Barley grass can be a nutritious treat for your cat

January 16, 2013

Winter is a time of renewal for the mind, the heart and the garden. Music often renews us, so when the band Blind Faith disbanded after just six months, former Traffic star Steve Winwood decided to make his first solo album.  He invited his old pals woodwind player Chris Wood and drummer Jim Capaldi to join him, and Winwood's solo album became the reunion of Traffic with the album "John Barleycorn Must Die."

John Barleycorn is an English folk character who is the personification of barley and alcoholic beverages made from it, such as beer and whiskey. So when John Barleycorn suffers attacks, death and indignities, it is really just a telling of the stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

While most of us won't be planting acres of barley to turn to malt, we can plant barley in pots for our furry friends, especially house cats.  Barely (Hordeum vulgare) is now available as beautiful striped grass seed that will sprout in just seven days. The bright green shoots are pretty enough to double as indoor houseplant greenery.

Plant the seeds in a heavy, shallow pot or tray that your cat won't easily knock over.  Fill the pot or tray a few inches deep with loose potting soil.  To prevent washing the seeds away, water your pot with a spray bottle. Set the pot on a saucer or tray. Within a week, you will be rewarded with your own mini pasture for grazing.

After awhile your cat grass may wilt or die.  Simply pull out the plants by the roots and replant.  For a steady supply of fresh greens, plant a few pots a week or two apart.

Cats, of course, can be finicky, and while most cats seem to crave barley greens, some cats just aren't interested.

You can get seeds for cat grass barley at pet stores or by mail from seed companies such as Johnny's Seeds (www. Because many houseplants are poisonous, and outdoor plants often have harmful pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers, they should always be off limits to your cat.  

Put a pot on the windowsill or even in the garden bed.

Barley sprouts are a valuable source of fiber and nutrition for your pet. Not only do cats love these sweet, tender greens, they benefit from them!

As a digestive aid, barley greens also help prevent hairballs. Even if your cat occasionally regurgitates after eating barley grass, you shouldn't be concerned. Barley greens or shoots are good for humans too. Many people puree the fresh shoots into a delicious smoothie or shake.

You can plant cat grass directly in the garden after all danger of frost is past.  Barley isn't fussy about soil, though it does prefer full sun.  It will quickly grow to three or four feet high and be ready to harvest in about 60 days or so.

Barley or cat grass  can be an attractive plant for your home, and a nutritious treat for your cat year-round. Used as part of a healthy diet, cat grass can make your cat healthier and more comfortable. Your cat will indeed be a "cool cat." A phrase from the 1920s, a "cool cat" was someone who was up with all the latest fashions and music.

As for the album "John Barleycorn Must Die," it went on to become the group Traffic's highest-charting album in the United States.  It seems cool cats just can't get enough barley.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.