Using herbs in your coop can not only make it smell nicer, but it can also provide medicinal and protective benefits for your chickens.
Today, we are going to look at some of the herbs that are most useful in and around your flock for their health and wellness.
I have chosen herbs that are easy to grow or find and simple to use- I have deliberately stayed away from tinctures and decoctions which can be time consuming. We will discuss them in the upcoming weeks.
Let’s take a look at the best 9 herbs you can use for your girls.
Historical Use of Herbs
The use of herbs in the coop is not a new idea. Herbs have been used for thousands of years for their health properties, both mental and physical.
Old time chicken keepers used many herbal remedies for their flock. Going to the veterinarian for a chicken was unheard of until very recent times.
An English woman, Juliette de Bairacli-Levy, wrote the first herbal handbook for animal health back in 1912. She was initially a veterinary student, but didn’t agree with the practices of the time. She dropped out and travelled with the Romany people and studied herbal lore.
Under our current system, we have livestock large and small that are being fed low dose antibiotics to keep them healthy and productive. The ‘knock on’ effect of this has been a dramatic rise in the number of ‘superbugs’ that are now antibiotic resistant.
There are numerous claims made for certain herbs with little scientific data to back up some of those claims; however, that doesn’t mean they are false. It simply means no/little research has been done.
As such, please treat claims such as ‘respiratory health enhancer’ as a statement, not proven fact unless otherwise stated. The goal here is to provide you with information and let you choose what you wish to do with that information.
Herb 1: Lavender
There are 39 known species of this wonderful herb. Known as Nard, it is mentioned in the Old Testament.
Used in the coop, it’s a wonderful insect repellent and stress reliever. It also has some antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties too.
I have Lavender planted around my outside run to deter pests and I cut the flowers and leaves to use in the coop.
Herb 2: Bee balm
Bee balm is the favorite flower for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. This herb was used as a tea (Oswego) by the Indians. It has a very distinctive aroma and is used in Earl Grey tea to give it its unique flavor.
Bee balm is thought to have both antibacterial and antiseptic properties, it is also said to aid respiratory health and have a calming effect.
However with your girls, its main use is for its aromatic properties. Just place it on the coops walls- make sure your hens can’t eat it!!
Herb 3: Calendula
This is a pretty flower with a long healing history. The flowers of the Calendula were used as an antiseptic and anti-bleeding agent on wounds in both the American Civil War and World War 1.
This can be fed to your girls and will impart a lovely orange hue to egg yolks! It’s also quite an easy flower to grow so makes for a great starter flower.
You can either spread it straight onto the floor for your hens to peck at, or mix it in with their feed.
Herb 4: Mint
Whilst hens generally won’t eat it, the insect and rodent repellent in the plant make it a great addition in and around the coop. Try throwing handfuls into the henhouse to keep it smelling fresh. It also has a calming, sedative effect and can be drunk as tea- humans only!
Make sure you plant mint in a container as the plant is highly invasive.
The scent mint gives off is perfect for laying or broody hens as it has a calming effect on them.
You can also keep some in the coop when your chickens are molting to help them cope with the stress of the transition.
Herb 5: Chamomile
This is a relatively common plant with many different varieties, the most common being Roman and German chamomile.
This little plant will kill lice and mites and it repels fleas. It has antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties which are currently being studied. Chamomile has a calming and relaxing effect. The fresh leaves and flowers contain calcium.
You can plant this up around the edge of your run or just throw the cuttings into the run for them to peck at.
A word of caution though, after the first year your chamomile plant will spread like wildfire so you will need to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t take over your garden!
Herb 6: Comfrey
Comfrey is a member of the Borage family and has been used in herbal medicine since the ancient Greeks. It has analgesic and antiseptic effects. It can also be used as a salve to heal wounds.
When you pick the leaves you should wear gloves since the tiny hairs on the leaves can cause irritation.
Comfrey has been used with good success as a fodder for chickens and many other animals. It is high in vitamins A, B12, calcium, potassium and protein and it can be fed as part of their ‘salad bar’, mixed in with other delectables such as parsley and spinach.
Herb 7: Dandelion
This is possibly the most prolific and easy to recognize herb in the world! If you have manicured lawns, you probably hate it! Chickens, however, love the leaves and flowers.
This herb is high in vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K. It also boasts iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc as minerals! A veritable powerhouse!
It is said to help control internal parasites in chickens. The leaves, flowers and roots are all edible.
Caution: do not feed to your flock if the lawn has been chemically treated or sprayed.
Herb 8: Marigold
Tagetes, the common garden Marigold is an excellent insect repellent.
The flower petals- when eaten by the hens’ contribute to beautiful golden yolks! Marigolds are high in phosphorus and thought to be an antioxidant.
I would avoid planting them directly in your hen’s run because your hens will likely peck them to death. Instead plant them around the perimeter of the run to give them a chance to grow.
Herb 9: Garlic
If you haven’t heard of the wonders of garlic, you must have been living under a rock! It has been used as a culinary herb and medicine since 2000BC. The Greeks and Romans loved it!
It has antibacterial and antiviral properties and is also a respiratory health enhancer.
I use it in the girls’ water- 1 crushed clove to 1 gallon of water once a week.
Garlic is thought to be an immune booster for chickens, thus adding it to water when chickens are on the brink of a molt or recovering from brooding, which may help with a speedy recovery.
I like to alternate apple cider vinegar and garlic every other week in my chickens’ water to give their immune systems a boost.
Herb 10: Oregano
Oregano is often touted for its antibacterial abilities. And it’s no different when it comes to chickens. When my chickens are going through their yearly molt, I always want to have some oregano nearby to boost their immune system.
Tips for Using Herbs in the Coop
As with people, some chickens will prefer one herb and not another. They too, have their likes and dislikes.
If you grow an abundance of these herbs, many can be dried and used over the winter months. Some, such as comfrey, dandelion and marigold can be added to their feed.
Others, mostly the aromatics like mint and lemon balm can be hung or sprinkled throughout the coop to keep it smelling fresh.
In the growing season, gather handfuls of the aromatics for the coop and nest boxes. The ‘edibles’ can be placed in a dish or container mixed together and let the ladies pick and choose. You can try stuffing a suet holder with the herbs and hanging just slightly above beak height – this will keep them busy for ages!
A brief note here on mold. Fresh herbs can be a source of mold due to the high moisture content. On a personal note, I have not had any mold issues with the herbs that I use. I usually replace old with new after a few days anyway, and you should too.
I hope you have enjoyed this tour through herbs. It has been deliberately kept simple as most people don’t have time to make teas, tinctures and what-have-you.
Remember as a rule aromatics herbs should always be kept out your chickens’ reach- ideally you don’t want them eat these!
Edible herbs can be mixed in with their feed or simply placed in the run for them to peck at. Have fun experimenting with herbs– they are great in the kitchen too.
Let us know in the comments below which herbs you use for your chickens!