ARTICLES | Parrot Diet

Herbs for parrots - an introduction

Long before ready made medicines were available, our ancestors helped themselves with herbs when they were physically or psychologically unwell. Wild animals have also been observed to medicate themselves with nature’s remedies. Unfortunately, much knowledge has been forgotten. This is a shame, as sometimes heavy duty medicines with all their side effects are not required and we could help our animals and ourselves with much gentler cures.

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Many herbs are available with which you may help your parrots.

ATTENTION: As illnesses in parrots can progress suddenly and rapidly, I strongly advise you to take your bird immediately to an experienced avian vet, should you notice any symptoms whatsoever that your bird may be feeling unwell. And please do not forget to take him in for regular well-bird-checks, as well. Parrots, as prey animals, will tend to hide their diseases as long, as possible. By the time they are too weak to hide their symptoms any longer, they may be already quite ill. You simply cannot afford to lose any more time by experimenting with cures. Also, you need to discuss the simultaneous use of herbal and mainstream medical remedies with your vet. Some of them may interact, inhibiting their performance or even cause harm.

Having put this cautionary note ahead, herbs can be extremely helpful. You may use them for smaller ailments, for chronic problems which cannot be solved with mainstream medicine, for psychological problems and also – in agreement with your vet – alongside a mainstream medical treatment, for example to boost your bird’s self healing powers or to alleviate symptoms.

Means of application

Herbal remedies may be used in several ways. Not all of them are appropriate for use in parrots. Even if imagining the application of lower-leg compresses to a parrot makes me giggle – I would not really want to have to carry that out in real life. The basis for most herbal treatments for parrots is tea. It may be internally or externally.

Internal application

Most parrots love warm drinks. Thus, this method is really easy to apply. Teas may be helpful for psychological issues, for slight ailments or as preventive measure, as the active agents are very dilute in teas. Teas are also appropriate for ailments where a high level of liquid intake is desirable, e.g. to flush kidney and bladder.
When my parrots are treated with warm teas, I usually give hold the tea cup in my hands, if the bird is tame. This is not necessary, but I am of the opinion that the attention and loving care being thus conveyed to the animal, helps it feel better. The warmth of the tea furthers the feeling of being cared for.

External application

Herbal remedy for feather pickers, pluckers and self-mutilating parrots and other birds

Feather destructive behaviour often responds well to herbal remedies. Photo: Ann Castro

Teas may also be administered externally. You may mist your parrot with a tea or put it in a bowl so your bird may bathe in it. ATTENTION: Parrots with very light colored feathers may experience staining from the tea!
If your bird has foot problems, you may bathe his foot, e.g. chamomile tea for ulceration of the foot soles. If your bird is very tame, you can also apply the tea to the affected area with a cotton swap or gauze pad.


Of course, herbs may also be used to produce ointments. But I think most of us will not bother with this and would rather buy salves from a pharmacist.
When using salves on parrots you need to be careful to only apply them to unfeathered parts of the body. Messing up the feathers could lead to feather destructive behaviour as your parrot frantically tries to clean his plumage. If the feathers are massively coated in salves or oils, it can become a health hazard. Feathers thus soiled can no longer fulfill their temperature regulating function. This may be life threatening!. Furthermore, parrots tend to have sensitive skin. I would recommend talking to your certified avian vet prior to using any salves.

Tea preparation

Three methods are used to prepare herbal teas. The medical effect will depend on:

  • the dosage – that is the amount of herbs used
  • how fine the herbs were cut or ground – the more ground up the herbs are, the more ingredient ends up in the tea. Make sure that you grind up the herbs just before preparing the tea, as more volatile parts will otherwise get lost
  • and the duration during which the tea is allowed to steep or boil. It is best to stick with your vet’s or manufacturer’s recommendations on this.


    Herb tea for parrots

    Warm tea is enjoyed by most parrots

    The most common way of preparing herbal teas is to pour very hot or boiling water over the herbs, cover them and let them steep for five to ten minutes. Covering your tea prevents more volatile components from escaping. This method of preparing tea will kill most germs that may be present in the herbs. It is appropriate for teas made of leaves and flowers.


    To prepare a decoction, you place a pot containing the herbs and cold water on a stove and gradually heat until boiling. Then you let it simmer on a small flame for another five to ten Minutes. This method of preparation is appropriate for teas made of tougher components such as roots, bark or wood. Virtually all germs are killed with this method of preparation, but more fragile components of the herbs will be destroyed as well.


    To prepare a macerate, the herbs are steeped in cold water for several hours. This is appropriate, if the herb have compnents, such as Gerbstoffe, which you do not want to leach into your tea. This method has two major disadvantages. On the one hand no germs are killed. On the other hand, it takes a long time to prepare. Thus this method is rarely used. Having said that, a Japanese friend of mine showed me how to make a delicious iced green tea fort he summer time using this method. He puts the jug into the fridge during steeping though, which will at least minimize bacterial growth.