Just as they do for humans, most culinary herbs have wonderful and varied health benefits for your chickens. Whether you scatter herbs in your coop and nesting boxes to help repel insects and parasites, feed them fresh to your chickens, or dry them to add to feed, you can greatly enhance your flock’s health by incorporating a few herbs into their living environment and diet. Like grass and weeds, herbs are considered green treats and can be fed free-choice. Each hen will eat as much or as little as it wants or needs.
Herbs are easy to grow, and many are perennials in much of the country. They generally aren’t very picky about soil conditions and don’t need a lot of water or babying to thrive. I grow a variety of herbs for my chickens, but these five are my favorites.
Lavender leaves and flowers are my favorite herb to use in nesting boxes. An aromatic stress reliever, lavender also increases blood circulation and acts as an insecticide, so it’s beneficial to your laying and setting hens. The leaves and flowers can be harvested as needed and scattered in your nesting boxes to keep them fragrant.
Lavender loves dry soil and full sun. Flowers, buds and leaves all can be air-dried and used through the winter.
Mint comes in many varieties, including spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint and orange mint. Lemon balm, catmint and catnip are also part of the mint family. Extremely aromatic, mint is an excellent rodent repellent, and as such, I love adding it fresh to nesting boxes. Mint also helps to naturally lower body temperature in humans and animals, so adding some crushed fresh mint leaves to ice water in the summer helps your chickens cool down.
Mint is very easy to grow and will spread rapidly, so it’s a wonderful herb to plant around the perimeter of your coop or run as a natural mouse barrier. Plant it in full sun in fairly well-drained soil. Air-dry the leaves for use through winter.
Parsley is a favorite of my chickens. They will eat the stems and leaves fresh from the garden. A nutritional powerhouse, parsley contains vitamins A, B, C, E and K, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. It aids in blood-vessel development and also stimulate egg-laying. Air-dry the leaves and add them, crushed, to layer feed.
Parsley is happiest in fairly rich soil in full or partial sun, but it can also thrive on a windowsill. Take care not to overwater it, and trim or harvest as needed.
Oregano is being studied by the poultry industry for its natural antibiotic properties. It’s thought to combat coccidiosis, salmonella, infectious bronchitis, avian flu and E. coli. Is this herb too good to be true? Possibly, but what is known is that oregano is a healthy addition to a chicken’s diet, and they love it.
Oregano is packed with vitamins, including E and K, plus calcium and antioxidants. It also supports immune-system and respiratory health. I feed fresh-cut oregano leaves to our flock free-choice, as well as mix the dried herb into their feed.
Grow oregano in full sun and well-drained soil, cutting the leaves back as needed.
Sage is another herb that I like to add to my chickens’ layer feed. It’s rich in antioxidants and vitamins and is purported to combat salmonella and other diseases. I feed fresh sage leaves free-choice to my hens, as well as add dried sage to their feed.
Sage, like most other Mediterranean herbs, grows best in well-drained soil in full or partial sun.
Get more chicken-keeping help from HobbyFarms.com:
- 9 Natural De-worming Plants for Your Backyard Flock
- Protect Your Chicks Naturally from 7 Common Illnesses
- 7 Design Details to Build Into Your Coop
- 7 Chickens to Raise for Colorful Eggs
- 5 Steps to Get the Best Eggs Possible
About the Author: Lisa Steele is the author of Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). She lives on a small farm in Virginia with her husband and a variety of chickens, ducks, dogs, horses and a barn cat. She’s a frequent contributor to various chicken keeping publications, as well as her blog, www.fresh-eggs-daily.com, and is an avid gardener, crafter, baker and knitter in her free time.