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Scientifically Backed Herbal Medicine for Your Flock

This week we had the unpleasant discovery that our flock of chickens contracted parasitic worms. Their vents were slightly poopy, and one lady had particularly watery poop that revealed tapeworm eggs. We are still trying to figure out how the infection started, but it could have easily been from the sparrows that sneak in and eat their feed or the hens scratching contaminated mulch into their food. Regardless, we are getting a firsthand lesson on parasitic worms.

CM and I immediately began searching online chicken blogs and forums for any information we could find. Some posts and articles were helpful (such as the Merk de-wormer medicine), while others were not-so-helpful (pumpkin seeds and apple cider vinegar cure everything). Instead of mindlessly repeating unsubstantiated chicken blogger lore, I wanted to separate fact from fiction and compile a list of scientifically baked herbal remedies. Sorry *insert bimbo mom blogger name*, I am not fooling around with my flock's health all because you saw a post on social media extolling the miraculous power of pumpkin seeds, Trump slogans, and vinegar as poultry cure-alls. Girl, please!

I want to point out that not one peer reviewed article below listed pumpkin seeds or apple cider vinegar for curing internal parasites. Apple cider vinegar may be helpful with other aspects of chicken health but not parasites. Additionally, diatomaceous earth was recommended for external parasite infestations only.

One of the major lenses through which NRS views the world is the decline and eventual collapse of industrial society. This means that the way of life you and I are used to in the West will not always exist. When folks in the alternative thinking classes discuss the importance of building resilience and raising livestock, alternative health care is almost always omitted. In order to truly be resilient, we need to maintain the health of our animals as well as ourselves as much as possible. For today's conversation, I want to share with you what I found researching actual peer-reviewed herbal medicines that actually work to reduce pest pressure on/in our animals.

To keep this conversation simple yet as informative as possible, I will bullet point and link the information for you to check out in your free time. Turns out that the majority of the world continues to utilize herbal medicinals for personal and animal health. As pharmaceuticals become unaffordable and/or hard to source, we need to have access to readily available replacements. Fortunately, “in vivo controlled studies have shown that plant remedies have in most instances resulted in reductions in the level of parasitism much lower than those observed with anthelmintic drugs.”

“Globally, it is assessed that some 20,000 species of higher plants are used medicinally, although traditional medicine has a scarcity of knowledge on its efficiency and wellbeing. In conclusion, herbal medicines are the effective source of prime components for drug detection and the formation of phytopharmaceuticals in the control of devastating parasitic infections.” — Medicinal Plants as an Alternative to Control Poultry Parasitic Diseases

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed veterinarian. I am a farmer/writer who is passionate about maintaining the health of my animals in a collapsing civilization. The information below is from research I found on Google Scholar and PubMed with corresponding links. This is not an encyclopedic review of research on the subject. As always, do your due diligence for the health and well-being of your animals. They deserve it.

Important Terms to Know

Please follow this link for more details on the terms below.

Avian coccidiosis: is a parasitic disease caused by seven species of Eimeria protozoa. To reduce the prevalence of this disease, make sure to routinely clean your coops once per week, keep the coop dry, and reduce pen moisture by mulching and proper drainage. Do not overcrowd birds.

Tapeworms (cestodes): are flat, ribbon-shaped, segmented intestinal worms that attach themselves to the small intestine while robbing their host of nutrients. As worms grow they break off in segments which are visable in droppings. Tapeworms can be passed onto your birds through earthworms, slugs, house flies, beetles, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, and more. This means that you will not be able to totally prevent infection but you can certainly help reduce their numbers and keep your flock healthy.

Gapeworm (Syngamus trachea): is a “ Y” shaped parasitic nematode found in the trachea of domestic and wild birds worldwide. The “Y” shape is from the female worm being attached to the male worm for anchorage. These worms attach themselves to the mucosa of the chicken's trachea, where they feed on blood. Like all parasite infestations, untreated animals will die from parasite overload.

Eyeworm (Oxyspirura mansoni): is a species of roundworm that infects the chicken's eye. This parasite is mainly a problem for flocks living in the southern region of the United States (SC, GA, LA, MS, AL, FL, TX, AZ, and CA), and other tropical and subtropical areas worldwide. Chickens become infected with the eye worm by eating its intermediate host—the Surinam cockroach (Pycnoscelus surinamensis), or by exposure to other birds infected with the eye worm. Several wild birds serve as reservoirs, including blackbirds, pigeons, and bluejays.

Cecal worm (Heterakis gallinarum): is a type of internal parasite that infest the ceca. They are extremely common and thrive on the ground or litter of overcrowded bird enclosures. Adult worms produce eggs inside their host (the infected chicken), which pass through its feces. The eggs remain in the soil or litter for several weeks or are ingested by another chicken. Eggs are also ingested by earthworms, which are then consumed by the chicken, which becomes infected through the earthworm.

Capillariasis: is the name of the disease caused by infection with Capillaria species (referred to often as hairworms or threadworms), which are a type of internal parasite. Adult Capillaria is very thin, "threadlike" nematodes. Their microscopic eggs get passed through into the chicken's feces, contaminating the surrounding environment. The eggs are so microscopic that you cannot see them with the naked eye.

Roundworms (Ascaridia galli): By far the most common parasitic worm infesting chickens. They live freely inside the intestine but can migrate to other areas of the body. When this happens, they can sometimes be trapped inside a developing egg, much to the disgust of the unfortunate soul cooking breakfast. These little shits can persist in the environment for years so rotational grazing does little to reduce their presence.

Mites (Dermanyssus gallinae): Mites can infest many animal species and have been known to bite humans and other mammals. Northern fowl mites and Red poultry mites are the two most common mites on chickens. Like lice, diatomaceous earth, wood ashes, and pyrethrum are used either directly on the chicken or in their dust bath area so the birds apply it themselves while bathing.

Lice (Pediculosis): Lice are the most common ectoparasite found in backyard and free-range flocks worldwide. They are small, flat, wingless six-legged parasites that are host-specific. Lice spend their entire life cycle on the chicken. During this time, they survive by eating feather parts, dead skin, and blood. Chickens are normally relatively effective at keeping lice and other ectoparasites off of their bodies. They accomplish this through dustbathing and preening (grooming) their feathers daily. Diatomaceous earth and pyrethrin powders applied to favorite dust bath locations are used to help reduce mite infestations.

Giardia (Giardiasis): is an intestinal parasitic disease caused by the flagellated protozoa Giardia. Giardia causes disease in a wide range of animal species, including dogs, cats, and humans. Infections occur frequently in backyard chickens and other poultry. The organism is transmitted via the fecal-oral route following ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces from an infected bird.

In vitro: is when testing is done outside of a living organism

In vivo: is when testing is done inside of a living organism

"General" Rules

Safeguard 10% Liquid Dewormer for Goats: Fenbendazole is used off-label in poultry (Sold at Tractor Supply and Amazon). Add to the flock's sole drinking water source at a rate of 3 mL per gallon of water for all worm infections, including giardia. The recommended application length is 3-5 days every three weeks to every 4 months depending on the severity of the infection and contamination of the coop environment. As always, consult a medical expert for more information.

Keep in mind that everything in nature operates in a set range of boundaries. This means that if we understand what their limitations and behaviors are, we can work around them to contain them. Most of these monsters are contracted from snails, earthworms, beetles, flies, and food/water that has been in contact with feces. Chickens are going to be chickens and this means they will eat worms, slugs, and a host of other organic food sources that are potentially contaminated. Keeping treats and daily feed in trays, bowls, or feeders will greatly reduce the chances of feed being a vector of illness. Wild birds can spread disease through their feces as well, so it's not realistic to keep your flock elevated off the ground and in a bubble of protection.

What you can do, however, is routinely clean the coop once a week (do not use the "deep litter method," that’s asking for trouble). Provide your birds with access to the plants below. Keep water elevated and free of feces and organic matter. Continue to perform the recommended deworming protocols.

Young birds are more susceptible to parasites than older birds and heavier breeds are more resistant than bantams or lighter breeds.

Prevention will go a long way in keeping worms and other parasitic creatures from overloading your flock.


The Science

Medicinal Plants as an Alternative to Control Poultry Parasitic Diseases

A very long but excellent article summarising a wide variety of peer-reviewed articles.

  • Due to the relatively high risk of backyard free-ranging flocks contracting helminthic diseases (parasitic worms), the need for herbal treatments is extremely important. Anthelminthic resistance is becoming a serious problem, coupled with increasing costs of such medications are spurring research into herbal treatments as effective alternatives.

  • Mexican tea or Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides): the leaves, flowers, and oils can be used to kill internal worms. This plant is hardy to zone 7, but its relative, lambs quarters, is an annual “weed” with a worldwide range. I would postulate that lambsquarters could also be used for the same purposes.

  • Clove basil or African Basil (Ocimum gratissimum): seeds and leaves are effective at killing large roundworms (Ascaridia galli) in birds.

Table two in this article lists a variety of plants, parts used, and specific parasites they kill. I will only list the plant species that can be easily grown in the U.S. and Canada. Herbal extracts are a substance made by extracting a part of herbal raw material, usually by using a solvent such as water. Personally, I will start growing these herbs and add them dried to my flock's daily feed ration or use extracts in water to help reduce parasite loads.

  • Nettle (Urtica dioica): extract for coccidial species.

  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): extract for Eimeria tenella and endoparasites

  • Garlic and Black pepper (Allium sativum & Piper nigrum ): garlic cloves and black pepper kernels for Eimeria columbae and Capillaria obsignata. I know we cannot grow black pepper outside of the tropics but storing black pepper kernels is a simple way to get around this and use them when needed.

  • Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana): shavings in the coop to discourage red mites.

  • Wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica): dried plant for external parasites, and a handful of dried leaves for decoction for endoparasites

  • Horsemint (Mentha longifolia): leaves to treat Ascaridia galli

  • Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), comfrey (Symphytum officinalis), burdock (Arctium lappa): the whole plant used for endoparasites

  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): whole plant extract for E. acervulina

Herbal Remedies for Coccidiosis Control: A Review of Plants, Compounds, and Anticoccidial Actions

  • Garlic (Allium sativum): Fresh garlic and its sulfur compounds are a broad-spectrum antimicrobial that eliminates microbial infections in poultry. An in vitro study has shown that allicin inhibits the sporulation of E. tenella effectively.

  • Sweet Wormwood (Artemisia annua): and its constituent active compound "artemisinin" have been reported to have anticoccidial action. In addition, A. annua has lots of phytochemicals, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds, which can help birds maintain commensal microflora (good bacteria that fight infections and increase bird health).

  • Studies show that essential oils can be used as feed additives to control coccidiosis. Essential oils present in oregano, thyme, wormwood, rosemary, and clove were able to destroy oocysts and sporozoite parasites. Specific dosages are not mentioned.

  • Grape seed extract was shown to break down coccidiosis via proanthocyanidin chemicals present in the seed

  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous): one of the top Traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and my favorite herb, considerably controlled E. tenella infection in chickens. The part used is the root and can be ground and dried into powder form or cooked in water.

  • Turmeric and hot peppers combined effectively protected against E. tenella infection. Additionally, a combination of sweet annie and turmeric showed similar results. Turmeric powder alone is highly effective in reducing the prevalence of E. tenella multiplication, increasing hormonal immune response, and reducing gut lesions.

  • Pro and prebiotic food additives helped build strong immune systems, fight disease, and reduce parasite and disease formation in chickens. Sources include ready-made powders to mix with drinking water, and apple cider vinegar.

  • Tannins in Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), effectively elicit a humoral immune response against coccidial infection.

Organic parasite control for poultry and rabbits in British Columbia, Canada

One of the best peer-reviewed articles for the homesteader. All recommended plants are easy to source and grow. To summarize, the plants listed below are all used for eco and endo parasite control in small animals (rabbits, chickens, etc.). The table in this article is extremely helpful and lists the plant, what part is used, and illness.

  • Essential oils of rosemary, thyme, mints (peppermint & spearmint), oregano, wormwood, and lemon balm were effective against parasites for their insecticidal properties. Care must be taken when given to animals due to the oils concentrated form. To make it as simple as possible, it may be wiser to give fresh plants directly to your animals instead of fooling around with essential oil extracts for internal consumption.

  • Comfrey: is given to poultry, either fresh or dried leaves, for diarrhea.

  • Cleavers (Galium aparine): either fresh or dried stems and leaves for diarrhea as well.

  • Purple coneflower: leaves are cut and chopped and given to chicks for disease protection.

  • Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva): bark powder added to feed for first two weeks of chick's life for disease protection.

  • Lamb’s quarters and epazote: whole plant given for poultry to eat or chopped up and given as food additive for endoparasites.

  • Comfrey, dandelion, burdock (seeds, roots, and leaves), peppermint, mugwort, and stinging nettle (DRIED!) whole plant parts chopped and given to flock for endoparasites.

The article explains that poultry owners can let their flock free range these plants on their own, or we can throw them into their pen as daily rations. Allowing your birds to self-medicate on their own time by nibbling these plants reduces your workload and increases flock health, both mentally and physically.

Herbal remedies in animal parasitic diseases in Nigeria: a review

This article provides information on simple yet effective applications of herbal medicine for your animals. Not all plants can be grown here, but some can be, such as wild onion. It appears that a wide range of onion species are used to great effect in reducing parasite loads in animals.

  • Wild onion (Allium sp.): For ducks, the authors recommend adding one bulb to a gallon of water for ducks or feeding wild onion greens to chickens to treat helminthiasis (intestinal parasitic roundworms that include whipworms, hookworms, and Ascaris).

  • Wood ash was suggested to treat poultry lice by rubbing under feathers and sprinkling on top.

  • Spiny Amaranth (Amaranthus spinosus): leaves were found to reduce 80% egg reduction in the highly damaging goat and sheep parasite trichostrongylids.

Plant secondary metabolites: antiparasitic effects and their role in ruminant production systems

Although this article is primarily for four-legged livestock, the herbal medicines listed were also tested for poultry infections.

  • Tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum): extracts of tobacco are used to treat the skin of animals afflicted with scabies.

  • English ivy (Hedera helix): saponins in the plant parts are anthelmic.

  • Plum poppy (Macleaya cordata): kills parasitic nematodes.

Screening of the anticoccidial effects of herb extracts against Eimeria tenella

For the record, the people in this particular research project should be drug out and shot for deliberately infecting newborn chicks with E. tenella to “conduct research”. Folks like this are fucking psychotic. That being said, their findings show that several Asiatic plant species effectively treat this devastating poultry disease. Extracts from these plants were used to treat chicks.

  • Large fruited elm (Ulmus macrocarpa): chickens given a decoction of leaves had 100% recovery from infection. Lesions were reduced by 90%.

  • Erect hedge parsley (Torilis japonica), Korean pasque flower (Pulsatilla koreana), and Asian wormwood (Artemisia asiatica) all had survival rates of 90%. Once again, you will notice that the Artemisia family consistently reduces parasite loads in poultry.

Ethnoveterinary contemporary knowledge of farmers in pre-alpine and alpine regions of the Swiss cantons of Bern and Lucerne compared to ancient and recent literature - Is there a tradition?

I was not able to find the full text of this peer-reviewed article, so I am not 100% sure about the dosages or applications of the plants listed. However, all of these plants are easily grown in the U.S., so I want to make mention their use by Swiss farmers for their livestock. Of the 83 plant species mentioned, the most prevalent are listed here—

  • German chamomile, comfrey, English oak, thyme, and calendula were the most frequently used plants to treat animal gastrointestinal problems, skin ailments, and metabolic dysfunctions.

Ethnoveterinary Remedies Used in Avian Complementary Medicine in Selected Communal Areas in Zimbabwe

Once again, I was not able to access the full text of this article. Two species that were mentioned in the abstract that we can grow here are tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens) and White mulberry (Morus alba). In the context of this specific article, the researchers were utilizing these plants as “phytogenic feed additives,” meaning the plants were processed and utilized for additives in animal feed. Tabasco pepper can be ground in powder form or used as flakes, while mulberry leaves can be processed in the same way. I do not have the specific benefits of such species, but they are used to reduce pest pressure in livestock and poultry while increasing weight and animal health.

Get Growing

Clearly, there are a lot of peer-reviewed articles available for folks to look over. I particularly enjoyed discovering locally available "weeds" possessing high medicinal values. As spring rolls in, CM and I are planning to obtain as many of these plant species as possible to grow out for our flock to self-medicate. Obviously, we will continue to monitor their health, but allowing the birds to obtain their medicine on their own is the most ideal method. Alliums, artemesias, oregano, thyme, and other aromatic herbs appear to be wonderful antiparasitic medicines we can all grow. Are you inspired to grow any for your flock?