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 contains vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon and zinc. 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 support liver function, improve tooth enamel and act as a blood tonic. It supports the cardiovascular system and promotes healthy teeth and bones.
3. 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. 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. (See our Feb/Mar 2008 issue for an article on the safety of garlic for animals.)
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 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. Thyme 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. Turmeric increases bile production and flow, and protects the stomach and liver. It is the perfect herb to sprinkle on your animal’s food.