Horse Herbs for Grazing
There are many different plants that horses will love to eat that are perfectly safe to plant in your pastures and along your fencerows.
To start with, when purchasing herbs specifically for this purpose, you must always buy according to the Latin name and plant family. A good example would be marigolds. If you want to plant medicinal calendula, you MUST buy "Calendula officinalis", and not any old marigold seeds you see on the seed racks in your local nursery or Walmart. You will find about 20 different Marigold seeds but probably NO Calendula officinalis. You will need to find a nursery that carries true medicinal plant seeds or plants, or a really good seed catalog. One that comes to mind is "Seeds of Change".
"Seeds of Change" now has a wonderful internet site where you can purchase any medicinal herb plant, or seed, for that matter. Their url is now http://store.yahoo.com/seedsofchange/herbs.html.
What to plant?
A lot, of course, will depend on where in the country you live and the climate. Soil conditions, moisture, and sun/shade requirements should be on each individual seed packet.
I will try to give you a list of the "hardiest" herbs you can plant, and since most of the world consider these to be weeds anyway, you can rest assured that they will probably grow most anywhere - maybe spreading to places you don't want them. If you don't want them to spread, try to pinch off the seed heads if this is at all possible. I found that one particular herb was extremely HARDY and took over half of my farm, and that was motherswort! I have even dug up the roots and burned them, and they come back again and again. It was like something out of a B-rated horror movie "Revenge of the Killer Herb Plant". I have also read that Lemon balm is particularly hardy and easy to grow, but I couldn't get it to grow. I do not have a really green thumb, I am not a gardener, but I am an herbalist. One doesn't make the other, sorry to say. So a lot will depend on your climate and soil conditions, and your green thumb.
For open pastures, four of my favorite herbs are dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), dog grass (Agropyron repens), true German chamomille (Matricaria recutita), and plantain leaf (Plantago major). These are fairly easy to sow from seeds, and are quick to grow. These plants have a long growing season. Horses will usually eat the dandelion leaf when young and tender, and then ignore it as it becomes more mature and hence bitter. They can graze on true chamomile from late spring through early fall. Plantain grows all season long, but again, horses will prefer the tender, younger leaves over the more mature plants later in the season.
When you get close to the edge of the pastures these
herbs will hopefully thrive:
All herbs in the mint family such as lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis), catnip (Nepeta cataria), peppermint (Mentha piperita), and bee balm (Monarda didyma). The mints will be most medicinal right before they go to full flower, as this is when their main medicinal property (oil) will be at its highest.
Others such as: hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), blue vervain (Verbena officinalis), goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), nettle (Urtica dioica), and blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) also like the edge of the pasture and prefer not to be stomped on continuously. These plants will be ready for grazing right before going to flower. Goldenrod is particularly good while in FULL flower, as the flowers are an excellent digestive aid.
Herbs that would prefer to be on the fencerow include: cleavers (Galium aparine), chickweed (Stellaria media), horehound (Marrubium vulgare), honeysuckle vine (Lonicera periclymenum), passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), dog rose (Rosa canina), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and blackberry (Rubus villosus).
Cleavers and chickweed are fairly early spring plants and are very tender, then just die back until next spring. I have found some older stands of chickweed and it's not as bitter as one would expect. It makes a good salad for humans when mixed with the dandelion leaf.
Honeysuckle vines are usually eaten when in full flower, as the flowers are a great liver tonic. Passionflower is another vine that is usually grazed during full bloom. I have never seen a horse eat a maypop. A maypop is what they call passionflower seed pods down here in the south, but humans treat them similar to kiwis. I have not eaten one yet, nor have I seen any of my horses eat the maypops. Horehound is a late summer plant and is ready when it is in full flower.
The dog rose, meadowsweet, raspberry and blackberry are more hedgerow bushes/vines. They may need propping up if no fence is available. Even though the raspberry and blackberry vines have thorns, the horses will eat the leaves and seem to love them. The dog rose and meadowsweet seem to stand up better but a little support won't hurt. The meadowsweet leaves and flowers will be grazed. Horses will probably only eat the actual rose hip from the dog rose bush. These are quite hard but my horses eat them all the time.
Many can even start their own herb gardens for their horses. It's very easy to do and here are a few plants that are very easy to start and grow:
Calendula (Calendula officinalis), echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, purpurea, pallida), eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), and of course, you can add any of the above mentioned herbs to your own herb garden if you are not able to seed your pastures or fence rows.
I would also suggest planting a few medicinal type trees. My favorite is the willow tree. It's one of the few trees whose leaves and bark your horses CAN safely eat. I would try to find true white willow (Salix alba), but other willows such as black willow (Salix nigra) will work as well. And they also will make excellent shade trees for your horses. As many probably already know, the bark and leaves help to relieve pain and inflammation and are considered an analgesic in the herb world.
This is just a small but safe example of what you can plant for your horses. Most of today's pastures have been "cleaned" of all weeds, be they good weeds or plain old nasty weeds. Today's horse can benefit greatly from the reintroduction of weeds and hopefully this will restore our land to its original condition and not this "sterile" environment that many find so appealing.
Always be careful in what you purchase and in what you plant. Please read all labels carefully and never feed anything to your horse or yourself unless you are absolutely sure of its identity.
Patti and Moose
This is an informational article only and is not intended to replace veterinary or professional care.