Venturing Into Poultry Herbs: A quick guide on how to make herbs a part of your New Year’s Resolution
Food, Aromas and Medicine: The Three Common Uses of Herbs
1. Herbs as Food
I believe that when people think of herbs, they make it synonymous with medicine. Yet food is medicine too, as it fulfills the daily nutrition of a body to function for full health. In that regard, many herbs are deeply nutritive and can be also considered a food, along with their medicinal value.
2. Herbs as Aromatherapy
I want to mention the aromatic aspect of herbs, which work externally because they are so effective for parasite control. I am very much against the use DE because of its uncontrolled pesticide action that can harm good bugs as well as bad. Herbs with volatile oils can work just as well and work in a holistic fashion in this kind of application. The action of “aroma” is a powerful insect deterrent.
3. Herbs as Medicine
We use herbs to assist deficient bodily functions, which manifest themselves with symptoms. The body gives off symptoms because of actions it is performing, trying to regain balance. So symptoms are not bad in and of themselves because the body is trying to treat the problem. Short term, I think it best we not step in. Let the body do its work and most times it will. Where we may decide to assist with herbs is when the body struggles for a longer period of time and cannot regain balance, or for battling pathogens that debilitate quickly.
Also, it is much more useful to use herbs effectively by learning their “actions” rather than memorizing a list of herbs that are associated with certain diseases.
When I started raising poultry in 2000, I hardly knew anything about poultry and their care, except for the lone rooster I had as a pet, decades earlier as a kid.
To make matters a little trickier, I started out with keets (guineas), which are a big departure in comparison to raising chickens. Starting 14 years ago, compared to now, there was not a whole lot of backyard chicken keeping information. New chicken owners today take for granted the many benefits of Facebook, blogs, poultry magazines, online poultry forums that were all yet to come.
These poultry communities did not exist 14 years ago.
The phenomenon of urban backyard chicken keeping fueled this boon both online and in print. Years ago, we had to use stories from “old-timer” farmers as models, to then scratch our heads in determining if it applied to our backyard.
Large-scale farming then and now still doesn’t apply, especially if you want to go the natural route. A lot of trial-and-error occurred, and we all huddled in the few forums available to share our successes and failures.
As an herbalist, I quickly realized that herbal information pertinent to poultry was also non-existent, and if I wanted to go that route (and I mostly certainly did), I would have to develop my own protocols.
During that time, I also knew it was only a matter of time that the organic, back-to-the-land movement would include animal keeping on a small scale — most likely including backyard poultry. Also building momentum concurrently was a modern day revival of the herbalism movement reignited in the 1970s by a few herbalist pioneers.
I was fortunate to be part of both fledging movements at the same time.
As of today, I have been teaching herbal care for poultry online for the last 10 years and a constant comment I hear is, “I don’t know where to start using herbs,” or “I don’t know how to switch from using conventional medicine.” I hope I can share my experiences to give you a general idea how to proceed to answer those questions.
Using natural methods and herbs for medicine is not intuitive to us because we have been so ingrained with conventional medicine protocols. Most may think all one has to do is to use a comparable specific herb for a disease instead of using a conventional medicine. Instead of using an antibiotic, we use an herb with an “antibiotic” action right? Well, in fact, not exactly.
Perhaps the best way to explain how herbalism works is to describe what it is not.
One approach I see frequently is for someone to use a remedy including a number of herbs online that are “good for (fill in the blank)” and use it without having any knowledge how the herbs actually work. Of course, many of these remedies do not include an explanation (you need to ask!).
Or take an issue like worming, for example, where a “kitchen sink” concoction is made of every possible herb that is anthelmintic to cover the bases. The truth is, in this kind of remedy, some of the herbs are doing the work, some of the herbs are probably not adding much good, and some others that need to be included for this particular animal are not there at all.
Then you will wonder why it worked one time, and not another. If you sell herbal products online (and I do as well), you have to make standard remedies for the general public. If you are a good herbalist, you will make something that is generally pretty good. But herbalism is in fact very personal, and if you can learn to make your own, you will make something much more effective and powerful than anything you buy online.
Each herb possesses many actions, and limiting them to a set remedy not only greatly reduces their usability, but also lessens your insight that working in combination with other herbs gives you a huge capability of use.
Where in fact, a handful of herbs can treat many different kind issues all by how you combine their different actions!
In herbalism, the more precise you can be about targeting the bodily functions you need to assist, the more effectively the herbs will work. By the way, I said “targeting the bodily functions you need to assist” very deliberately. Herbs work with the body, not “on” it like drugs do. There are very few herbs that even have that capability, but if you do use them that way, you are not using herbs to their best potential.
Herbs help bring bodily deficiencies back into balance to keep the whole system functioning together for optimal health of poultry.
Step 1: Do Your Homework
What if I said you could grow everything you need to treat your poultry’s health issues, and you probably would never have to buy another product?
It is encouraging for me to see so many embracing natural care, yet I see on forums there is a great deal of buying of products. But I think there is much more room for people to “grow and make their own.” You not only can grow your own herbs, but better yet there are those plants growing wild commonly known as weeds!
First, it helps if you shift your thinking from “weeds” to “native herbs”. You may not think that you have a large selection to choose from, yet if you start walking around and really start looking closely and occasionally with a plant ID book in hand, I think you will be surprised what you will find.
Native herbs will find their way to live in most any environment if given the chance.
With that in mind you can conduct a nice little experiment by digging up a 6 or 10 square foot patch that will get a reasonable amount of sunlight each day. The only other rule is to place it where it will not be quickly overrun by grass or other invasives. You may need to give it a little water until it gets established. I can look at any 3- to 4-foot square patch in just about any place on my property and find at least three native herbs growing together.
So what native herbs can you expect to find?
Dandelion, Plantain, Self-heal, Creeping Charley, St. John’s Wort, Wood Sorrel, Clover, Couch Grass (believe it or not!), Mullein, Lambs Quarters, Yarrow, Yellow and Curly Dock, Huckleberries, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purslane, Bee Balm, Cleavers, Chickweed, Chicory, New England Aster, Joe Pye and Goldenrod are a small sampling of native herbs that I have found on my own property. I laugh at this list now because when I built my house and farm on 6 acres, I remember the disappointment I felt after moving in and looking around. I was unable to find much of anything.
Well, of course. The three acres surrounding my house had been completely landscaped with newly seeded grass. Through the years I have let it revert back to natural where appropriate, only mowing walking paths. Soon, in the unmowed areas, I saw items on that list begin to grow.
I examined and learned about every herb that has sprung up ever since and still I find new volunteers each year. After making a positive ID of an herb, I learned a lot from my poultry by giving them big piles to pick through to eat. What and when they chose to eat has been fascinating and enlightening.
Step 2: Introduce Herbs to Your Environment
I introduced other herbs that I wanted, some native and some cultivated. Over time, I let them spread where they wanted to live on my property. I started with Garlic, Nettles and Burdock, which make up my primary core for herbal food, and as medicinal staples. I also introduced Horsetail, Pokeweed, Yellow Clover, Alfalfa, Evening Primrose, Echinacea, Elecampane, Comfrey, Mints, Hops, Red Clover, (native was red and white), Catnip, Motherwort, Lemon Verbena, Lemon Balm, Passion Flower, Hyssops, Goldenseal, Black and Blue Cohoshes, and Ginseng. The very nice thing about native herbs is most are perennials and they will come back year after year.
I also grow some cultivars, mainly those that are highly aromatic not only for poultry uses, but for my very busy honey bees as well. Lavender, rosemary, basils, hyssops, sweet Annie, chamomile, lemon balm, mugwort, thyme, and rose (although some rose bushes are wild and native on my property).
Herbs growing in your environment, whether native or cultivated, can be used specifically to address health issues for each individual chicken in your flock. The herbs are readily available because they are growing right in your immediate environment, which is economical as well.
Herbs grown and gathered from the environment, in which your flock lives, as well as the knowledge of herbalism, are the strongest ally you can have for your flock’s well-being. ❖
Susan is an herbalist who advises on Poultry Natural Living & Herbal Care on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/groups/herbalpoultrycare/. Susan also is the owner of Moonlight Mile Herb Farm in Willis, Mich., where she lives with a variety of critters, and is a chicken, guineafowl and peafowl breeder. She also grows native and cultivated herbs on six acres of land, and sells her own formulated avian poultry products at http://www.moonlightmileherbs.com.