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Medicinal Herbs for Chickens

picture of basil

Medicinal herbs for chickens have a variety of desirable properties. Benefits include healthful nutrients that are lacking in pharmacological drugs. Herbs also have the ability to interact with drugs to reduce required dosages. And, unlike antibiotics, the active components of herbal compounds readily absorb, along with other digestive contents. They are rapidly excreted, too, with little (if any) risk of accumulated residues. So should you be using medicinal herbs for chickens?

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine uses whole plants and plant extracts to treat disease and maintain health. A problem with herbal therapy, however, is that science has not proven the effectiveness of different herbs for specific diseases.

Accordingly, instructions you see online and in print that describe herbal medicine for backyard chickens often suggest the herb “is said to” work for a certain disease. Or you might “try” the herb as a treatment. Doesn’t that sound suspiciously like experimenting at the expense of an ailing chicken?

Another problem with herbs is that their potency varies with cultivar. Potency also varies with growing, harvesting, and storage conditions. So most herbal research involves the use of essential oil — a concentrated and controlled form of a plant’s volatile aromatic compounds.

An oil is “essential” in the sense that its complex chemistry comprises the plant’s essence. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, misuse can lead to toxicity. Therefore, unless you are a trained herbalist, use only fresh or dried herbs for your backyard chickens.

Herbs for Chickens

You probably wouldn’t want to treat an ailing chicken with unproven herbal remedies. But nothing is wrong with taking advantage of the various beneficial properties of herbs to stimulate your chickens’ immunity. You might, for instance, tie herbs in bunches and hang them around the coop where chickens can pick what they want.

Or you might grow herbs in the chicken yard. But protect them with wire cages. That way the chickens can peck at any leaves they can reach without destroying whole plants. Here are some of the most commonly used herbs for chickens:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
  • Mint (Mentha spp.)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Herbs may be used as pest repellents, in addition to being utilized as medicinal herbs for chickens.  Applied judiciously they can be beneficial. Just don’t go overboard.

And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.

Gail Damerow is author of The Chicken Health Handbook.

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