There has been much debate in the equine world regarding dandelions and the risks they might pose to horses. In recent months an online article questioned whether dandelions are toxic, when, in fact, they are a widely used in herbal medicine, equine supplement and you may even spot them on Master Chef!
The Victorian gentry considered dandelion leaves a delicacy as they make a great addition to salads. Dandelion is also used to make a coffee substitute, and their roots are used to make ‘root beer’. For herbal preparations, both the roots and leaves are used.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are one of the most common British weeds and their beneficial properties for horses are often not realized. Dandelions have a diuretic, liver protecting and anti-rheumatic action. The root has greatest hepatic action, whilst the leaves are the better diuretic – hence the alternative name ‘the pee herb’! They are traditionally used to relieve fluid retention and can help cleanse the digestive system.
They are rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron & copper and also contain vitamins A,B,C & D. They are a storehouse of minerals, their copper content helps to activate zinc which is necessary for wound healing, fertility and white blood cell production. Dandelions also contain more vitamin A and C than most other vegetables and fruit.
When to feed Dandelions to Horses
Horses will very often eat fresh dandelion leaves in their pasture and will sometimes dig up the roots. Dandelion is often found as an ingredient in herbal supplements designed to support the action of the liver or kidneys, and also in herbal mixes for joint support. Due to its mineral content and diuretic effect, Dandelion is often considered as a natural electrolyte. It is also said that the white sap produced by the stem makes a treatment for warts in both people and horses.
Several handfuls of fresh leaves daily, or 4 – 5 fresh roots. For dried herb feed 30g, or 20g of dried root. Many ‘weeds’ are actually beneficial, and horses can really benefit from the increased variety in their diet. Including herbs in the grazing allows horses to consume a diet rich in natural vitamins and minerals and packed with natural anti-oxidants.