Herbs for Birds- Dandelion
Herbs for Birds- Dandelion
Written by Marie Miley-Russell
Published in the DRAGON News March 2008
Dandelion, a weed commonly found throughout the world, is native to Europe and Asia. The name is assumed to come from dent de lion (which translates as “lion’s tooth”), referring to the coarsely toothed shape of the plant’s leaves. It is also known as wild endive.
Dandelion is a biennial or perennial plant that self seeds prolifically. The deeply notched, spatula-like leaves form a rosette above a thick central taproot. Flowers are bright yellow and open during the daytime and close at night or when rain threatens. Although most noticeable in the spring, dandelion blooms from early spring through late fall. Flower stems are hollow and exude a milky sap when broken. Ripe seed heads are white, fuzzy, and cotton-like in appearance. Seeds are distributed by the wind and by small wild birds, which are very fond of them.
Dandelion leaves have long been considered an important green as they are some of the first greens available in the spring. Dandelion seeds were brought to North America by early colonists from Europe and the plant is now found throughout the world in north temperate zones. Dandelions are grown commercially as a leaf vegetable and can be eaten raw or cooked. Young leaves are preferred for use in salads while older leaves are often cooked. The leaves have a slightly bitter taste.
Nutritionally, dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, and B complex and minerals iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper, choline, boron, silicon, and calcium. Dandelion leaves have the highest vitamin A content of all greens and are a better source of calcium than spinach.
Dandelion root is reported to have antiviral properties. It can be used as a digestive aid and to stimulate the appetite. It is suggested that dandelion root promotes gastrointestinal health by improving the health and function of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Herbalists also use the root for liver detoxification.
The leaves have a number of herbal properties and have been used to promote kidney function and to treat urinary tract infections, liver complaints, gastrointestinal problems, and loss of appetite. Due to its diuretic properties, it is known as pissenlit in French, which meeans “urinate the bed”. Dandelion has a very high potassium content so its diuretic properties does not result in a lowered potassium level in the body, unlike most natural and synthetic diuretic medications. There have been recent animal studies that indicate that dandelion may lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels and improve levels of good cholesterol.
Dadelion is generally considered to be very safe to use. As with all herbs, however, care must be taken as some individuals can have an allergic reaction.
Canaries can be fed the leaves, root, and seeding head of dandelions. Although I have read nothing indicating that doing so would be harmful, I would avoid feeding the stems to birds as the milky sap could be irritating. Most who feed dandelion primarily feed the green leaves and, less often, the seeds in the milky stage (not yet completely dried). Collecting dandelion seeds is best done in the evening after the flowers have closed up for the night. Dandelion greens have been considered an excellent breeding conditioner for birds for hundreds of years.
Some fanciers leave the dirt on the plants in the belief that there are beneficial microbes contained in the dirt while others carefully wash all plants fed to the birds. I personally wash all vegetables in cold water with a splash of organic apple cider vinegar to remove bugs and inedible debris. As with ALL wild-harvested food, be careful to harvest only in areas that have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides and avoid harvesting plants from roadsides, which may be contaminated by runoff and other pollutants. Dandelion is commonly found in lawns in North America- these plants will absorb chemical fertilizers and should not be used if growing in (or near) a lawn that has been fertilized. Washing does NOT remove chemicals from plants. If you have any doubt about whether or not the plants have been exposed, don’t harvest the plants.
Another option is dried dandelion leaf or root, which can be purchased from bulk herb suppliers. (Purchase organic dried herbs whenever possible.) The birds do enjoy dried dandelion, which is more economical to purchase when fresh dandelion is out of season. I supply dried dandelion routinely as part of the herbal mixture before my birds at all times.
Disclaimer: This article contains information about a nutritional supplement I have found useful in my bird room. I am not a medical professional, a veterinarian, or an herbalist and therefore I am not qualified to diagnose illness or recommend treatment for your pets. The information contained in this article is presented for educational purposes only.
No warranty or guarantee of a cure is expressed or implied with any information in this article, nor do I make any representations regarding the use or the results obtained with the information. In no event shall I be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever which may arise from the use of this information. Use this information at your own discretion.
Herbs may be harmful when taken in excessive amounts, in conjunction with other herbs or medications, or when taken for the wrong condition. The fact that herbs are natural does not mean that they are all safe. You are advised to use caution when offering any herbal supplement to your pet. If your bird is ill, an avian veterinarian should be consulted.
A Word about Herbs
Prevention is always the best cure. Herbs should be only one of the many things you use to support the good health of your birds. Other important things include: providing a fresh, well balanced, and healthy diet; maintaining good hygiene; culling all unhealthy stock (and quarantining all new stock before introducing it to existing stock); providing adequate exercise; and maintaining good environmental conditions. A failure in any one of these areas can result in illness or poor health that no medicine- natural or synthetic- can remedy.
I view herbs as food first and rarely use them medicinally. Most are highly nutritious and are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and other natural substances beneficial for our birds.
Discard any dried herbs that lack good color, are moldy, or are older than a year. Herbs can harbor pests so if using fresh, a soak in cool water is advised. If you find pests in dried herbs, discard them. (Most bulk herb suppliers will refund your money or replace the product if you discover pests in your herbs after purchase.) As with other vegetables and fruits, if the item is not good enough for you to eat it isn’t good enough for your bird to eat either. If possible, always buy organic- our small friends are very sensitive to chemicals and the environment is already loaded with them. Minimizing their exposure to potential toxins is advisable.
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