Dandelion for Horses March 29 2017
This is a re-print from the Herb Blurb Column I am writing in Equine Wellness Magazine, one of the largest publications in North America focused on natural and alternative therapies for horses. This is from their April/May 2017 issue.
Horse lettuce, tooth of the lion, piss-a-bed- how many names can this pervasive weed get? Before you pull all the dandelions out of your lawn and toss them in the compost in frustration, know this hardy little weed packs a real nutritional punch for our beloved four legged friends. Dandelion is an irresistible treat for horses – hence the name “horse lettuce”- and a potent source of vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K as well as potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium. Additionally, Dandelions are a powerful diuretic, detoxifier, and liver tonic.
Dandelions are easily recognizable by their jagged edged hairless leaves, stems that emit a milky latex when broken, and small yellow flowers that turn into silver tufts that blow away in the wind. They are perennial weeds that can be found in all temperate regions of the world and can grow both in full sun and shade.
Plant Parts and Uses
Dandelions are highly efficient as a medicinal plant- the roots, leaves, and flowers can all be fed to horses for beneficial effects. Leaves can be fed fresh or dried and are most effective for increasing urination and flushing the body. Fresh leaves are best fed in handfuls as a snack, and no more than 1.7 ounces for a 1100 lb horse or a teaspoon of dried leaves per 20 lbs of weight. Leaves are best harvested in early spring when they are least bitter and tenderer.
The root is often fed dried and ground or as a tea and is most potent as liver and kidney tonic and a detoxifier. High in magnesium and potassium, the root is good to be fed to cleanse the horse’s system after use of pharmaceutical drugs, vaccination or illness. The roots are best harvested late fall through early spring, when the roots have stored up the maximum amount of nutrients.
The Dandelion flower is commonly used to make honey, tea, and wine. For horses, you can make a tea from the dandelion flower and pour over grain or forage pellets or feed them fresh.
Most Common Uses for Horses
Dandelions are a great treatment for horses with stomach upset (not for ulcers- see below) caused by intestinal blockage as dandelions increase bile and encourage movement in the digestive tract. They also encourage urination, and are a very effective detoxifying healing agent after an illness. More generally, dandelions can be fed as a general source of key nutrients that are often lacking from a hay-only diet.
Dandelions are very hardy perennial plants that can grow almost anywhere, but prefer rich soil and full or partial sun. They are a great addition to any garden as they pull nutrients out from deeper soils and replenish top soils with nutrients. Be sure to plant some of your dandelions in partial shade as these will have less bitter leaves than those in full sun.
Precautions and Final Thoughts
While the benefits of Dandelion are many, they also have some properties that do not make them ideal for horses with certain conditions. Firstly, horses really enjoy the taste of dandelions because they are very high in fructan. Fructan, however, is not recommended for horses with sugar sensitivity, such as horses prone to laminitis, founder, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, and Cushings.
Also, Dandelions are known to encourage the production of stomach acid, which is good for moving through undigested material, but can exacerbate any issues associated with ulcers.
Lastly, if you are going to harvest your own dandelions, please familiarize yourself with the difference between dandelions and other look-alike plants. Cat’s Ear, also known as flat weed, is commonly mistaken for dandelion, but can be toxic for horses. Cat’s Ear has hairy, round lobed leaves and forked stems, but has very similar looking flowers. In contrast, dandelions have smooth, jagged edged leaves with only one stem per flower.
Overall, dandelions are a super food that will enhance your horse’s overall health and nutrition profile immensely. Happy hunting and harvesting!
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