How to build an animal-friendly herb garden

animal-friendly herb garden

Herbs are amazing plants. Not only do they possess many culinary and healing properties, but they’re also wonderfully fragrant and easy to grow. In fact, creating your own herb garden is easier than you might think!

And they’re not just for people! Many of the herbs that liven up our food are also powerful medicines, useful to our canine friends as well as to us. It’s as simple as pairing up culinary tastes with daily health care needs. Parlsey, for instance, is not just a delicious and nutritious addition to a green salad or a rice dish, it’s healthy for your canine companion, too. Plus the leaf juice helps freshen even the foulest doggie breath.

These herbs don’t need a lot of land – they do just as well in a tiny garden plot as in a full-sized bed or border. And if you’re an apartment or condo dweller, nothing’s more rewarding than the sight and smell of potted herbs on your deck or balcony.

A perennial herb garden

Perennials are the lazy gardener’s choice, because once established they come back year after year with little care. Plant them where they have plenty of room to flourish. Annual herbs can fill the gaps between them, and may be rotated each year, according to your needs and tastes.

The following perennials are the “must haves” of any multi-species, multipurpose herb garden.

Parsley (Petroselium crispum)

Parsley Family

The parsley family has numerous cultivars, with the primary differences being leaf size and shape. The most common varieties have tightly curled leaves, whereas Italian parsley has celery-like leaves. All are useful and most will grow to about three feet.

Hardiness: Zone 4. Mulch plants deeply in fall where winters are severe.

Growing requirements and tips: Plant seeds or transplants in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. Parsley requires deep, well-drained soil and daily watering during hot, dry weather. If the plant is allowed to go to seed, you will soon have parsley babies everywhere!

Parts used: The leaf is very nutritious and can be liberally added to your companion’s raw or canned diet. It’s also rich in antioxidant chlorophyll and useful as a breath freshener. The seeds contain trace amounts of limonene, effective for repelling fleas. Teas or other preparations made from the taproot are an effective diuretic used specifically in the holistic treatment of arthritis.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Mint Family

A shrub that can grow to six feet tall, rosemary is characterized by its piney fragrance, narrow leathery leaves, and woody stems. In areas where winters are mild, rosemary is planted as a long-lived landscape shrub. If only we could all be so lucky!

Hardiness: In colder climates, rosemary is best grown as a houseplant, or in containers that can be brought indoors during winter. But it can overwinter in a protected space that receives a lot of sun.

Growing requirements and tips: Easy to grow from transplants, rosemary is not picky about soil and is fairly drought tolerant. Because the plants can get quite large and long-lived in milder climates, their placement should be carefully selected. Needs full sun.

Parts used: Leaves, stems, and flowers can be harvested any time. An excellent remedy for flatulent dyspepsia and digestive upset in dogs, especially when these problems are secondary to nervousness, excitability, or irritability. A cooled rosemary tea makes an excellent, antibacterial skin and coat rinse for dogs, cats, rabbits and other critters, bringing reliable relief from red, itching fleabites and other irritations.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Mint Family

The pungent tangy-mint aroma of catnip wafts to the nose with the slightest disturbance of the plant.Of course, cats love it but did you know it makes a delicious, relaxing tea for people, and is an excellentremedy for nervous stomachs in dogs?

Hardiness: Zone 4

Growing requirements and tips: Requires full sun and rich, moist soil. Plant in a cornerof the garden where the free-seeding plants have room to spread. May grow to five feet.

Parts used: Harvest leaves, stems, and flowers any time.

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

Mint Family 

A tall plant with pretty pinkish-white flowers, Marshmallow is easy to grow and a good choice for back walls or garden corners where afternoon shade is needed by shorter herbs.

Hardiness: Zone 4. Mulch plants deeply in fall where winters are severe.

Growing requirements and tips: Plant seeds or transplants in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. Requires deep, well-drained soil but only moderate watering.

Parts used: Marshmallow root is among the first herbs I reach for in cases of bowel inflammation, coughing, urinary gravel (stones) or other situations where mucous membranes of the digestive, urinary or upper respiratory tracts are inflamed or irritated. Dig the root in the fall, and chop coarsely before drying on a piece of paper. The dried root will keep for up to two years.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Mint Family

Aside from making a delicious cup of tea, peppermint is an excellent remedy for dyspepsia in both humans and dogs. Peppermint tea is also useful as an antiseptic and soothing skin rinse, and is especially effective for temporarily relieving the tingly itch caused by flea allergy and generalized itching secondary to nervousness. Tea or tincture helps freshen breath.

Hardiness: Zone 4. Mulch plants deeply in fall where winters are severe, and then forget about it – once established, you may have difficulty getting rid if it!

Growing requirements and tips: Can be transplanted or started from stem cuttings (put stems in water until they begin to produce roots). This stuff will grow anywhere it can get enough water. Plants that get full sun tend to be stronger tasting and more medicinally active. Peppermint spreads easily — give it its own space or plant in containers above or below ground!

Parts used: Leaves and stems can be harvested any time and used fresh or dried.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Mint Family

Appearance: Most thymes are ground-hugging plants with strong, sprawling stems, small leaves, and tiny cylindrical flowers that range from white to pale purple. There are countless variations of leaf color, fragrance, and flavour.

Hardiness: Zone 5. Mulch deeply where winters are severe.

Growing requirements and tips: Requires full sun. An excellent choice for borders and rock gardens, and serves as a good “ground filler” between other herbs. Seeds can be sown in early spring. Transplants can be put into the ground as soon as all danger of frost has passed, and are easy to care for once established.

Parts used: Leaves, stems, and flowers. Thyme is a very good antiseptic for the mouth and throat, and is useful for fighting gingivitis in dogs. It also has anti-tussive and expectorant properties, and is especially useful for raspy, unproductive coughs secondary to fungal or bacterial infection.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian Family

No herb garden is complete without valerian! It features loosely arranged lance-shaped leaves that are usually larger at the bottom of the plant than the top. The flowers are clusters of small, white to pink blossoms, very attractive to bees and other pollinators. Roots are stringy, brown, and strongly pungent – they smell “earthy” to herbalists, somewhat like dirty gym socks to others! Plants can grow over five feet tall, serving as shade-bearing companions to shorter plants that need afternoon respite from sun.

Hardiness: Zone 4. Valerian is very hardy and can survive the winters of southern Canada and northern maritime provinces.

Growth requirements and tips: Because this beautiful plant grows tall and attracts an amazing variety of pollinating insects, I like to put it right in the middle of the garden, where it can stand up and demand attention! Easy to grow from transplants. Needs full sun.

Parts used: Primarily the fall root. The upper parts ofthe plant are useful too, but make weaker medicine. Valerian is a widely recognized herbal sedative, useful for insomnia, nervous anxiety, and to help dogs and cats relax when in pain. It is very useful for calming animals during thunderstorms, trips to the vet, or to help your companion rest after surgery.

“Must Have” Annuals

Here are some easy-to-grow favourites:

Chamomile (German)

Characterized by its small, daisy-like flowers and finely-divided, feathery leaves, chamomile will often produce flowers throughout the year in areas where frost is rare.This rambunctious bloomer is always producing seeds, and will spread throughout the garden if left unattended!
General uses: Chamomile is mildly sedative, anti-spasmodic, and makes a safe, gentle and effective digestive tonic. The tea or tincture is helpful for indigestion, gas, and vomiting. For skin inflammations, including fleabites, contact allergies, and various bacterial or fungal infections, a cooled water infusion of the flowers makes a soothing, healing, anti-microbial rinse. 


An attractive addition to any herb garden, dill’s dark green, finely-divided leaves have a delicate, feathery appearance, while the yellow umbel flowers appeal to bees. The entire plant, which may reach six feet in height is distinctively aromatic and delicious – just brushing past it makes my mouth water! Easy to grow from seed or starts, and can be fall seeded for anearly spring harvest in areas where winters are harsh. Dill reproduces very successfully from its copious seeds.

General uses: Foliage, flowers, and seeds can be used for nausea and flatulence, especially when such maladies are secondary to a sudden change in diet. Dill also helps inhibit bacterial reproduction in the mouth, making it useful for halitosis and the early onset of gingivitis in dogs. The seeds serve as an effective remedy for gas and upset stomach in dogs as well as people.

Lemon Balm

Characteristically a mint, lemon balm has broad, green, textured leaves and four-sided stems. The plants are deliciously fragrant, smelling of both mint and lemons. Lemon balm is winter hardy to Zone 5 and easy to grow (it is a perennial in warmer zones). It requires full sun, rich, well-drained soil and moderate water. Leaves and flowers are best harvested in warm or hot weather, at least one day after watering, and just as flower buds are about to open — these are the conditions in which concentrations of volatile oils in the upper leaves and stems are highest. If your lemon balm doesn’t smell strong, wait for a warmer day! For medicinal purposes, the fresh, chopped herb is far superior to dry preparations.

General uses: A delicious tea with amazing medicinal values. An excellent choice for promoting relaxation after a meal, lemon balm soothes the stomach, eases gastric cramping and reduces flatulence – add one cup of the tea to two quarts of your dog’s drinking water. Studies suggest that lemon balm tincture may be useful for hyperthyroidism in humans. It also shows promise as a treatment for various forms of dementia. It is very safe for animals, and worth a try against feline hyperthyroidism and mental debility in aging pets. 

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