Plant an herb strip in your pasture!
Why put weeds back in your pasture? To put the benefits back in, of course!
Chances are that after removing everything but the lush grass from the pasture, many beneficial plants were also removed. Even the common dandelion and has nutritional benefits. Few weeds have no benefit to the horse.
Herbs contain a broad range of balanced nutrients that can be very beneficial to the horse. Compared to most grasses, herbs are higher in minerals. Weeds such as the dandelion, nettle, plantain, and chicory are abundant in minerals and other nutrients.
Horses are natural herbivores. Their very existence depended upon the ability to roam and graze, choosing forage that nature told them to eat, to balance their nutritional needs. They instinctively chose the plants that they needed, for nutritional as well as medicinal reasons. Limiting a horse to one area limits the availability of these beneficial plants.
The practice of herbalism has been handed down through the centuries, through generations of horse owners who guarded their secret remedies and herbal mixtures. Much work goes into selecting the proper herbs for certain conditions, as well as the proper nutrient ratios when preparing feeds and nutrient additives. If the horse, relying on his natural selective instincts, could be allowed access to the herbs, he would probably do a better job of it all.
Why not provide them with the variety of grasses and herbs that they would naturally select if given the chance? The horse's ability to instinctively select the wild plants it needs still remains, even after all the years they have been in captivity.
Choose one location that is accessible to horses and one that is not. A sunny or mostly sunny location with good drainage is preferable for most herbs. Consider also planting fairly close to a water source, because the young seedlings will need to be watered until established, and you will save yourself many steps carrying the watering can back and forth if the faucet is close by.
Size is a matter of preference; a patch may also serve the purpose. If the herb strip is made wide enough that the horses can't reach every plant, then reseeding will help keep the strip or patch self-perpetuating.
Protect your plants from being trampled or yanked out by hungry mouths with a perimeter of fencing that horses can't get inside, but can reach over or through once plants are developed. Keep the area protected from the horses until the plants are sufficiently established.
Chicken wire or other mesh-type fencing may be placed flat on the prepared surface when seeding or transplanting, and permanently fastened down. This will help safeguard the plants from being pulled out by the roots.
In the spring (in four-season climates), as soon as the ground can be worked, prepare the soil. For best results, till for good root establishment. Fertilizing is not recommended, because most herbs thrive in poor soils. Herbs as a rule require less-fertile growing conditions, and though the plants may get huge, the benefits decrease. The herbs won't have the same intensity of flavor, scent, natural oils and other substances that make them beneficial. Hybrid varieties may have less value in this respect than the original wild varieties.
To get a jump on the season, plants may be started from seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost date. Keep the delicate germinating seeds moist, and provide adequate light without direct sunlight. Transplant to the outdoor area when all danger of frost has passed.
Seeds may also be sown directly into the prepared area after all danger of frost has passed. For most herb seeds, scattering them evenly on the surface and then gently pressing them into the earth is best. Planting depth for some may be ¼ to ½ inch deep. Water gently, and keep the soil moist. Germination generally starts within 2 weeks.
Herbs that are beneficial, nutritionally and medicinally, can all be grown, but inedible herbs used for medicinal and external use only should be grown away from the edible ones, out of the reach of horses. Plants that tend to take over or that can take a trampling can be planted in the pasture or elsewhere.
Pick and choose what to plant, and where, according to your climate, terrain, or country, and with consideration of your type of horse farm or situation. If you run a breeding operation, special considerations must be made. (See Herbs for Health, Good-Sense Herbs for Breeding, Gestation, and Foaling in this issue.) When in doubt, consult a qualified equine herbal specialist.
The smorgasbord of edible herbs may contain the following:
Alfalfa, Medicago sativa: unsurpassed source of micronutrients, with high protein, vitamin, and mineral content; could be added, in proper proportions, to a pasture mix
Burdock, Arctium lappa, Arctium minus: though this plant has nasty burrs that stick to everything (including the cornea!), its roots have many benefits, nutritionally and medicinally (if you can get them out!); helps with blood disorders, and toxic conditions that result in skin eruptions; helps liver and kidney function; is cleansing; a good digestive aid; used for arthritis, eczema, rheumatism
Burnet, Poterium sanguisorba: deep-rooted and drought resistant; a general blood purifier and tonic
Chickweed, your local garden volunteer variety: prolific and very nutritious, contains vitamins C, D, B6, B12, beta carotene, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus; can be transplanted
Chicory, Chicorium intybus: deep-rooted; leaves are rich in nutrients, has a beneficial effect on the liver
Clover, Red, Trifolium pratense: general tonic, promotes healthy coat; contains calcium, essential oils
Comfrey, Symphytum officinale: Comfrey, hardy and prolific, is not really suited to grazing, but is eaten readily once cut and wilted for a couple of hours. Though some sources report that ingestion of comfrey has been associated with liver complaints (check with your equine professional), others report it is useful for preventing foal scours, and for lactating mares. It is highly nutritious.
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale: rich source of vitamins and minerals, blood cleansing, tonic, powerful diuretic - horses have been known to dig for and eat the roots in particular
Echinacea, Echinacea angustifolia: purple coneflower, strengthens immune system, has antimicrobial activity, helps tune up lymph system
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare: added to the diet of a lactating mare, can increase the quantity of the milk; the seeds can be added to the horse's food about twice a month to discourage worms
Feverfew, Chrysanthemum parthenium: has natural pyrethrins which will repel insects from the area (don't plant where you want bees to pollinate); works wonders for migraines in people (chew a fresh leaf)
Garlic, Allium sativum: helps prevent flu, sinus infection, discourages intestinal worms, thins and cleanses blood, helpful in navicular disease and laminitis, also Biennial
Goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea: over 130 species; contains essential oils, promotes appetite and aids digestion, for arthritis and rheumatism; coat conditioner and mild diuretic
Honeysuckle, your local volunteers: very prolific vine, encourage them where you want them; transplanting is usually somewhat successful; nutritious and tasty
Horehound, Marrubium vulgare: Good for coughs and as a digestive or appetite stimulant, though some horses are less than fond of its bitter flavor.
Horseradish, Cochlearia armoracia: taken internally, it promotes perspiration and acts as a diuretic and cough aid; as a poultice, it promotes circulation in the area
Meadowsweet, Spiraea alba: good digestive herb, helps with scours; anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, diuretic; ideal for joint pain and fevers
Mint, Mentha spicata (Spearmint), and Mentha piperata hybrid (Peppermint): antispasmodic effect on digestive system, may help to expel gas, for horses prone to colic
Nettle, Urtica dioica: Though a stinging plant while alive and fresh, drying removes the sting; plants can be whacked down and left to dry. High in vitamin C, tonic, cleanser, may help with sweet itch (allergic dermatitis) and other skin disorders, also helps in the absorption of iron, and may be useful for an anemic horse, a rich source of iron, calcium and potassium; hardy plant that quickly multiplies
Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata: vine, has calming effect; contains beta carotene and niacin
Plantain, Plantago lanceolata, Plantago major: narrow or broad leaf, rich in the minerals potassium, calcium, sulphur, and contains some vitamin K; use fresh leaves for treating insect bites and stings; grows abundantly
Raspberry, Rubus idaeus: improves muscle tone, increases milk yield after parturition
Rose, Rosa canina: Rosehips, rich in vitamin C and natural biotin (which may be more effective in promoting hoof growth than other sources of biotin)
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis: gastric disorders, flatulence; contains essential oils
Thyme, Thymus vulgaris: bronchial problems, cough, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory
Valerian, Valeriana officinalis: relaxant; ideal for relieving restlessness, gastrointestinal irritability, stress; the oil can be used as a rub for cramps and muscle tension. Note: Cats and rats have a particular fondness for the smell of this plant.
Yarrow (Milfoil), Achillea millefolium: also called wound-wort, has long been known for its medicinal properties; very palatable, and drought resistant; resembles poison
hemlock, so be sure of what you purchase.
Chamomile, German, Matricaria recutita: contains calcium and potassium; useful for burns, stings, bruises, wounds, dermatitis; antiseptic; has sedative properties; has significant anti-inflammatory and pain-killing actions; can also be used to make a soothing lotion for bathing sore or inflamed eyes or in cases of mastitis. [Note: there are other varieties of chamomile - English chamomile, which has very different properties, is a perennial.]
Fenugreek, Trigonella foenumgraecum: very palatable, oily, helps to increase weight, tonic rich in vitamin E and others; seed contains nutrients, protein, and oils; may not grow well in the US
Linseed (flax), Linum usitatissimum: seeds high in oil and protein, laxative; seeds in immature stage can be toxic - use care!
Marigold, Calendula officinalis: contains potassium and calcium, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, liver and digestive ailments, cracked heels, ringworm, thrush
The inedible herbs to be grown in the yard, away from horses' mouths, include:
Wild geranium, Geranium maculatum: perennial; mosquito repellent and shampoo; Indians used it to stop bleeding in wounds
Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana: shrub, which is perennial in nature; use in poultices as an astringent for insect bites, sprains, bruises
Take time to watch your horse as he grazes and selects his favorite herbs.