One of the many benefits of having an herb garden, especially one with a semi-cultivated area that pets are welcomed to enjoy, is the pleasure of watching them react to some of the plants.
Dogs and cats will often chew on grasses to aid digestion or helpfully cause them to vomit up unhealthy foods.
Many cats love catnip, cat mint and cat thyme, but they, like dogs, often freely munch on the leaves of many herbs including parsley, basil, dandelion, mint, chervil, sorrel and lemon balm all rich in a variety of minerals and vitamins.
Such snacking is often a sign that the pets are seeking certain nutrients lacking in their regular diet or they instinctively know that certain herbs also have medicinal properties to prevent or alleviate discomforts and illness.
Following are a few herbs that grow well in the North Texas climate and are beneficial to pets and animals:
Cat mints and its most noted cultivar catnip, (Nepeta cataria), can cause cats to act foolish. The bruised leaves of a newly transplanted catnip plant release nepetalactone, a component of the essential oil that mimics a cats sexual pheromones. Catnip thus acts as an aphrodisiac.
Cat thyme (Teucrium marum), more commonly seen in rock gardens than in herb gardens, might look like silver thyme at first glance, but your cat might think this fuzzy herb is a garden of earthly delight. Cat thyme belongs to the mint family, as does thyme. Cat thyme looks like a hairy, upright silver thyme, but actually it is in the germander genus, which consists of more than 300 species. Cat thyme achieves its cat appeal through different chemical compounds than those in catnip. The crushed leaves emit a strong fragrance suggestive of mint and camphor.
Rose hips have recently become popular as a healthy treat for pet chinchillas and guinea pigs. These small rodents are unable to manufacture their own vitamin C and are unable to digest many vitamin C-rich foods. Rose hips provide a sugarless, safe way to increase their vitamin C intake.
Rose hips are also fed to horses. The dried and powdered form can be fed at a maximum of one tablespoon per day to improve coat condition and new hoof growth. The rose hip, or rose haw, is the fruit of the rose plant that typically is red-to-orange, but ranges from dark purple to black in some species. Rose hips begin to form in spring after the rose flower begins to fade, and ripen in late summer through autumn. Horses and livestock will seek out wild varieties of rose hips if allowed to grow in the pasture.
Garlic is an important herb for pets (and people). It cleanses and tones the entire digestive system. By removing excess mucus from the intestinal tract it keeps worms to a minimum. External parasites are also repelled by the smell of garlic. The most effective form of garlic is the freshly chopped cloves, mixed into food. Depending on the size of your cat or dog, give ½ to 2 cloves to each pet two or three times a week.
Following is a highly nutritious recipe for a pet treat that will produce an eager and appreciative response from your pets:
Minty Cat and
4 cups cooked millet
1/2 cup brown rice flour (or any flour)
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup fresh or 1/4 cup dried mint
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
4 cups cooked corn grits
1/2 cup barley flour (or any other flour)
1/4 cup yeast
1/4 cup fresh or 1/8 cup dried parsley
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup wheat germ
2 tbs. seaweed powder
Mix all ingredients together except oil. When thoroughly mixed, add oil slowly. Spread mixture about 1/4 inch thick onto lightly oiled cookie sheet. Place in 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes or until crisp. Allow to cool, and break into small pieces. Store in an air-tight container in a cool place.
Arlene Hamilton is an Ellis County Master Gardener and guest columnist in the Daily Light. For further information, contact the Ellis County Master Gardeners at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie, or call 972-825-5175 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.