In a previous blog, we have talked about herbs you can easily grow in your garden that you can use to help support your pets general health. In today’s blog, we’re going to explore what you can find when out and about on nature adventures with your dog.
If you haven’t foraged before then there are a few basic things you should remember, and some are common sense, so apologies if I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs!
- Always try to find clean areas, away from busy roads, drains, or other possible sources of pollution to select your herbs.
- Be careful of picking herbs from the edges of farmland, as these could have been sprayed with chemical fertilisers, pesticides or insecticides.
- Never take too much! A general rule is that you should never take more than a third of what you find from any one area.
- Be mindful of the plants. They are sharing their medicine with you, so it only makes sense that you should treat them with care & respect. If picking berries or leaves, then remove them carefully & try not to damage the plant or tree.
- Always be absolutely positive of correct identification before picking.
I am going to talk about a few of the most common, and easily identifiable plants that you might see whilst out walking. We will cover which part you use and what you might use it for, but not identification, so make sure you have a good plant ID guide with you, if you are not certain of what these plants look like.
Nettles have a huge range of different medicinal uses, for all their different parts. The leaves are a wonderful anti-inflammatory, useful in all kinds of inflammatory conditions, including arthritis. Including them regularly in your dogs’ diet may help minimise the risk of chronic disease, as lots of chronic disease stems from chronic inflammation. The seeds are useful in kidney disease and the root in prostate disease. Nettles are not only great medicinal herbs, but they are also a wonderful food, being very nutrient rich, containing iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, K and B.
To feed them you will want to either dry the leaves and crumble into food, or make tea with the dried herb. Alternatively, to feed them fresh you just want to blanch them in hot water and then chop them up as if they were spinach or similar. The seeds can be fed as is or dried and stored for feeding later.
Dandelion: Another herb that is familiar to nearly everyone, with their distinctive yellow flowers and seed head ‘clocks’.
Both the root and leaf of this plant are used medicinally. The root is a cholagogue, so helps support healthy liver function. It is also a rich source of insoluble fibre, so acts as a prebiotic, feeding all the good bacteria in the colon. It even has some pancreatic supporting effects. The leaf is a diuretic, so helps to flush fluid from the body, as well as being a much milder cholagogue than the root. Both are also wild foods, so can be fed for their nutritional profile as well as their medicinal uses, although they are quite bitter so go easy with them!
The leaves are best picked young and fed fresh. The root can be dug up and washed, then either fed fresh or chopped & dried, to make tea with. The root is best harvested in Spring or Autumn when the sap is active, either rising or falling. If making tea with the dried root then you will need to decoct it, so simmer it in the pan for 7-10mins, to get the best effects.
Burdock: Most well known for its very sticky burrs, that you will know well if you have a long haired dog from those seemingly endless minutes spent trying to ease one out of the fur on their legs or belly.
It is the root of this plant that is used medicinally. It is an antioxidant and depurative. A depurative, sometimes called a “blood cleanser”, helps to detoxify the body and to support the eliminatory organs in reducing metabolic waste products. This makes them great as added support in chronic diseases, especially of the skin, or after long periods of intense medication.
Like with dandelion, the roots are best dug in Spring or Autumn when the sap is active, and they can be used in a similar way.
Cleavers: Often known as “sticky weed” or “goosegrass” this herb is found all over hedgerows and the edges of fields or gardens.
It is a lymphatic cleansing herb, so helps support normal function of the lymph system. Many dogs will be seen munching this in the spring when it 1st begins to grow, and I always like to think of this as them doing a bit of internal “spring cleaning”! It can be great as extra support in skin disease, or after prolonged use of medications. It is also a food, so has nutritional benefit too.
This is best picked and fed fresh, or juiced, as it is quite a fibrous plant as it gets older.
Hawthorn: The berries and flowering tops are used medicinally, and it is best known as a heart tonic. This means it helps to support normal heart function. In heart disease it is always best to consult with a herbal vet, but including little bits of this occasionally in a healthy dogs diet is quite safe.
The flowering tops and leaves can be eaten as a wild food, or the berries made into tea, either fresh or dried.
Plantain: This herb is likely growing in your lawn if you have one, but large leafed plants are commonly found out and about.
Topically it can be used to soothe irritated skin or insect bites. Internally it has anti-inflammatory, healing and demulcent properties. A demulcent is a herb that encourages mucilage, which coats the lining of mucous membranes to soothe inflammation & protect them from damage.
Best used fresh this plant can be chewed or ground up for topical use, or chopped and fed as is for internal use.
Yarrow: One of my favourite 1st aid remedies that nature provides, this herb is a great anti-haemorrhagic.
The leaves can be picked fresh and chewed or ground into a paste to apply to bleeding wounds to help slow the bleed, or better yet, bandaged in contact with the bleed. They can also be dried and powdered and applied in this form too, or a tea can be made of the dried herb and used as a wash, or application to bleeding wounds. Obviously if the bleeding doesn’t stop then a tight bandage and a trip to the vets is required! Be sure to clean all the herbal debris from the wound once the bleeding has had a good chance to stop.
There are lots of other herbs out in nature that can be used, either as wild foods for people or dogs, or as medicines or supplemental herbs to promote health. This will hopefully give you a taste of nature’s bounty and pharmacy that is available all around you. If you want to delve deeper then there are lots of books on medicinal and hedgerow herbs for you to explore.