Hey Shannan, it's one of my most favourite subjects
My belief being that we have everything around us to heal ourselves, and our animals. The planet is totaly a self contained unit, everything is here, and if only people would realise this we would respect our wonderful planet more. The problem is that Pharma companies cannot patent natural products, so, they've led us to believe that we need modern medicine to help ourselves.......in the meantime, they make lashings of money, and we lose our health, as most pharma products don't treat problems holisticaly, they only target the one problem, which isn't helping long term, also, alot of longterm medication can lead to other problems, so the whole situation is very sad. Of course modern medicine has some wonderful things, and for saveing lives its a must....but, for long term issues like blood pressure, artheritis etc, herbs are definatly the way forward. Anyway, I'll shut up on that one.
You don't need to worry about Hogweed, and yes, they love it, I must say it does smell good, a bit like celery. Also Hawthorn is wonderful, especial now when horses are prone to a bit of laminitis, it aids blood circulation, so helps with blood flow in the feet. In the winter my guys also get regular handful of the berries in their feed, they are very high in vit C. As for Ivy, well, I'm always on both sides of the fence with that one, remember this is only my opinion, someone else would probably curse me for it, but Ivy is mildly astringent, so I think in small doses is good for the kidneys, Like I say, only my opinion. You certainly wouldn't want them to eat that alone. When I used to look after sheep, Ivy was my main medicine. If a ewe was sickly after lambing, I would always feed Ivy, they are up straight after a munch, also if a ewe was sick or off colour and not eating, a bunch of Ivy would always be eaten, it lifts the spirits, and gets the gut working again. In the winter deer totaly rely on it as a food source. They are both ruminants however, unlike the horse, but I still think in small doses it does have it's place. Certainly a nibble in the hedge will not hurt your horse. My guys nibbled at it regularly throgh the winter, only takeing what they fancied.
Nettles, well they are simply amazing, so full of goodness, rich in iron. Used in humans for anemia, arthritis, and they have found that if you rub nettles on painful areas of the body, it will actualy get rid of the pain, odd when it is so painful normaly. It apears to take away the swelling, the chemicals in the nettle seems to stop the imflammatory chemical in the body. It's also proveing to be wonderful for men with prostrate problems. Some early work is also showing that nettles may lower blood sugar and blood pressure in animals! This time of the year I regularly make nettle quiche, you need good gloves to collect your leaves, then steam them very gently for only a few mintes, them mix with cheese and eggs and milk and some fried onions, chuck into a pastry base, and you have a wonderfuly wholesome meal, you can always replace spinach in recipes with nettles.....oohh I just love them!
My other favourite is Dandilions, they are so special. If you taste the milk of dandilions you'll notice it's realy realy bitter, and genraly all bitters are excelent for the kidneys and liver, like milkthistle too. Make sure your horses get access to these when they are at there best in the spring. Willow, another love of horses, that has natural painkillers. Ash and Hazel are also huge favourites of my guys. I have had all my guys from babies, so I have shown them the best things to eat, but generaly, they do know whats bad, most bad things taste horrible, and often only touched when the horse is desperatly hungry.....but don't always rely on that, some can be very silly!! Especialy when poisonous plants are cut, they become nicer tasteing, but unfortunatly the poison can get stronger. As a rule of thumb, most evergreen plants are not good, but I will keep my open mind on Ivy
There are lots of good sites listing pictures of the real badies, so always familiarise yourselves with those too. We have alot of Black Bryony in our hedges right now, which is realy horrible for the horses,and I was watching Misty very closely as she picked through it for Hawthorn leaves, they have the most incredible top lip that knows exactly which herbs they want, and it quickly pushes all the stuff they don't want away, so lovely to watch.
I certainly think also takeing horses out to take what they want from the hedge is so good for the spirit, we must contain them safely in paddocks, but by doing so are denying them access to what is truly good for them, so a regular trip on hedgerow foray is just a wonderful thing for the horse, and special time when you are both together and asking for nothing from them, it makes very happy horses indeed.
Sorry, I've gone on haven't I, like I say, it is a favorite subject of mine