Adding herbs to your dog’s diet can have a tremendous impact on his health and wellbeing. Here are ten great herbs you can grow yourself!
My mother was an avid gardener. One thing that really captivated me was her skill at doing just enough to make every plant stand out. A rose trellis was always nestled in delicate greenery, and as you walked by, not only did its fragrance leave a lasting impression, but there was always another scent that sat on the edge, like the top note in a fine perfume. It wasn’t until years later, after leaving home and tending to my own sacred spaces, that I realized the “secret” scents in my mother’s garden came from herbs.
Aside from their fragrance, many herbs are brimming with flavor and healing qualities that you can share with your dogs and cats. Consider adding the following top ten herbs to your garden or kitchen, and introducing them to your companion’s menu as well as your own.
1. Catnip is a member of the mint family. Best known for eliciting a state of euphoria in cats, it also stimulates appetite, aids digestion, helps calm nervous animals and encourages restful sleep. Catnip contains chromium, iron, manganese, potassium, selenium and other nutrients, including vitamins A and C. It’s also recognized for its ability to support the gastrointestinal system. Catnip tea stimulates bile flow and helps break down fats – steep two teaspoons of dried or four teaspoons of fresh catnip in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Catnip repels mosquitoes too!
2. Dandelion leaves are a richer source of vitamin A than carrots, and the root is an excellent source of inulin, which encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Dandelion also contains vitamins C, E and K, as well as calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon and zinc.
Dandelion supports liver function, improves tooth enamel and acts as a blood tonic. It supports the cardiovascular system and promotes healthy teeth and bones.
3. Garlic contains over 100 biologically useful chemicals, including compounds that act as antioxidants and demonstrate anti-carcinogenic properties. The most important nutrient in garlic is allicin, which has potent antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral and antibiotic properties. It supports cardiovascular health and the immune system.
Garlic is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, B1, B6 and C, copper, iron, protein, tryptophan, zinc, and selenium. It also has manganese, a co-factor of a variety of important antioxidant enzymes.
4. Ginger is recognized as the best anti-nausea herb and is well tolerated by companion animals. It acts as a digestive tonic, relieving stomach aches and intestinal gas. It also stimulates the digestive juices and helps expel worms.
5. Oregano is a herb often referred to as the “cure in the cupboard.” It’s a source of calcium, fiber, iron, manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, C and K. It also contains the volatile oils thymol and carvacrol, which inhibit the growth of bacteria. Oregano contains more antioxidant power than apples and blueberries!
Oregano tea soothes an upset stomach and can help relieve muscle pain. Take two teaspoons of fresh or one teaspoon of dried oregano, and steep in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Store fresh oregano in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp towel, or freeze in an airtight container.
6. Parsley is the world’s most popular herb and one of the most concentrated food sources. It’s rich in vitamins A, C and K, iron, folate and a variety of minerals, and contains a variety of volatile oils, including myristin, which is thought to inhibit tumor formation, especially in the lungs. It also contains histadine, an amino acid that has also been found to inhibit tumor growth. Parsley is a “chemoprotective” food because it may help neutralize a variety of carcinogens, including the benzopyrenes in cigarette smoke.
To make parsley tea, steep four teaspoons of fresh or two teaspoons of dried parsley in one cup of boiling water. Keep parsley fresh by sprinkling it with water, wrapping it in a paper towel, and refrigerating in a plastic bag. Or simply put stems of parsley in a glass of water and refrigerate.
7. Sage was introduced to China from Europe. The Chinese developed such a taste for sage tea that they traded their own precious tea for it. Sage was very popular in early medicine. Powdered sage leaves were sprinkled on food, just like pepper.
8. Slippery Elm is good for very young, old or weak cats and dogs. It contains vitamins A, B, C and K, calcium, magnesium and sodium. It coats and heals inflamed tissues and is used for the stomach, ulcers, bowels, kidneys, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery and colitis. You can use it externally for wounds, burns, rashes or insect bites, and internally for the lungs, coughing, vomiting, and for stomach and bowel cancer. Use slippery elm in convalescence. Just mix one teaspoon of the dried inner bark with a teaspoon of honey and water.
9. Thyme contains vitamin K, iron, manganese, calcium and dietary fiber. Its primary active ingredient, thymol, helps inhibit the growth of fungus and bacteria. This herb also contains a variety of flavonoids which increase its antioxidant properties.
10. Turmeric gets its color from curcurmin, an orange-yellow pigment. It’s a perennial herb that belongs to the ginger family and is gaining recognition for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant impact. It has more antioxidant properties than vitamin E, and its potential as a cancer preventive has been supported by many studies.increases bile production and flow, and protects the stomach and liver. It is the perfect herb to sprinkle on your animal’s food.
Fittini egg loaf
1 cup zucchini, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
5 free range eggs
2 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon sea salt
Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. Preheat oven to 350ºF. In oven to table cookware, combine all ingredients with a whisk or fork. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the centre of the loaf is set and the top is golden. Cool to room temperature. Before serving, garnish with fresh sunflower sprouts, parsley or catnip.
Egg loaves can be made with a variety of vegetables, including 2 cups of young “greens” (including dandelion greens). In a pinch, a can of organic butternut squash is the perfect filler.
Roaring Raita with parsley and catnip
1 cup fresh parsley
¼ to ½ cup fresh catnip leaves (or other mint of your choice)
1½ teaspoons grated fresh ginger 1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice (optional)
½ cup yogurt (e.g., Balkan style or goat yogurt)
Choose organic products whenever possible. This dish can be prepared by hand or in a food processor or blender. Combine everything except the yogurt. Transfer to a bowl, stir in yogurt, then cover and refrigerate until serving. This recipe makes a great meal topper for your canine and feline companions. It is very refreshing in hot weather. Try freezing it in ice cube trays.
This is an old Mennonite recipe for cooking and freezing dandelion greens.
1. Cut the roots from the greens and discard.
2. Wash them well (they are very gritty) in cold water.
3. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and put the greens in by the handful.
4. Bring the water back to a boil, and cook the greens just until they are wilted, which will only take two to three minutes.
5. Drain immediately and run cold water over the greens to stop the cooking process. Squeeze out as much water as possible.
6. Wrap the greens and freeze for future use.
Tea is another powerful herb. The polyphenols in green tea protect against certain cancers, and are also potent antioxidants that have been shown to be highly beneficial to the heart. Green tea also helps prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Consider including decaffeinated green tea in your animal’s diet. It is rich in fluoride, which reduces the risk of tooth decay. Green tea’s catechin compounds appear to block the formation of new blood vessels that fuel tumor development.
Other herbal teas are also very beneficial to health. The following recipes originally appeared in Pamela Michael’s book, A Country Harvest, first published in 1980.
Medicinal sage tea
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons honey
Juice of ½ lemon
2½ cups filtered water, boiled
Wash the sage leaves and put them in a jug with the honey and lemon juice. Bruise the leaves with a wooden spoon, then pour on the boiling water. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Strain and bottle when cold.
Fresh sage tea
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves (choose the young tips for this brew)
1¼ cups filtered water, boiled
Put the sage in a small jug and pour on boiling water. Cover and infuse for ten minutes. Strain and use at once, or store in the refrigerator for two to three days. Raw sage leaves clean teeth and gums, and leave a fresh taste in the mouth. Try adding some freshly strained and cooled sage tea to your animal’s food, or use as a “toothpaste”.
4 teaspoons of fresh or 2 teaspoons of dried mint (including catnip)
¼ teaspoon dried sage
1 slice fresh ginger
Combine ingredients, add one cup of boiling water, and steep for two minutes. Adding a teaspoon of Manuka “healing” honey will make this simple remedy even better!
Suzi Beber has been successfully creating special needs diets for companion animals for two decades. She founded the University of Guelph’s Smiling Blue Skies® Cancer Fund and Smiling Blue Skies® Fund for Innovative Research. She is the proud recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and was honored with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, for her work in cancer, from the University of Guelph/Ontario Veterinary College. The Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund is also the recipient of the “Pets + Us” Community Outreach Champion Award.