Ahh...spring is in the air and planting season is almost here. Many of us are visiting our local nurseries searching for that perfect shrub or picking out the perfect vegetable assortment, but what about sharing something with your horse? Horses when left in pastures where herbs grow wild will pick and choose the ones their bodies instinctively know they need. Planting an herb garden for your horse is a great way to share the joy of gardening with your close friend.
There are many herbs that horses will love to eat that are very safe to plant in your pastures or along fence lines. However, a word of caution, when purchasing herbs for your horse, buy according to the Latin name and plant family. For example, if you want to plant medicinal calendula, you MUST buy "Calendula Officinalis", not any old marigold plant you see on at your local nursery.
Many of us know of Calendula as the "skin healer" not knowing that it is also good for combating stress and the flowers posses antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
For open pastures and large paddocks, three wonderful herbs are dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), German chamomille (Matricaria recutita), and plantain leaf (Plantago major). These herbs are very easy to grow from seed and grow fairly quickly as well as having a long growing season. Horses will usually eat the dandelion leaf when young and tender, and then ignore it as it becomes more mature because of the bitter taste. Horses will graze on the true chamomile herb from late spring through to early fall. Plantain grows all season long as well, but your horse will prefer the tender, younger leaves over the more mature plants later in the season, so will tend to stop eating the mature plants.
When you get close to the edge of the pastures or along the fence line plant any herb in the mint family such as lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis), catnip (Nepeta cataria), peppermint (Mentha piperita), and bee balm (Monarda didyma). The mint plant will be most medicinal right before they go to full flower, as this is when their main medicinal property, the oil, will be at its highest level. Other plants such as, valerian (Valeriana officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), blue vervain (Verbena officinalis), goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), nettle (Urtica dioica), and blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) can be planted just outside the fence line or at the back of the paddock as they prefer not to be continuously disturbed. 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 at the back of the paddock would be 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 die back until the next spring year. The honeysuckle vine is usually eaten when in full flower and is a great liver tonic. The dog rose, meadowsweet, raspberry and blackberry plants are e more of a bush or vine and will need propping up by the fence. Horses love eating the raspberry and blackberry vines even though they have thorns.
Before you purchase seeds or herb plants read all labels carefully and never feed anything to your horse or yourself unless you are absolutely sure of its identity. Above is just a small example of what herbs you can plant for your horse . Our horse's can benefit greatly from the reintroduction of herbs into their diet as so many of these herbs have many beneficial properties. You'll enjoy planting them and your horse will REALLY love eating them!