Remember to eat your herbs

Remember to eat your herbs

Most people agree that fresh foods need to be part of a healthy bird’s diet. In addition to leafy greens and fruit, an essential part of my birds’ daily diet is both fresh and dried herbs. I’m continually surprised how few people feed their birds herbs, despite the strong evidence for their healthy benefits.

Anti-microbial

Dried and fresh herbs contain essential oils that have been proven to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-parasitic activity, among other things. They have such astonishing health benefits that I wrote an entire article about it. I’ll mention just one of many scientific references from my article.

Out of 21 essential oils tested, 19 oils showed antibacterial activity against one or more strains. Cinnamon, clove, geranium, lemon, lime, orange and rosemary oils exhibited significant inhibitory effect. Cinnamon oil showed promising inhibitory activity even at low concentration, whereas aniseed, eucalyptus and camphor oils were least active against the tested bacteria.

In vitro antibacterial activity of some plant essential oils—BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine—Nov 30, 2006

Anti-oxidant activity

There’s an excellent research paper that looks at the anti-oxidant activity of 3,100+ foods, both individually and by category. They are ranked using a unit known as mmol/100g. Here’s how the study describes its purpose.

The ultimate goal of this research is to combine these strategies in order to understand the role of dietary phytochemical antioxidants in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other chronic diseases related to oxidative stress.

The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide—Nutrition Journal—22 Jan 2010

Just for comparison, I’ll list their average values for a number of categories of food a bird might consume.

CategoryAnti-oxidant level
Berries9.86
Egg0.04
Fruit1.25
Herbs91.72
Legumes0.48
Nuts and seeds4.57
Spices and herbs29.02
Vegetables0.80

This is a pretty shocking difference between two categories of herbs and regular vegetables. Now, I’ll choose a subset of their list of herbs/spices and fruits/vegetables to highlight the dramatic differences.

Fruit and vegetables

PlantAnti-oxidant level
Apples (fresh/dried)0.4/3.8
Curly kale2.8
Broccoli0.5

Herbs and spices

Dried herb/spiceAnti-oxidant activity
Basil19.9
Clove277.3
Mint116.4
Rosemary44.8
Thyme56.3

Everything else

There’s a great paper that is sadly not freely available that summarizes the properties of herbs and spices that far exceed those of standard vegetables. Here’s an excerpt of their conclusions.

There is now ample evidence that spices and herbs possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, anticarcinogenic, and glucose- and cholesterol-lowering activities as well as properties that affect cognition and mood. […] Spices and herbs such as clove, rosemary, sage, oregano, and cinnamon are excellent sources of antioxidants with their high content of phenolic compounds.

Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices—Journal of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists—2019 Jan 16

Conclusion

If you’re not feeding your bird herbs, at least start with fresh herbs, which are less concentrated and add them to their diet. For a list of safe herbs, see my page of safe plants for birds and search for “herbs” in the search box.

AND! Your birds will love them. Mine especially love dill, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and basil. Anything to get them to eat their greens can help!