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…and any other fowls you may care for.

Credit for much of the information in this article must go to Kath Irvine, a passionate permaculture-transition gardener, and Ali Sutherland, herbalist and pharmacist, who have both been inspirational contacts since my family’s relocation to New Zealand.  Over here many homes have a few chooks scratching around to provide them with healthy, affordable eggs. Kath’s years of hard learned experience is shared by her through her workshops – and website, .

Whether you already have (or aspire to have) a few feathered and hopefully egg-laying friends, the information contained herein will provide a guide to maintaining a healthy flock, with a few hemisphere-specific plants thrown in, so common sense adaptations are allowed.  Hopefully feeding herbs to chickens escapes whatever crazy regulatory frameworks various governments try to impose. (Telling chickens what herbs they can or cannot eat would be an interesting dance to watch).  Not all the advice below is strictly herbal but is all good holistic natural stuff.

Chickens eat green plants!  So why not grow plants they need to keep them in top health, and reduce the likelihood of worms and mites, etc?  As a wise Greek chook keeper may have said, “let food be their medicine and medicine be their food”. Whilst on a philosophical note, chickens are happiest and healthiest in the rare circumstances where they are able to range freely during daylight hours – fencing them in is only for the convenience of humans, and/or to keep predators out. So do try to give them as much space as is practicable, with plenty of mixed flora to keep them well nourished and interested.  I could have written more about chicken housing and land management from a permaculture perspective, but it’s not strictly herbal so you can explore these further by reading on the subject – Kay Baxter is a Kiwi who has written from experience on these matters… and the use of “chook tractors”.

All the following suggestions can be adapted according to how much land and space you have. Plants can be grown specifically in chicken runs as a food crop, or alongside protected runs that chooks can peck at through chicken wire – or plants can be grown in trays and taken to them. A word of sensible advice to stop the total destruction of perennials is to cage the base of the plants, thus letting the plant grow up through it and the happy hens only get to peck the top layers. Also plan the usage of land and growing according to seasonal needs.

Essential herbs are chickweed, comfrey, elder, feverfew, garlic, hyssop, lavender, nasturtium, southernwood, tansy and wormwood. Also valuable are cleavers, clover, kale, rocket, silver beet and spinach – and for us Kiwis, kikuya, puha and Wandering Jew. Recommended grains are barley, buckwheat, maize, millet, quinoa, and wheat. To complete the list, consider sunflower, Jerusalem artichokes and fruit trees.

N.B. Garlic is often recommended, and for many purposes – but it will impart its flavour to eggs – nice in omelettes, not so nice in cakes!

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The Time to Re-weave Our Spirit of Co-operation – A way to rebuild and strengthen our lost communities.

In our introduction to The Herbarium we state that it is the creation of a small autonomous group of independent herbalists, who have come together in the spirit of co-operation, to share knowledge and resources, and find different ways of organizing ourselves in a rapidly changing world.  We would like to expand this concept of co-operation to inspire, support and facilitate others to venture into a constructive relationship with each other and the communities in which we find ourselves, that transcend current limitations such as cyber communities or the restrictions and differences we may place unintentionally between members of different organizations and individual herbalists.  We value communities grounded in real people and the earth.

Human beings are social animals, and we can achieve much if we participate and work co-operatively with each other, especially if we are clear about our common intent and aims, which are ideally for the ‘greater good’.  We are clear we do not have prescriptive answers or solutions, but rather we echo the Transition Town ethos – where as a community of people involved in herbalism at many levels we identify the issues that are of concern, and then in an inclusive and collective manner find the solutions that work at a grass roots level.  We would postulate that we have lived for too long under the restrictive view of one reality that asserts itself as the only one, i.e. that life on our planet is one of competition, survival of the fittest, one of control and domination of the Other, a reality that has built in victimhood and disempowerment at its core.  However, we need to explore other realities and many, ranging from those at the edge of scientific research to those who keep the ancient indigenous wisdom alive, confirm that while the energies of the Universe may be constantly changing the ethos is one of co-operation and harmony, albeit it a delicate one in human hands.  The current human predilection for  ‘ruling elites’ is a dead end for human evolution, being based on fear and control which is life sapping and a block to creativity, full vitality and empowerment.

All our current ways of being are, and will continue to be, put under great challenges and much needed questioning.  Let us reflect that at the moment, most of our social and political structures are based on paying (usually) distant others to do something for us – along with the assumption that our needs will be met and taken care of.  It is all the ‘they & them’ who control our lives, whether that be central or local government, power suppliers, health services, schools, various regulatory bodies etc.  Most of these systems are motivated by wealth creation and the social-political forms of control are predominantly fear based.   As we can see from the current economic situation, those who were assumed to be the ‘experts’ actually have had a poor understanding of what they purported to control and that the whole system is driven by selfish and individualistic needs to acquire more (illusory) excessive wealth for a few at the top.  As this ineffective state of affairs unravels we have experienced for example the scandal of MP’s expenses, the continuing issue of banker’s bonuses, the bizarre handling of swine ‘flu and vaccination programmes.  Entangled with many of these events, and maybe typified by the MPs expenses was the cry “I was only following the rules”, this is a dangerous place where we negate our personal and collective responsibility and integrity.  Then there is the disempowering ethos of governing bodies that proclaim they know what is best for us, and if we should raise questions then it must be we who are at fault.  All these activities consume vast amounts of money (usually taxpayers) and time, let alone the diversion caused by the obsession with targets.  All this is a distraction from humans using their time in an effective and creative way to find real solutions.

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