Across all continents and cultures, man has been using herbs for their medicinal and beneficial properties for thousands of years. Even today the World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the world’s population relies on herbal medicines from a healing herbs list as part of their primary health care.
The beneficial properties of herbs are not limited to humans. Every backyard chicken owner can promote their hens’ health and happiness through the use of fresh and dried herbs. Using herbs with your birds has a number of benefits, making these plants simple, aromatic and inexpensive tools for the promotion of overall well-being in your flock.
When it comes to raising a chickens for eggs or meat, herbs can be used for both their preventative and curative properties. Additionally herbs also provide have aromatic and nutritional values. Herbs are generally used in two manners with birds: as aromatics for the coop and chicken nesting box; or additives to be consumed as snacks or used as feed/water fortifiers. As a preventative, several varieties of herbs are credited with being effective at warding off the creep-crawlies such as lice, mites and fleas. Tansy, fennel, mugwort, marigolds and wormwood can be grown in the yard surrounding a chicken coop to act as a general external parasite repellent. Other herbs found on a healing herbs list such as oregano, bay leaves, peppermint, rosemary, catnip, feverfew, lavender, pennyroyal, eucalyptus leaves and garlic are all known to be effective insecticides as well. These various herbs can be grown, clipped and placed inside your coop and nesting boxes keep common avian pests away.
Herbs also have many curative properties. For example, oregano is believed to combat many common chicken illnesses such as salmonella, coccidia, avian flu and infectious bronchitis. Other herbs (e.g. nasturtium, wormwood, and garlic) are used as natural wormers for birds. Additionally, cilantro, lemon balm, nasturtium, calendula, thyme, oregano, meadowsweet and spearmint are just a few herbs which have antibacterial and antifungal properties — making them highly useful for a backyard flock.
Herbs are also commonly used for their aromatic qualities. It is believed in the practice of aromatherapy, that herbs (or their essential oils) can be used to stimulate better mental states and improve overall well-being. The aromatic benefits of using chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, and dill is to relieve stress and calm your hens. It is also commonly reported that the use of fennel, red clover, marjoram, marigold, garlic, nasturtium, parsley, nettle help stimulate egg-laying in birds.
Many herbs are high in vitamins and nutrients and are simply good for your flock to eat. Cilantro is high in vitamins A and K. Rose petals are extremely high in vitamin C. Chamomile contains calcium that is highly bioavailable for your birds. Eggs with rich golden yolks are common in hens that eat comfrey — an herb packed with protein, B12, potassium, calcium and amino acids. Your chickens can also get several vitamins from eating catnip (vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12 and C). Wowzers! Maybe we should be eating catnip too.
Though herbs can offer many remedies and aids for your flock, it is important for the DIY newbie herbalist to remember to be cautious. Not all herbs are innocuous. In fact, a few can be highly dangerous if misused. Though very effective as wormers and pest repellants, wormwood and tansy can be dangerous if not properly administered. The use of wormwood over long periods of time can damage an animal’s kidneys, liver and nervous system. Tansy, which was traditionally used for treating threadworms, roundworms and tapeworms, is toxic if consumed in large quantities. Remember, there is an art to herbalism, so be sure to take the time to educate yourself before feeding unfamiliar herbs to your flock.
You can learn much more about the use of herbs with your backyard hens in Episode 051 of the Urban Chicken Podcast. In this episode Tina Hickman, certified herbalist, chicken enthusiast and creator and owner of Luv Nest (which makes herb blends for use in coops/nesting boxes), comes on the show to discuss in depth which herbs can be safely and simply grown and used with your own backyard birds. She also shares her favorite herbs and why they are so helpful for your hens. Learn how the use of herbs helped one of her older chickens start laying again regularly. To hear this interview with Tina Hickman (LISTEN HERE).
Which plants on this healing herbs list have you tried for your flock?