There are many natural substances which can aid us in our daily quest to maintain our parrots health. Nature’s time-honored remedies can cure or help to cure many maladies, as well as bolster immunity. We are beginning to rediscover that a simple vegetable, fruit, weed, leaf, flower, bark, root, or seed can offer a solution. We don’t need to wait until illness strikes but instead can introduce herbs into our parrots’ diets as a preventative measure. Treating our birds’ minor injuries and common ailments will give us a wonderful sense of pride and accomplishment while it connects us with a tradition practiced for thousands of years all over the world. To quote Hippocrates, “Nature is the healer of all disease.”
The following list contains only a few of the herbs, spices and other nutritional substances most commonly used in the care of parrots. It is advisable to educate yourself on the properties of each and to be guided by a holistic veterinarian or a trained and knowledgeable herbalist.
ALFALFA—The leaves of the alfalfa plant are rich in minerals and nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and carotene. It alkalizes and detoxifies the body, especially the liver, and it contains an anti-fungal agent. It is an excellent appetite stimulant and overall tonic and an excellent source of chlorophyll and vitamins. Treating with alfalfa leaves is perfectly safe, but alfalfa seeds contain a slightly toxic amino acid unless used in sprouted form. I keep a shaker of chopped organic alfalfa leaves and use it on my parrots’ soft food mix twice a week.
ALOE—Known as the medicine plant, aloe vera is excellent for the treatment of wounds, burns, bites, cuts, abrasions and rashes. It helps to prevent infection in injured skin and it is an exceptionally effective pain killer. Many cases of feather plucking in parrots have been treated successfully with a spray of water and aloe vera gel or powder. It also can be used internally as a powerful detoxifying agent. There are several documented cases of complete recoveries in parrots treated with an aloe concentrate and detoxifying herbs, even though the birds had been considered terminally ill!
APPLES—Not only are they high in fiber and pectin, they contain anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory agents. Most parrots will eat apples daily and you know what they say about an apple a day! For keepers of Amazon parrots (that are known for becoming “pleasingly plump”), apples can be one of your weapons against high cholesterol. In many animal tests, the pectin in apples has significantly lowered or normalized cholesterol and triglycerides.
BEANS—An excellent food for parrots, beans regulate blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol, and are high in fiber. Combined with brown rice, they are a complete protein. In humans, beans have been linked to lower rates of cancer so perhaps this benefit extends to our feathered friends too.
BROWN RICE—Of all grains and cereals, rice is the least likely to cause digestive problems. Not only is it one of the most easily-digested foods, but it is anti-diarrheal and it contains anti-cancer protease inhibitors. Parrots will eat rice in any form, even sprouted! As a weaning food, there is nothing better. Most “soak and cook” mixes include this nourishing food. The Macrobiotic Diet, practiced worldwide for the purpose of healing, is based on brown rice and vegetables.
CAYENNE—Also known as capsicum, it is an overall digestive aid containing liberal amounts of Vitamins A, C, B-complex, calcium, phosphorous and iron. It is also anti-inflammatory and helps arthritic conditions. Parrots love the fiery taste of cayenne and will try new and unfamiliar foods, such as sprouts, when you sprinkle on this healthful herb.
CHERRIES—Gout in birds is associated with the kidneys’ inability to remove nitrogen waste products from the bloodstream. As a result, uric acid accumulates and begins to abnormally collect in different sites within the body. There are two distinct forms of this disease in parrots. Articular gout usually affects the joints of the lower legs. It is most common in budgies where it appears as multiple cream-colored shiny swellings bulging up through the skin. It is very painful and the bird becomes progressively crippled. Visceral gout affects the internal organs and is very difficult to diagnose. The first course of action is to correct the diet, thereby eliminating the cause. Whether the cause is excess protein or improper calcium levels in the diet remains controversial. Meanwhile, try this simple but effective remedy, which I think most parrots find enjoyable too. Cherries, fresh, frozen, or even canned, should eliminate the gout problem rather quickly. If you cannot find cherries, all health food stores sell small bottles of black cherry juice concentrate which can be added to the drinking water. Otherwise, if the parrot has a favorite dry food, simply soak that in the concentrate. Although fresh cherries are ideal when they are in season, it seems that any form of cherries works to clear up the painful problem of gout. Just be sure to remove the pits!
CHAMOMILE—A mild tea made of this popular herb can be substituted for the drinking water of parrots when they need a calming influence. It is a wonderful natural tranquilizer which soothes the nerves and the digestive tract. As an added bonus, it contains calcium in an easily-assimilated form. This is an excellent natural alternative to tranquilizers for a parrot that is upset by traveling. “Night thrashing” in cockatiels can be treated by offering a bedtime tea of chamomile.
DANDELION—We spend millions on herbicides to kill the dandelions in our lawns while we spend more millions to buy the vitamins and minerals contained in them! Dandelion leaves are full of Vitamin A, B1 and C plus blood purifying substances. Parrots love the taste of this bitter green plant which is a wonderful tonic for them. If you have older parrots in your care, be sure to include dandelion leaves in their diet as it is one of the most effective supplements for the prevention of arthritic conditions.
GARLIC—Currently being studied by the National Cancer Institute for its anti-tumor properties, garlic has been shown to contain eighteen anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial substances! It is a wonderful natural antibiotic which is safe for our parrots. It also stimulates the immune system and kills parasites. It can help to eliminate lead, zinc, and other toxins from body tissues. When you give your feathered friends their garlic cloves, let them do the peeling; that’s half the fun!
GINGER—Called the “wonder drug”, the ginger root is actually a rhizome which is similar to several foods known to be consumed in the wild by parrots. Ginger is a wonderful remedy to use with baby parrots that go through brief periods of colic or throwing up their formula. If your parrot must travel and is prone to motion sickness, ginger to the rescue! Add fresh ginger to the food and drinking water several hours before the trip and put a few slices in the carrier. Parrots seem to have an innate sense of what they need and will munch on the ginger to “quell their queasiness” during the trip.
GRAPE SEEDS—Give your parrots a grape with seeds and watch what they eat first! Without fail, they first dig out the seeds and devour them with a look that lets you know they think they have found a food treasure! And they are right. Grape Seed Extract (or OPC, oligomeric procyanidins) is one of the most potent antioxidants known. According to Doane & Qualkinbush, authors of MY PARROT, MY FRIEND, feather plucking in parrots has been successfully treated with a similar anti-oxidant called Pycnogenol, pronounced pik-NOD-ja-nol, which is the same material as grapeseed extract, but taken from the bark of a French maritime pine tree. The anti-oxidant qualities of Pycnogenol and Grape Seed Extract are the same but Grape Seed Extract is less expensive. Not only the seeds of grapes are healing but the fruit itself also is a very versatile remedy.
NUTS—Nuts are a natural source of fats for our parrots. Fats are the most concentrated energy source, providing more than twice as much energy per unit as either proteins or carbohydrates. They help to insulate and store food for the body and are necessary for the normal utilization of the fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K). The more sedentary life your parrots live, the less fats are needed, so one must feed nuts with that in mind. Nuts are an excellent food for cold days outside when birds need extra energy to maintain their body temperature. As an anti-cancer and heart protective food, nuts are a valuable part of your parrot’s diet.
ORANGES—How would you like to squeeze the juice of a readily available fruit onto your bird’s food to keep it from spoiling during the day, and at the same time offer a complete package of every class of natural cancer inhibitors–carotenoids, terpenes and flavonoids? At the same time you could provide calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, Vitamin A, niacin, B-complex vitamins, traces of Boron, and lots of Vitamin C. Parrots also enjoy the taste of this versatile fruit while it keeps their fresh food offering free of pathogens for many hours, providing of course that we take precautions such as screening to keep flies off their food. This method of keeping the food fresh is a godsend in warmer climates where birds are kept outside. Some of the healthiest looking and most beautifully feathered parrots that I know have been eating oranges daily for years, so obviously the idea that they are too acidic is not a valid concern.
PAPAYA—This is a juicy peach-like tropical fruit valued for its powerful digestive enzyme called papain and the high beta carotene content which is readily convertible to useable vitamin A. Parrots seem to consider papaya a natural part of their diet, and depending on the bird’s country of origin, sometimes it is! Unless our parrots are able to digest their food properly, all our good feeding intentions and efforts are wasted. Proper digestion is a requirement not only for their optimum health but we also must consider that incomplete or disordered digestion can be a major contributor to the development of disease. The problem is not only that ingestion of foods and nutritional substances are of little benefit when breakdown and assimilation are inadequate, but also that incompletely digested food molecules can be inappropriately absorbed into the systemic circulation! Papaya is an enzyme-rich food that we would do well to offer our birds daily, in order to help them assimilate the most nutrients from their diet. Some people do not feed papaya seeds, but parrots love the seeds for their peppery taste. Many islanders use them medicinally as an anti-parasitic agent, and judging by the way my parrots relish those little black seeds, perhaps they instinctively know that they serve a purpose in their diet as well.
SWEET POTATOES—Also popularly called yams, sweet potatoes are a blockbuster source of the antioxidant beta carotene, (one half cup contains 23,000 IUs) linked to preventing heart disease, cataracts, and numerous cancers. When you have reason to be concerned about the health of a parrot’s eyes, this is the perfect nutritional boost for eye health. If a parrot has rough or dry skin, the high beta carotene of sweet potatoes will have a positive effect here too. This is considered to be one of the most nutritious foods in nature, and parrots of all ages love the taste, color and texture. It also is an excellent source of fiber.
These are but a few of the foods that we can use as preventative and curative remedies in the care of our parrots. Ultimately, their health and the quality of their lives are in our hands. It is up to us to choose their foods wisely.