It sounds like an oxymoron, but it doesn’t have to be.
You see, we, humans are quick to label any undesirable-looking plant as a weed. But to a horse or any other herbivore, they’re all simply plants. And while it’s true that some plants are toxic (and should be kept out of our pastures), others, which very well may be considered “weeds,” can be beneficial for horses to consume. These are the healthy weeds!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
This is one of my favorite weeds. I actually pick the leaves to feed to my horses (though they can eat any part of the plant). Dandelions are rich and vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as many minerals. This weed also has blood cleansing properties and is a powerful diuretic.
(Note: Don’t confuse dandelion plants with cat’s ear, which is toxic.)
Goldenrod (Solidago genus)
This weed contains essential oils that can help promote appetite and improve digestion. And because goldenrod is also beneficial for arthritis and conditions of the hair coat, it is a great weed for older horses to consume. (There are over 100 species in the Solidago genus, all edible.)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This one even has “weed” in its name, but don’t be fooled—it’s good for your horse. Containing vitamins C, D, B6, B12, beta-carotene, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus, chickweed is definitely a healthy weed!
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Mullein is native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, but has been imported to the U.S. and Australia. While many people see this plant as a large, unattractive weed, others have come to appreciate its value. Mullein is beneficial for lung conditions, including seasonal allergies and coughs.
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major)
Originally found in Europe and Asia, this weed now grows all over the world. And while Broadleaf plantain may not be beautiful, it’s rich in potassium, calcium, sulfur, and contains some vitamin K. Additionally, chopped or mashed fresh plantain leaves can be used to treat insect bites and stings on you or your horse.
Cleavers or Goosegrass (Galium aparine)
Cleavers has long been appreciated by herbalists for its medicinal value. Not only does this weed help detoxify the lymphatic system and aid with urinary or bowel irregularities, it’s also considered a mild anti-inflammatory.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Okay, this weed gets a bad rap. Yes, live nettle has tiny, sharp hairs on the leaves and stems that inject histamine and other chemicals when touched (hence the stinging part of the name). But this plant is chocked full of benefits. Once cut and dried, nettle loses its stinging abilities and is a great source of vitamin C, iron, calcium, and potassium. This weed is also considered a tonic and blood cleanser, which has shown to be beneficial for horses with sweet itch or other skin disorders.
If you have nettle in your pasture, consider mowing it down and leaving the dried plants for your horses to munch on. (Interesting aside: there are reports of horses that have developed an affinity for live nettle in the pasture!)
The take-home message here this: don’t judge a plant by its weed status. Take the time to learn which ones are good, which ones are bad, and which ones are just plain ugly!
About the Author
Casie Bazay is a freelance and young adult writer, as well as an owner/barefoot trimmer and certified equine acupressure practitioner. She hosts the blog, The Naturally Healthy Horse, where she regularly shares information on barefoot, equine nutrition, and holistic horse health. Once an avid barrel racer, Casie now enjoys just giving back to the horses who have given her so much.