At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Are tree leaves nutritious for animals?

We are currently testing the nutrient levels in the blood of our animals as we feed them tree leaves, and while tree leaves may seem unusual, they are common foods for animals in most other places.  The TDN, RFV, and mineral content varies considerably from forage to forage, even two different fields of grass will be significantly different in most respects depending on species of grass, or variety of alfalfa.  The FAO and many foresters agree, trees are no different.  However, studies (FAO: 4.1 The Nutritive Value of Tree Legumes, Dr.B.W. Norton http://www.fao.org/ag/AGP/AGPC/doc/Publicat/Gutt-shel/x5556e0j.htm) indicate that there is little difference between tree leaves and most standard hays.
Many people supplement based on a belief of what they are feeding their animals.  Often, they are wrong in their assumptions, and attempts to perfectly balance diet are futile unless you are working with laboratory formulated feeds, such as those which are manufactured by Purina and other vendors.
Leaves are excellent food for not only ruminants (it is the food of choice throughout most of the world, though in the Americas, we are just discovering this), but also animals with simpler stomachs.  Even people eat quantities of tree leaves without harm.  Some tree leaves are poisonous in small quantities, others are poisonous in large quantities; others are wholesome and healthsome in even minute quantities.  Many trees have medicinal properties. 
The answer for those who supplement to overcome deficiencies in diet when using conventional grass and alfalfa feeds is the same for those who supplement to overcome deficiencies in tree leaf diets: hedge on the side of too much rather than too little.  Few nutrients cause disease when overfed in moderate amounts.  In Colorado, selenium deficiency is common because the soil is so poor in selenium. Most leaves have about 10% crude protein, with about 60% digestibility, and while oaks may have up to 15% mean taninnic acid equivalent, most trees typically have much less than half that and 15% is not bad, if the oaks are diluted with other feed ("Nutritive Value of Tree Leaves in the Kansas Flint Hills," JR Forwood and CE Owensby: Journal of Range Management 38(1), January 1985).  I, myself, enjoy the linden leaves best.  They make an excellent salad. 
 
 

Plantain Leaves with Currants and Roasted Nuts

Plantain Leaves with Currants and Roasted Nuts

Recipe from Wild Food Foragers of America, Vol. 1 No. 4, August/September 2003.

1 pound plantain leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup nuts (pine nuts, pecans or walnuts)

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/4 cup currants or raisins

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Wash, but don’t dry the plantain leaves, then chop coarsely.  Place in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook, covered, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove to a colander and rinse quickly. Press out as much water as possible. (This will remove bitterness from older leaves.)

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over a medium fire, add the nuts and cook just until they begin to roast.  Add garlic, and cook another minute.  Add the leaves, currants, salt and pepper. 

Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 more minutes and serve hot.

 
 

Turning over a new leaf

Mmmm!  Today we had our first evergreen and poplar leaves of the season!  The evergreen leaves were enjoyed with breakfast; the poplar leaves were given to two different friends in need whose doctors are allowing them to writhe in agony. 

One of our friends broke her fingers and they are swollen and painful - the pain medicine prescribed was taken orally and though her problem was on just a part of her body, she had to medicate her whole body!  Binding a poultice of the leaves and ground up bark of poplar and willow on her fingers with some bandaids makes better sense.  Our other friend's very arthritic neck found some relief with a poultice as well, though he did not want to bind it: he rubbed the powderized poplar and willow and found relief.

Leaves are less medicinal than bark, but more easily powderize without resorting to a coffee grinder.  Just dry out the leaves and crush them!  We make extra for ourselves in spring with the very powerful young leaves so that in the summer, autumn and winter we are never without.

 
 
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