Good-Sense Herbs for Breeding, Gestation, and Foaling

Preparing a mare for breeding should begin long before she is introduced to the stallion. Mares should be kept in good physical shape, receiving optimum nutrition, ample exercise and turnout, and regular hoof and dental maintenance. After the mare has been herbally cleansed and toned (see premier issue, Fertile or Fallow?), she will be ready for breeding. Patti Duffy-Salmon, certified herbologist, again shares her considerable knowledge, and cautions owners about the use of herbs during gestation.

Ready for the breeding shed

One of the two herbal blends previously mentioned to help tone and strengthen the system, enhance fertility, and prevent infection (see premier issue, Fertile or Fallow?) can be fed up until the time of breeding. After the mare has been covered by the stallion, however, herbs should be stopped immediately until an ultrasound has been performed. If the mare is not in foal, the blend may be resumed again, but always stop any herbal preparations once the mare has been covered.


During gestation, one must be very careful about giving the mare herbs. Proper nutrition is essential, and high quality feed should be provided. Attempts to supplement herbally, however, may be counterproductive, and could be harmful. Any herb that may be considered a muscle relaxant or a stimulant should be avoided, and any herb that may promote cycling should be avoided.

Patti cautions, "The following is a lengthy list of herbs that should never be fed to horses during gestation:


Lycii berries


Maidenhair fern
Barberry Motherwort
Blessed thistle Mugwort
Bloodroot (DO NOT USE. This herb should not be fed to horses at all. Bloodroot has a very low therapeutic index, meaning there is a very fine line between being medicinal and being poisonous.) Osha root
Buchu Parsley
Catnip Pennyroyal
Chaste tree berries Prickly ash bark
Coltsfoot Queen of the meadows
Devil's claw Red clover
Dong quai root Rue
Elecampane root Sage
False unicorn root Sassafras root
Garlic Shepherds purse
Ginger Tansy
Goldenseal Uva ursi
Horehound Wormwood
Juniper berries Yarrow
Licorice *Black cohosh
Lobelia *Blue cohosh

*Safe during last week of gestation only


"This is quite a long list, and it includes some commonly used herbs. As you can see, I do not use many herbs during the gestation period. Kelp is one that is pretty safe during pregnancy, as long as it is not overfed. Recommended kelp levels for a pregnant mare should only be around 1 tablespoon two times daily. It is a great source of naturally occurring minerals (alfalfa is the highest land source of naturally occurring minerals), and is very beneficial to horses. This sea herb's primary benefit is to help prevent iodine deficiency. Kelp is useful for underactive thyroid glands and goiter, rheumatism, and rheumatoid arthritis, for which it can be used internally and applied externally on inflamed joints. Kelp also can improve the quality of the hooves.

"Comfrey is listed by some sources as useful during pregnancy, but I don't feed comfrey, leaf or root, during pregnancy. It feeds the pituitary gland with natural hormones," Patti explains. "I may use it up until breeding, but not after. Comfrey has been used for centuries as a wound-healer and bone knitter. It helps to balance the calcium-phosphorus ratio. Comfrey is rich in vitamins A and C. Comfrey will help with gastric upset, duodenal ulcers and ulcerative colitis. It has astringent properties and will help with controlling of bleeding, such as bleeding ulcers. Comfrey maybe used externally as a poultice to aid in broken bones and guard against scar tissue production, such as proud flesh, with horses."

Patti continues, "Raspberry leaf can be safely fed during the last 2 months of gestation only, along with chamomile flowers, in the dried form, added to the feed. It will help tone the uterus in preparation for delivery. Only small amounts of raspberry leaf should be fed to the mares. I feed a mix of raspberry leaf and chamomile flowers, one cup twice daily during the last two weeks of gestation.

"For delivery, I again would only use raspberry leaf. A mare should not need any herbal stimulant - she will deliver when she is good and ready. If the mare has a retained placenta, then a small amount of blue cohosh may be helpful," says Patti. "Blue cohosh may be fed during the week the mare is due to foal, but no sooner. It will help to stretch the neck of the uterus and aid in delivery. Blue cohosh should be fed along with black cohosh, again, only in small amounts and only during the last week of gestation, no sooner. I use one tablespoon each of black cohosh and blue cohosh combined in a 1:1 ratio. I do not recommend feeding any other herbs during gestation." If problems are encountered during gestation, other forms of natural therapy may be explored.

Patti continues, "After the foal is born, the raspberry leaf may be continued to help the uterus get back into shape. Fennel and blessed thistle may also be fed. Blessed thistle and fennel seed are excellent for milk production," Patti says. "Garlic, however, may taint the taste of the mare's milk, so please avoid it during the early part of lactation. I would mix l pound each of fennel seed, blessed thistle, fenugreek seed, and red clover blossom and mix well. Then feed one cup three times daily with regular feed."

Herbs can be beneficial to the broodmare when used sensibly. Always consult with a qualified, equine herbologist when adding herbs to your equine maintenance program.

The herbs and herbal formulas mentioned in this article are not intended as a substitute for veterinary or other professional care, and may not be appropriate for other horses. Always consult your equine professional before using herbal preparations.

The editors wish to thank Patti Duffy-Salmon and Meadowsweet Acres for assisting with this article. For more information, you can contact Meadowsweet Acres at 181 Wildcreek Road, Shelbyville, TN 37160, 931-684-8838,

Choosing An Herbal Supplier

Patty advises, "It may be hard for the average horse owner to find and purchase these herbs. I buy my herbs in large quantities, usually 40 to 50 pounds each. I have several mares who are on these blends. If the average owner went into a health food store that carried at least one-pound bags of each herb listed, then he could mix the blends himself, but most stores do not.

"At Meadowsweet Acres, I specialize in custom blends of any mixes a horse owner may need. My clients are thrilled with that. I don't think there is one company in the United States that will offer that. The major horse herbal suppliers are often distributors of imported blends, so the blends cannot be changed or altered in any way."It takes expertise in formulating "recipes" with herbs. Some strong herbs are best combined with ones that can buffer them, and other herbs are best combined with something that can enhance the effects. Patti has been "herbing" for ten years, and started mixing her own formulas, for herself and others, due to the unavailability of custom blending.

"When purchasing herbs and herbal products," Patti cautions, "avoid buying herbs or herbal products that cannot be identified, meaning products that do not have their ingredients listed on the label. Avoid herbs that smell moldy or look very dusty. Crop conditions vary, and so will the quality of the herbs. A good rule of thumb is 'if in doubt, throw it out'."

Patti adds, "Look for dried herbs that are bright and crisp. They should have some sort of aroma. Some herbs are quite bitter, but it should be a healthy-smelling aroma, not a nasty one. Mind you, some folks can take exception to Valerian root. The odor doesn't bother me, but it has sent my husband running out of the house when I've had to use it in a blend! Your supplier should be highly knowledgeable in herbal medicine and equine health. Equines are sensitive creatures, and their herbal needs are different from humans' needs. Some herbs that are helpful to humans are poisonous to horses. Your supplier should have a certified herbalist on hand to answer any questions, and to help tailor the herbs to your horse's needs."