by Sara Stewart Martinelli
I know a lot of people, (and I must admit, I do it too!) who spend a lot of money on supplements for their horses. There are supplements for digestion, joint health, hormonal balance, and just about any other health issue you can think of.
But why do modern, domestic horses need so much diet supplementation? Today’s horses often live in conditions that are far different from their natural existence. We keep them confined in stalls, and even if we are fortunate enough to have good pasture space on which to turn them out, they are still restricted to the grasses and plants in that pasture, and are not able to forage the wide variety of plants that they would encounter in the wild. Eating patterns and exercise patterns are different as well. Instead of being able to graze all day, we often feed our horses individual meals of hay and grain. This isn’t the ideal pattern for the digestive system of the horse, whose body is naturally designed to be eating small amounts almost continuously. Additionally, we often ask our horses to perform competitively or with periods of extended energy output. Horse nutrition is, of course, an in depth concept and many of us rely upon the experts to tell us what it’s best to feed our horse. That makes it easy to find legitimate reasons why our horses need additional supplements for optimal health.
But what can we do to provide some natural supplementation, at a reasonable cost, with both safe and reliable results?
Here are five herbs that are easy to find, inexpensive, and safe to feed your horse. Remember, any time you add something new to your horses diet you need to do it slowly over time to allow his digestive system to adjust to the new foods. Although these are all botanicals that are considered very safe, do watch to ensure that your horse does not have a unique reaction to any of them. In order for herbs to be of therapeutic benefit, they need time to work. Expect to use the herbal supplement regimen for at least a month to six weeks in order to see benefits.
Herbs can be added to the diet in a number of ways. The two easiest are feeding fresh herbs that you grow or find yourself, or using dried herbs. The most beneficial thing about using the fresh plants is that your horse will most likely love them; the herbs below are all considered very palatable. The downside to fresh plants is that it’s dependent on seasonality, locality, and availability, and can be difficult to get a large enough quantity to be an actual supplemental amount. So, in order to create a consistent, therapeutic dosage level, it’s easiest to use dried herbs.
Mix the herbs with a little water and allow them to soak for about 5 minutes, and then add the resulting liquid mash to your horse’s grain ration. Beet pulp is my personal favorite “blender” for the herbs, because I’ve already soaked the beet pulp before serving so the herbs are easily incorporated. If you are not familiar with beet pulp, carefully follow the instructions of the bag and be sure to soak the beet pulp for the recommended amount of time.
Nettles – Urtica dioca – One of my favorite herbs, nettles are one of nature’s richest sources of iron, which can often be a mineral lacking in an equine diet. Nettles also contain histamine, serotonin, potassium, silica, vitamins A and C, and a whole host of other minerals. It’s one of the most widely useful plants that we know of, and it strengthens and supports the whole body. Nettles support the immune, respiratory, urinary and reproductive systems, and can help the body fight allergic responses. Additionally, nettles will strengthen hoof and coat health. You can add about a half a cup of nettles to the feed ration daily. If you choose to feed fresh herbs, allow them to wither in the sun for at least four hours to remove the sting, or pour boiling water over them first and allow them to cool.
Fenugreek – Trigonella foenum-graecum – I love adding fenugreek to my equine blends because horses usually love the flavor. These hard little seeds function to strengthen the respiratory system, the mucus membranes, and the sinus in cases of upper respiratory infection, sinus issues, or congestion. Fenugreek also has strong properties of regulating and stimulating the lymphatic system. By helping to move lymph through the body, it can be helpful when treating anhydrosis (the ‘puffs’), or any condition where there is stuck lymph. Add about 2 tablespoons of the little seeds a day to your horse’s diet.
Dandelion Leaf – Taraxacum officinale– This humble herb is an excellent addition to a horse’s diet. High in vitamins A, B, C, and D, and rich in potassium, sodium, calcium and other minerals, dandelion functions as tonic by stimulating liver function, bile production, and kidney function. It helps the body clear itself of toxins and is believed to purify the blood. It’s a strong botanical ally when used in rehabilitation or conditioning mixes, especially for horses that undergo the stress of competition. I love dandelion so much that I actually scattered seeds around my farm in areas that I hand graze the horses. When you see how much the horses will gravitate to the dandelion, it’s obvious that they both love, and need it’s gently balancing medicine. I also add dried dandelion leaf to spring blends as we ramp up the horses’ training schedules for the competition season. You can add a cup of dried dandelion leaf to your horse’s ration, or, like I do, feed them fresh whenever you find it. Be careful, however, that if you are harvesting dandelions for your horse that there is not any kind of chemical treatment used on the area from which you are harvesting.
Raspberry Leaf – Rubus idaeus– the leaves of the common raspberry plant have been used for centuries as strong female tonic. They can help strengthen and tone the uterus to aid in fertility, pregnancy, and foaling. Raspberry also helps to regulate the hormonal swings in a moody mare, and in fact, one popular Mare supplement on the market is pure Raspberry leaf. In addition to its strong uterine benefits, raspberry leaf is a good astringent herb, and can be used effectively in cases of diarrhea, wet cough, bleeding gums, or any condition that is “loose”. Give about a half cup of the dried leaf to your mare a day.
Chamomile – Matricaria chamomilla – These little flowers pack a whole lot of medicine into their delicious little blossoms. High in phosphorus and calcium, they strengthen and regulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Chamomile is one of nature’s most gentle sedatives, and it can be used in all cases of anxiety, sleep issues, and hyperactivity. Additionally, it is often used to treat allergic reactions, both externally and internally, and I’ve had great success using it to treat hives. Chamomile also supports the digestive system as a carminative, and is included in many of my anti-inflammatory blends. Its general health promoting properties make it an excellent addition to a daily herbal supplement and its best given about ¼ cup at a time mixed with a little water.
Where to get them? My favorite place is Mountain Rose Herbs.
Those of us who love to work in the dirt can get a bit depressed and stir crazy in the dead of winter. When I look out at the brown fields, or at the horses rolling around in the mud pasture, it’s hard for me to remember the abundance (and heat, sweat, and weeds) that make up the bulk of the summer at Three Leaf Farm. But as January hits, and the seed catalogs start arriving, I start to get that little bit of excitement to start the whole process again. I spend hours pouring over the seed catalogs, making lists, cross checking them, studying seeding dates, and mapping the fields. The time I spend preparing gives me an opportunity to learn more, become inspired, and organize my farm for the upcoming season. So what can be done in January and February?
1. Study and Learn – If you’re an experienced gardener, you may already have a good idea about what grows well here in our climate, as well as what you’ve had success with in the past. You’ve probably experienced your own share of failures as well. But if you’re new to gardening, don’t worry, someone else has ALWAYS ALREADY tried, and probably failed, with just about every aspect of cultivation. That’s the good news! The bad news is that it takes a bit of work studying and reading to learn what is a sure bet for your region, and how to best plant, transplant, cultivate and harvest what you choose.
Reputable seed companies usually have careful instructions on how to grow different seeds. Take the time to read how to do it right and you’ll have a much higher rate of success. There are countless articles and blogs (like this one) on the internet now to help you in your quest for knowledge. Always keep in mind the region about which the author is writing, however, as climates can differ greatly. I write for the foothills of Colorado, which is unique in its hot summers, cold winter, low water, and dry climate. It’s very different in South Carolina!
2. Map your Garden – This doesn’t have to be a huge project. You don’t need to create professional level blueprints here, but you do need to have a general idea about the space where you are planning to plant. There are four primary necessities for any successful garden: Light, Water, Soil, and Space. You need to determine the range of all of these so you can choose plants that are best suited for that area.
Measure and draw your garden as close to scale as you can. Draw in any large fixtures, such as the garage, a large tree, a big rock, or anything else that could potentially cause shade during the day. Determine which way is East so you can mark the map and so you’ll have a general understanding of the way the sun will move through the day. Determine your water source, and mark that on the map as well. Consider your soil, and what you will do to keep it healthy and productive. (A huge topic, best left for another article).
3. Make your Seed Graph – This is probably one of the most useful tools that I use each year, even though it does take me a bit of time to create it. Keeping my seed catalog in front of me, I create a spreadsheet that has the following columns:
Type/ Varietal/ Source/ Stock #/ Quantity/When to Plant/ When to Harvest/ Notes
Type: like Peas, Herbs, or Tomato.
Varietal: like Sugar Snap, Tarragon, or Beefsteak.
Source: I try to buy organic seeds when I can, so sometimes I have to use different sources. I like to keep track of the stock number too so I can easily remember next year what I bought. When to plant: I indicate whether the seeds should be planted inside, to be later transplanted, or direct sown outside later in the season. Example: Out – Late April, In – Mid March. You can naturally be as detailed here as you like. One year I put exact days in this column, trying to be even more organized, but unfortunately since I can’t control the weather, or when my child gets sick and stays home from school, or any other thing that might throw a cog in my wheel (like laziness!), I make the schedule a little more flexible now!
When to harvest: Most catalogs will give you the days to maturity. For me, though, I do the math now so I can schedule accordingly at harvest time. If I plant June 1, and it has 85 days to maturity, I’m looking at around harvesting around August 15.
Notes: This can be anything I want to remind myself of for next year. Perhaps the plants grew slowly in the greenhouse and I should have started them earlier. Perhaps the tomatoes were so abundant that I don’t need so many of them next year (this year I went crazy with an heirloom varietal of tomato called “Indigo Rose”. It turned out I needed maybe 3 plants of it when I had about 50 in the fields. I also didn’t love the tomato, so – guess what I wrote in the note section?)
Other columns that I’ve used in the past are things like:
Light: do they need sun, part sun, or shade, and Spacing: how far apart to plant the seeds or transplants. Since I’ve done this for many years now, a lot of that is information that I no longer need to be reminded of, but you can add any column you think will give you information that will help you.
4. Order Your Seeds – Now that you’ve figured out what you want and where to get it, you get to order your seeds! I always order as early as possible to insure that what I want is not sold out or back-ordered. Potatoes are always notorious for this, so order early.
5. Organize your Seeds – when the boxes of seeds arrive, I like to organize them. I will carefully check to make sure that my orders are complete and that I got everything I wanted. Then, I separate the seeds by what I need to start in the greenhouse to be later transplanted, and what can be direct sown in the fields. Next, I organize the seeds by planting date.
6. Inventory your Supplies – Take the time in the dead of winter to inventory all your gardening supplies so that you’ll have what you need in the spring. For me, there’s nothing worse than being ready to get my hands dirty only to learn that I can’t find something I need and having to run to Home Depot and battle the spring crowds.
Pull out your tools and give them a good wash if you didn’t do so in the fall. Check to make sure you have seed starting soil, seed trays, pots, or anything else you will need if you plan to start seeds indoors.
If you use large power equipment, like a tractor, tiller, mower, weed eater, etc, this is the time to have it serviced if it needs it.
And then, the fun part, order what you need for the next season!
This is an article that was published in the Wellness Times, June 2012.
Sweet Violets – Viola odorada
Little sweet violets are the perfect harbinger of spring, with their quiet, humble purple faces cheerfully appearing amidst their heart shaped leaves. Native to Europe, violets are now found throughout the world and are known as sweet violets, English violets, wood violets, or common violet. Traditionally, violets are considered to “gladden the heart”, and their sweet aroma and flavor are unique and so very recognizable. Often used in cosmetics and perfume, the violet is also used in both culinary and medicinal ways. Violets are often candied and used in gourmet pastries, and both the leaves and the flowers can be added to salads. Violets have been used traditionally to promote relaxed sleep and bring mental balance and good cheer. Medicinally, it’s long been used as a cough remedy, especially useful in the treatment of bronchitis. An old recipe for Violet Syrup calls for taking 1 pound of fresh violet flowers and add 2 ½ pints of boiling water. Infuse this for 24 hours in a glass vessel, and then strain the liquid. Add double the liquid weight in fine sugar, and heat it into syrup, being careful not to let it boil. This syrup can be used for both medicinal and culinary purposes.
California Poppy – Eschscholzia california
This popular perennial flower is the official state flower of California (and it is illegal to pick it wild in California). It can be found growing both wild, and in the garden. Wild, it is found throughout California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico and Texas. The leaves are a feathery blue-green, and the flower color ranges from a vibrant orange to a pale yellow. This member of the poppy family is considered to be safe and non-addictive, while still possessing some of the sedative properties of it’s far more powerful cousins. California poppy has been used widely and safely with children of all ages to help combat over-excitedness, and promote health sleep patterns. It’s also an anti-spasmodic herb, and can be used effectively to treat stomach or bowel upset or cramping. Carefully dry the aerial parts, including the stem, leaves, and flower, and make a gentle tea of a cup of boiling water poured over 1 teaspoon of the dried herb. Allow this to steep for about ten minutes, add a bit of honey, and drink this at bedtime for a night of restful sleep. Dosage is one or two cups a day, as an excess can create feelings of lethargy the next day.
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
Also known both in wild places and in the garden, yarrow is a delicate plant with feathery leaves and a beautiful head of bunches of tiny flowers. Cultivated varieties can be light or dark pink, but the best yarrow for medicinal purposes is the wild white. Yarrow has been known for centuries as a plant to assist in the healing of wounds, and was considered “the soldiers’ woundwort” for its ability to stanch the bleeding of wounds of battle. This ability led to its being named after the legendary warrior, Achilles. The Highlanders of Scotland make an wound ointment from the plant. The feathery leaves can be placed directly on a superficial cut or scrape as a “natural” band aid. Yarrow was also called “Nosebleed”; the leaves rolled up and placed in the nose are reputed to immediately stop the bleeding. Yarrow has also been traditionally used to aid the body in dealing with fevers by being a diaphoretic (creating perspiration), and is useful as a tea in early stages of colds and flu. A famous old recipes calls for equal parts yarrow, boneset, peppermint, and elder flower as the most effective anti-fever tea. It dilates the blood vessels and is effective in stimulating the digestion. The above ground parts of the plant are used, and should be harvested when the flowers are at their peak in summer. These can then be dried and used as a tea. Along with it’s many medicinal uses, yarrow has been used in many cultures as a tool of divination. The long stalks are dried and used in the I Ching, and the leaves, when placed under the pillow, are said to bring visions of one’s future spouse.
Grieve, Maud, A Modern Herbal, Harcourt Brace and Company, NY, 1931
Hoffman, David, The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal, Element Books, Great Britain, 1996
Lee, Mrs. R, Trees, Plants and Flowers, Grant and Griffith, London, 1854
Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 1979
We were lucky at Three Leaf Farm that the flood waters did not reach the house, barn, goat cottage, or chicken coop. All our buildings were spared any flooding, but unfortunately, the waters did cover almost all of our property other than that. The waters literally came within inches of the buildings.
Our back acres filled with the rushing river, and the existing banks were swept away. The river crested into our crop fields, and we’ve been told that all our of harvest will be contaminated by the flood waters, so we cannot use any of the produce.
We feel fortunate that all of our animals and humans are safe and unharmed, but of course the loss of an entire season’s worth of hard work and cultivation is hard to bear. We will have a lot of cleanup to do over the next months to remove debris, rebuild river banks, and recreate our beautiful gardens. We’re so grateful for our neighbors and friends who helped us survive the flood, evacuate our animals, and begin the long cleanup process.
Our hearts and prayers are with those who did not fare as well.
Our first Working Equitation Fun Day at the farm was a great success! The weather was wonderful, all the horses behaved, and the humans were pretty good too! You can see some of the photos of the fun day by visiting http://share.shutterfly.com/share/received/welcome.sfly?fid=995101457f0e4a98&sid=2CaOHDJw3ZMKk
We’re planning to host another Fun Day soon, so stay posted for the dates!
With the spring, came the mice, and what a great excuse to get a couple kittens! Meet Cleopatra and Xena, our new barn cats! As of now, they are living a life of luxury upstairs in the barn offices.