stellaria media) - Uses: specific for skin cancers on horses, other external uses. WT

Clivers/ Cleavers (Galium aparine) - Uses: for swollen or stocked-up legs (poultice and/or give in feed), skin conditions and to bathe skin lesions; diuretic, bladder infections and stones, flush toxins, drain the lymphatic system.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) - Uses: deters scarring of topical injury, assists respiratory, connective tissue and cartilage repair, bones and joints. Heals from the inside out; recommended only for shallower wounds whereas slippery elm is a good choice for a poultice on a puncture or deep wound. Make a poultice of comfrey leaves in linseed (flaxseed) oil plus arnica smeared on the front of horse's hoof for navicular disease and other hoof problems, or apply to splints. WT (not all types can be used internally)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) - Uses: root or leaf is a diuretic, aids kidney, liver, digestion, rheumatism, and protein allergies, also for shiny coat (along with burdock), flushes toxins; is a natural electrolyte. (Not the same as flatweed which has more hair on darker green multiflowered single stems)

Echinacea (angustifolia and purpurea) - Uses: as an anti-inflammatory, astringent, foot soak, bath, immune support, respiratory and skin aid. Different varieties have more or less water needs. L-MW

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - Uses: boosts general health, bile flow, digestion and gas/ bloating, soothes respiratory, throat, and eye irritations, great herb bath. Prefers well-worked soil, M-LW-WD! Crushing the seed releases more medicinal oils.

by Glenn Strickler

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycanthus) - Uses: extract of fresh leaves or dried berries is a major heart tonic and first aid treatment; especially helpful to bring a horse back from distress.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) - Uses: Assists nervous system and digestive tract disorders including colic, relieves pain, and is a calming antidepressant; relaxing especially for abused horses. &PS, MW

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) - Uses: supports immune, digestion, respiratory, urinary inflammation and irritation. PS, MW,WD. (Don't use with pregnant mares or horses with heart, circulatory or lymph problems.)

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) - Uses: aids immune, digestion/ colic, and respiratory. Sun, &PS, prefers loamy soil, M-HW, WT

Oats (Avena sativa) - Uses: whole body tonic, assists nervous system and bones, PP, likes good organic matter (4-5%). MW

Sage (Salvia officinalis) - Uses: heart, brain, memory. MW-WD

Valarian (officinalis) - Uses: most widely used herb for calming the nervous system. WD Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) - Uses: astringent, iron tonic, assists muscle aches and circulation, flushes toxins, &PS, MW-WD (Never use the flowers of yarrow that are the yellow variety.)

HHH: Harvesting and drying herbs requires thought, but doesn't demand complex knowledge.

Note on your calendar appropriate harvesting times for maximum quality and concentrated potency. Harvest in the morning after the dew has evaporated and before the sun is at full height. An herb whose "used" parts are above ground is at optimum in spring/ early summer when the plant has reached full maturity. Cut the plant close to the ground, tie off the lower stem, and string upside down in a shaded dry environment (over a cloth). The seeds drop when they are ripe. Tops may include flowers and fresh green growth. Harvest tops when flowers are in full bloom. Pick fruits/ berries when ripe and fully grown, then dry on flat paper-lined trays. Harvest roots in early winter when tops have died off. Store drying herbs, seeds, and parts in a dark, dry, cool place away from pollutants. Bales must be well circulated yet protected from any pests. Mix fresh herbs (i.e. eucalyptus) into bedding, or blend dried herbs into an infusion, decoction, tea, tonic, tincture, or prepare as a salve/ liniment or for a poultice. Branches can be hung (e.g. garlic stalks within reach for nibbling and/or insect repellent, and myrtle out of reach for insect repellent) in stalls and stables.

HHH: Appropriate dosages of herbs are critical to safety and results - consult your herb expert.

Add just picked or dry herbs to your horses' feed. Liquid can be added to feed or given in a large syringe. For tea or infusion use 2 oz. fresh herbs in boiling water or 1 oz. dried herbs. Don't use herbs ongoing because herbs may become less effective. For best results, break for 2-3 weeks after 3 months use. Many herbs require special care in administering such as with yunnan paiyao for hemorrhage. Safe at 1 oz./ 28ml (lq or cap) per day but not for more than 2 weeks to avoid risking permanent kidney damage.

HHH: Coax your horse to take bitter herbs by masking with applesauce, honey, or extra virgin olive oil.

Extracts can be stored almost indefinitely in honey, oil, molasses, alcohol or vinegar. Essential oils can be extracted from select single or combined herbs. Blooms may be used to make flower essences.

HHH: Herbs can be invaluable health-giving tools for your horses' well being.

Get to know herbs - start gradually and fine tune your choices rather than throwing in every herb that "sounds" appropriate. Approach herbs with caution and live by the fundamental law that if a little produces one effect, too much produces the opposite effect. There is a synergistic interaction within a plant's own constituents, as well as between plants. Incorporate appropriate high quality herbs into your horse's supplemental regime. The results are worth the effort.



About the author:

Shari Frederick BS, NMD, LE began her love of horses in 1975, showing quarter horses at the Fort Worth, TX stockyards. As a nutritional educator in over 15 countries worldwide over the past 25 years, she is a staunch supporter of 'Truth in Labeling' for ALL manufacturers. Shari has a regular column in 'Equine Times' and is a Safety-Certified Riding Instructor from the AAHS. She and her horse have proudly served as the Bugler for annual cattle drives at the legendary ( Texas) YO Ranch for over 15 years!