Animals and plants relate in all sorts of wonderful ways and many of them involve flowers. We all know the birds and the bees benefit from flowers that provide nectar and pollen in return for pollination. But flowers can also benefit our animal companions in many other useful ways.
Some flowers, like Globe Artichoke can be added to an animal’s food for their nutrient value. Others, like Lavender and Chamomile, are useful medicines and can be used as first aid for minor upsets. Some animals with a taste for flowers will eat the flowers straight off the plant. We know of a dog that likes hibiscus flowers, and a goose that likes calendula flowers. Perhaps they enjoy the taste, but it may be that they benefit from the flower’s medicinal properties too.
Some Useful Flowers
Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) – The striking Globe Artichoke makes a beautiful focal point in a garden. The large, fleshy flower can be eaten as an anti-oxidant rich vegetable. Globe artichoke helps support a healthy digestion by promoting healthy gut flora, and liver and gall-bladder function.
Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) – While relatively unknown in its original form, the various cultivars of Wild Cabbage are very well known, including Broccoli and Cauliflower. It is the flowers that are eaten as vegetables, and both are rich in essential nutrients that are beneficial to our companion animals.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – The beautiful, golden-orange flowers of Calendula (also known as pot marigold) are a useful medicine for animals. Calendula is most often used to help soothe inflamed intestines or promote skin healing (in creams).
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Chamomile’s delicate flowers are a useful medicine for animals that suffer from allergies and anxiety. Chamomile has calming, soothing, relaxing qualities while also helping to support a healthy digestion. Chamomile flowers are ideal to support animals with stress-related digestive upsets.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – Dandelion is considered a weed by some but a food and medicine by those who know her. Dandelion leaves and roots are more useful in caring for animals, however she flowers early and so is important to insects, providing pollen and nectar when there is not much around. The flowers are also a favourite delicacy for horses.
Lavender (Lavandula spp) – Lavender flowers are rich in essential oil that is wonderfully scented and beneficial to animals in many ways. Lavender flowers are calming and relaxing, help the skin to heal, and provide a mild flea-repellent effect. In fact Lavender gets its name from the Latin lavare, meaning ‘to wash’. And the bees love her too.
Flowers from your Garden
Encourage animal diversity, and discourage problem insect,s by planting different flowers together and interspersing them with your herbs and vegetables. Many flowers beneficial to animals can also be successfully grown in containers.
Flowers are best harvested in the morning, as soon as any dew has evaporated. Flowers that have just opened are best, avoid any that are wilting or yellowing. You can help harvested flowers keep fresh by placing them in water in the fridge. It helps if you leave a bit of a stem that can be cut off later. Flowers can also be dried by laying them out on a mesh without the petals touching. Dry quickly in a dry, warm spot but not in the direct sun. Store in an airtight container, in a cool, dry cupboard.
Words of Wisdom
Only use flowers you are sure are non-toxic. Avoid using any plants that have been treated with pesticides or herbicides. Flowers from roadsides, nurseries, florists or other unknown sources are probably best avoided for this reason. Some humans are allergic to flowers in the daisy family (Calendula, Chamomile, Dandelion, etc), and this may apply to animals too. Introduce in small amounts and be alert for any allergic reaction. Always consult your veterinarian if your animal is on medication, pregnant, lactating or undergoing surgery before using herbs.