Feed Facts and Fancies
Weed or Feed? Good Minerals in Herbs
Horses benefit from access to a wide variety of vegetation - being herbivores, they find and eat plants they need to balance nutrients and to self-medicate.
Kelp, loaded with horse-friendly nutrients, can be put out free choice.
Comfrey, called knitbone, contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, chromium, selenium, and other nutrients.
German chamomile (upper), a good natural source of calcium and phosphorus, and pineapple weed (lower, an unpetaled close relative of wild chamomile
Dainty shepherd's purse contributes calcium, potassium, sulphur, and sodium to the horse's diet.
Catnip, typically high in potassium, selenium and chromium, also contains calcium and iron.
Chicory, with its stick-like stalks and pretty blue flowers, is rich in potassium, sulfur, calcium, zinc, sodium, manganese and iron. Its long taproot enables it to make minerals more available to grazers.
Have you ever noticed that weeds and herbs choose to grow in some of the toughest places? They can thrive on concrete, among stones, in wet, dry, acid, alkaline, hardpan, sunny, or shady areas. Some will put out the longest and toughest roots, digging deep for vital minerals and other nutrients. It's nature's way of bringing balance back to the soil, and those living on it. These often annoying but useful plants seek out and take up crude elements from their environments and make them into utilizable minerals and other nutrients for those who eat them. How nice!
Horses benefit from access to a wide variety of vegetation. It rounds out their diet and supplies missing nutrients that hay, monoculture pasture, and grain don't provide. In the wild, animals instinctively choose the plants they need for nutrition and medicine. Horses especially, being herbivores, will find and eat plants they need to balance nutrients and self-medicate.
Vegetative variety is especially important in the domestic horse's diet. Allowing him access to hedgerows, herb patches or strips, hand-grazing, and grabbing a few bites along trails are some ways to provide that. Horses generally won't eat a poisonous plant, and it is interesting and fun to see what plants your horse likes. Many horses love poison ivy, so if you let him eat it, beware of getting those non-visible irritating oils on yourself after he buries his head in it - the oil will easily rub off his coat onto your skin.
Letting the horse choose his mouthful is much safer than adding plants to his feed, where he can't separate what he needs or wants from what he doesn't. Please consult with a plant expert - perhaps do an herb walk - and look into getting some good books to learn more about weeds, herbs, and naturally growing plants in your locality, and the good nutrition in them.
One more caution: It is never advised to let horses eat the plants along roads due to toxic exhaust fumes, or in areas that may be toxic from pesticides, herbicides, sludge, chemical fertilizers, and their runoff, etc.
Medicinal purposes aside, here are some of the nutrients that the more common horse herbs can provide, and a few other sources of these nutrients for horses. Offer, grow, and free-choice what you can to help round out that diet.
Natural sources of mineral nutrients
Calcium: kelp and nettle (each ~1000 mg/oz), comfrey (~600 mg/oz), peppermint, chickweed, red raspberry and red clover (each over 400 mg/oz), chicory, alfalfa, coltsfoot, chive, chamomile, caraway seed, cleavers, licorice, dandelion, fenugreek, dill, meadowsweet, parsley, plantain, shepherd's purse, yellow dock, burdock, catnip, apple cider vinegar
Magnesium: licorice (over 300 mg/oz), kelp and nettle (~285 mg/oz), sarsaparilla, evening primrose, peppermint, chicory, dandelion root, burdock, chickweed, marshmallow, red clover, alfalfa, blue cohosh, cayenne, dill, mullein, raspberry, skullcap, willow, wintergreen, dulse, sorrel, carrot leaves, strawberry leaves, yellow dock, split peas, wheat germ, wild rice, apple cider vinegar
Phosphorus: alfalfa, blue cohosh, calendula, caraway, cayenne, chickweed, dandelion, fennel, garlic, kelp, licorice, fenugreek, nettle, meadowsweet, chicory, golden rod, parsley, peppermint, purslane, raspberry, rose hips, yellow dock, oats, whole grains, seeds, squash, carrots, pecans, almonds, apple cider vinegar
Sodium: mineral rock salt, sea salt, kelp, apple tree bark, alfalfa, cleavers, chicory, dandelion, dill, dulse, fennel, nettle, parsley, shepherd's purse, thyme, beets, turnips, wheat germ, cucumber, pumpkin
Potassium: catnip (780 mg/oz), peppermint, skullcap, kelp (each over 700mg/oz), red clover (~660 mg/oz), nettle, comfrey and burdock (each over 550 mg/oz), dulse, hops, alfalfa, blue cohosh, borage, chamomile, coltsfoot, sage, dandelion, eyebright, fennel, marshmallow, mullein, plantain, primrose, chicory, parsley, raspberry, shepherd's purse, meadowsweet, spinach, birch, white oak bark, wintergreen, yarrow, papaya, apple, banana, raisins, strawberry, oranges and lemons, figs, whole grains, sunflower seeds, carrots, turnips, parsnips, pecans, rice, cucumber, apple cider vinegar
Copper: kelp, burdock, dulse, sage, chicory, skullcap, dandelion, nettle, yarrow, cleavers, garlic, parsley, sorrel, alfalfa, soy beans, whole grains, turnips, carrots, black strap molasses, almonds, brazil nuts, raisins
Sulphur: garlic, fennel, sage, shepherd's purse, alfalfa, chicory, burdock, sarsaparilla, cayenne, coltsfoot, eyebright, kelp, mullein, nettle, parsley, plantain, raspberry, thyme, bran, wheat germ, corn, turnips, onion, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, nuts
Iodine: kelp, dulse, garlic, cleavers, sarsaparilla, parsley, beets, lettuce, cabbage, peas, grapes, oranges
Iron: chickweed, burdock, catnip, marshmallow, raspberry, peppermint, nettle, alfalfa, kelp, skullcap, parsley, dulse, blue cohosh, chicory, comfrey, cayenne, dandelion, mullein, hawthorn, rose hips, yellow dock, vervain, celery seed, sarsaparilla, soy beans, sunflower seeds, carrots, grapes, raisins, figs, beets, bananas, cucumbers, apple cider vinegar
Chromium: nettle (130 mcg/oz), red clover (110 mcg/oz), catnip (90 mcg/oz), comfrey (60 mcg/oz), licorice, marshmallow, raspberry, chickweed, alfalfa, kelp, skullcap, burdock, brewers yeast, whole grains
Manganese: raspberry, kelp, catnip, chicory, celery seed, carrots, bananas, beets, turnips, nettle, bran, whole grains
Selenium (especially dependent on soil levels): catnip (410 mcg/oz), chickweed (140 mcg/oz), marshmallow (110 mcg/oz), raspberry, nettle, kelp, burdock, comfrey, peppermint, red clover, skullcap, black cohosh, valerian, echinacea, ginseng, hawthorn berries, fenugreek, sarsaparilla, uva ursi, whole grains, Brazil nuts
Zinc: wild yam, chickweed, echinacea, chicory, nettle, sarsaparilla, skullcap, sage, soy beans, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, brewers yeast, cashews
We can find a new appreciation for weeds and herbs by acknowledging their nutritional benefits. Horses, by nature, will have individual preferences for various plants - some will gobble up a patch of something that others won't touch - so providing variety and allowing them to free-choice makes sense.
For more information:
Acres USA books:
PO Box 91299
Austin , TX 78709