Mid to Late Summer Plants Beneficial to Horses and Humans
“Mid to late summer plants and their preparation/application”:
additional notes to those offered in June 2015
“Education is always the greatest investment”
This report will detail a further range of plants that can now be identified and have been found to grow in and around the equine track system at in West Kent. The geographical area for identification has been expanded since the June report to include the immediate area around the equine track and lanes and by-ways. The possible benefits of each plant will be described alongside its name as before. The soil type in the area described is largely river alluvium as it is located either near the River Bourne or the River Medway and is on the flood plain of both to a larger or lesser degree. It must be recognised that the plant types seen in any particular area will be dictated by the soil type and the time of year. Clay, chalk and limestone uplands will yield a very different plant profile and this will then determine what the animal medicinal practitioner may have at his/her disposal to forage for and/or provide without recourse to a recognised supplier for plant material. The growth of some plants will also vary from area to area in the UK as the sunshine hours and rainfall differs greatly and so plants may reach a given stage in one area that is not the same in another. It should also be noted that many plants in hedgerows etc may be strimmed down by local councils etc at this time of the year but the plant will regrow and so a seeming Spring growth development will be seen and not the expected mature plant. This is especially true of cow parsley, hog weed and yarrow but others as well.
Plants readily found in the area and their uses
In this report seventeen possible plants were easily identified in/around the area above and are described below. Grass and grasses have been included this time as they have been identified on the equine track and are considered to be suitable for the track horses to eat as they are low in ‘non structural carbohydrate’ (NSC’s) but high in fibre. This then will not adversely affect the horses on the track that may have health issues such as insulin resistance (IR), Cushings/PPID and a pre- laminitic state. The Smart phone application (app) – Laminitis Risk – is always consulted before access to these grasses is allowed as this shows the likely degree of sugar in the grass and so a limited time feed is allowed whilst keeping the ‘no ad-lib’ rule. In addition the track has now taken delivery of a new hay supply from a recognised Soil Association supplier who is able to provide good quality hay with meadow plants in. The hay has been analysed for minerals and other trace elements and has been found to provide a good balance of sugar (<7%) and calcium, magnesium, iron (in similar %’s so as to balance each other) and other minerals.
Please note that images will not show the plants in all stages of growth.
These plants can be told apart by the ‘spire’ shaped flower spike of the Rosebay compared to the more spread out flowering of the willow herb. Both will have pink flowers. The plant is useful in cases of diarrhoea but it will also ease sore throats, stomach ulcers, problems with the prostate and it is anti-fungal. It may also have a use in feelings of being ‘burnt out’ and cases of shock and the use in treating Lymes Disease is increasing as the ticks that carry this disease are becoming more widespread in the UK – woodland, tall grasses – and this will affect dogs as well as horses and humans. Horses will readily eat this plant in its fresh state but it can be dried for use later. In this case try to get the plant as the flowers are just opening to retain as much of the plant energy as possible. The top most part of the plant may be harvested and used in a culinary sense as one might prepare asparagus and/or be combined in stir fries or lightly battered and deep fried.
Common or Field Bind Weed. Common bind weed is a much larger plant than its relative the field bind weed and will only be found with large white trumpet shaped flowers whereas field bind weed is a much lower ground covering plant, has smaller leaves and flowers and these may be white or shaded pink. Some websites will label these plants as ‘toxic’ and ‘not to be given to animals’. It is unclear why they take this stance as the majority will describe the many medicinal benefits of it. The position may be adopted due to the purgative aspect of common bind weed especially. However, an animal may feel that it needs to purge in this way and so choose to eat the plant anyway. This is the applied zoopharmacognosy way – offer the plant and allow the animal to choose as it may, or may not, need the plant properties available. In addition to the above characteristic both varieties may be seen as having a calming effect, act as a tonic that may balance blood sugars due to the presence of inulin (similar to insulin), anti-fungal and bacterial, a boost to the immune system when needed and it may assist in reducing some tumours of the body. The blood sugar balancing effect may be especially important to insulin resistant pre-laminitic horses as a replacement for the, now ineffective, insulin in a bid to stave off a full laminitic attack. However, to return to the original sentence it may be prudent not to offer too much to an animal, even if it continues to choose it, at first so as to avoid any unwanted purging.
Pineapple Weed. This plant may be confused with chamomile at some times of the year. However, its habit is to grow much lower to the ground than chamomile and it will lack the white petals and feathery leaves seen in chamomile and instead simply have the yellow, ball like, centre that contains the nectar and pollen. The plant is related to the ox-eye daisy and prefers to be grow in compacted ground in full sun like roadsides for instance. The ‘hole in the middle and aroma’ test can be used to be sure – chamomile flowers have a distinct hole in the middle of the yellow centre and they have a sweet aroma unlike the pineapple weed that, well smells like it’s named, of pineapple. Pineapple weed is an effective treatment for internal parasites. It may also be used for its calminitive, anti-spasmodic and mild sedative properties for animals and humans. A tea can be made by immersing the flowers in boiling water when they are fresh or dried. It may also be used fresh or dried or in oil as an insect deterrent when applied topically.
Meadowsweet. This plant was the first source of salicylic acid to make Aspirin (the name ‘aspirin’ is derived from its old Latin name ‘Spiraea’. The medicinal benefits of this meadow growing plant have been described since the 16th century and it features in the Culpepper papers of the 17th century. The plant has a very distinctive aroma of Germolene or Wintergreen and has been used to scent rooms. Medicinally it is used in the treatment of stomach ailments such as soothing ulcers, arthritis (topically applied), infections of the urinary tract such as cystitis, to help in the effects of colds and similar infections of the respiratory tract and as a calmer. It also has the benefit of relieving acidity in the body. In modern medicinal research it has been found that 100% of people with cancers have high levels of acidity in their bodies and so it may be posseted that making the body more alkaline would make it a less attractive place for cancers to develop. This is still a somewhat tenuous link and needs to be researched much more. It can be used fresh or dried and as a tea. Because it contains salicylates it should not be given to people with sensitivity to this substance to those with a history, or possibility of bleeding in the stomach and to women who are pregnant. It is not clear if these contra-indications also apply to animals but it may be prudent to offer small doses to start with until one can be sure.
Tansey. This plant matures in August and grows to about 3’ tall with a grooved, angular stem. The yellow flowers are seen in clumps and are flat and dull in appearance. The leaves are deeply cut in to and the plant may smell of camphor. The young leaves may be shredded and used as an addition to egg dishes and cakes. Horses will probably not choose to eat tansy which may be due to the high amounts of tannin and thujone in it which makes is rather unpalatable to their taste but sheep and cattle will. It may be used as a diaphoretic nervine treatment, to aid stomach conditions, as a treatment for kidney problems and expelling worms. Topically it may aid skin problems, sprains and rheumatic type conditions and swelling. Heavy doses should not be used in those suffering from epilepsy as it may bring on a seizure. The roots may bring some relief to sufferers of gout if used as a tea. All parts of the plant may be used dried or fresh but the roots are mainly used dried.
Wild lettuce Growing up to 6’ in height it is the sap (juice) of this plant that is mainly used. It is dried and can then be powdered or used as a waxy substance. It is mildly narcotic and has a sedative effect. Horse may choose to eat this plant, however, it may cause harm if too much is eaten. All members of the lettuce family have similar properties, however, in most salad lettuce it is negligible. Similar family members to be found in the wild are prickly lettuce and the range of garden lettuces. The active constituents are called lactucic acid, lactucerin (lactucone) and lactucin.
Sow thistle. This plant has thick hollow stems, leaves with small spikey edges and is topped by small yellow flowers. Each part of the plant contains a milky substance and it is this that is used medicinally in human medicine for stomach complaints, afflictions of the urinary system and for inflammations. The plants young leaves may be used in salads and also in stews and as a general green vegetable. Many animals will readily eat these plants for their nutritional value and these include rabbits and horses – as well as pigs ! It is unclear the precise benefits gained from this other than as a food source. However, it may be beneficial in cases of wheezing and short windedness and may aid these conditions. It is said that in nursing mothers it aids milk production to take a concoction of the milk of the sow thistle whether this is similar in nursing mares is unclear but it may be a useful item to research by an undergrad or post grad equine student.
Wild oats. Not to be confused with its cultivated family member the wild oat grows up to 5’ in height and has a much more cascading effect of the seed heads. Whilst the seeds may be harvested, stored and used in a similar fashion to the cultivated variety in animals they may have a diuretic, nervine, emollient and cooling effect. It may have benefits in the treatment of ‘Wobblers’ in horses due to the beta glucine content. Again this could be a more researched topic of study from a university student/department.
Musk Mallow. Growing to between one and two feet this plant is aromatic and has been used as a perfume substitute for musk in that industry. It flowers between July and September. As a culinary dish the leaves may be used in a similar way to ocra, however, the seeds are most likely to be used medicinally. The plant may be used to help the treatment of stomach ailments but it is also a diuretic, is antiseptic, a demulcent, and an aid to calming and even have an aphrodisiac effect. An essential oil can be prepared from the plant used for the treatment of depression and anxiety and used topically to treat cramp. Poor circulation and aching joints. It can be seen that some of these uses may be applied to animals when they are given the choice to partake of the plant parts. However, care should be taken when using the plant as it may cause photosensitivity to the animal and/or user. In common with other members of the mallow family like common mallow and marsh mallow the mucilage effect of the plant may help coughs and sore throats/inflammation by coating the mucus membrane. They may also aid in the treatment of stomach ulcers, help to reduce blood sugar and ease skin inflammation. Used as a poultice they can help in the treatment of wounds and bites and abscesses. The fact that a reduction in blood sugar may arise from use of this plant is especially important in the treatment of pre and post laminitic horses as this is a major cause of an attack which in its most severe form can result in the horse being put to sleep as the pedal bone rotates into the sole of the foot and cause great pain.
Self heal. Self heal has a long history of folk use, especially in the treatment of wounds, ulcers, sores etc. It was also taken internally as a tea in the treatment of fevers, diarrhoea, sore mouth, internal bleeding etc. The whole plant is alterative, antibacterial, antipyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, febrifuge, hypotensive, stomachic, styptic, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary. It has an antibacterial action, inhibiting the growth of Pseudomonas, Bacillus typhi, E. coli, Mycobacterium tuberculi etc. It can be used fresh or dried, for drying it is best harvested in mid-summer. The plant is experimentally antibiotic and hypotensive. The whole plant can be used dried or fresh. As a culinary dish the leaves can be used in salads but may be bitter to the taste unless the leaves are washed first to remove the tannins. A cold water infusion can be prepared which is said to be ‘very tasty’. It is mostly found in waste ground areas and on the edges of woodlands and grasslands.
Mugwort. This plant has long been used in herbal medicine especially in ailments of the digestive system, menstrual complaints and the treatment of worms. It is slightly toxic, however, and should never be used by pregnant women, especially in their first trimester, since it can cause a miscarriage. Large, prolonged dosage can damage the nervous system. All parts of the plant are anthelmintic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, digestive, expectorant, nervine, purgative, stimulant, slightly tonic and used in the treatment of “women’s complaints”. The leaves may be used as an appetizer, diuretic, haemostatic and stomachic. They can be used internally or externally. An infusion of the leaves and flowering tops is used in the treatment of nervous and spasmodic affections, sterility, functional bleeding of the uterus, dysmenorrhoea, asthma and diseases of the brain. The flowering season is short (July) and harvesting for drying purposes should include the flowers just as they are preparing to open to gain the maximum energy from the plant. The leaves have an antibacterial action, inhibiting the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus typhi, B. dysenteriae, streptococci, E. coli, B. subtilis, Pseudomonas etc. The leaves are harvested in August and can be dried for later use. The stem is also said to be antirheumatic, antispasmodic, and stomachic. The roots are tonic and antispasmodic. They are said to be one of the best stomachics. They are harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. The leaves, placed inside the shoes, are said to be soothing for sore feet. The compressed dried leaves and stems are used in moxibustion. Horses will readily eat this plant and it may be seen that the possible benefits to them are numerous.
Hedge Mustard. The whole plant is said to be antiaphonic, diuretic, expectorant, laxative and stomachic. This plant was at one time known as the “singer’s plant” because of its use in treating loss of the voice. A strong infusion of the whole plant has been used in the treatment of throat complaints. Excessive doses can affect the heart. The dried plant is almost inactive, so it should only be used when freshly harvested. It may be used in a culinary sense as an addition to salads, stir fries and a stew/pot flavouring herb. However, it is not clear if horses would choose to eat it due to the strong flavour of the plant leaves.
Lemon Balm (Melissa). Lemon balm is a commonly grown household herb with a long tradition as a tonic remedy that raises the spirits and rejuvenates. The leaves and young flowering shoots are antibacterial, antispasmodic, antiviral, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, sedative, and tonic. It also acts to inhibit thyroid activity. An infusion of the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers and colds, indigestion associated with nervous tension, excitability and digestive upsets in children, hyperthyroidism, depression, mild insomnia, headaches etc. Externally, it is used to treat herpes (cold sores) as the plant contains polyphenols that help to fight the herpes simplex virus, sores, gout, insect bites and as an insect repellent by rubbing on the skin. The plant can be used fresh or dried, for drying it is harvested just before or just after flowering. The essential oil contains citral and citronella, which act to calm the central nervous system and are strongly antispasmodic. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. It is used to relax and rejuvenate, especially in cases of depression and nervous tension. A simple tea can be made from the leaves which can be used to elicit the above benefits and/or the leaves can be used in salads etc or be offered to animals in a fresh or dried state. The plant is part of the labiate (mint) family and can easily be identified by the square stem and leaves set in pairs opposite each other as well as the aromatic lemon smell. It is also called the ‘Student Herb’ as it can help retain ‘focus’ and concentration – but too much can cause drowsiness (much like the student’s I used to teach – or was that me not the lemon balm !!)
Wavy Hair Grass and Purple Moor Grass .These are two of the grass types identified on and around the equine track. They are considered to be ‘old’ varieties of grasses and not like those developed to fatten sheep or cattle. They are slow growing, are low in sugar and may be planted in damp, boggy conditions and so be useful to the ‘trackie’ as they try to fend off the effects of their horses being mostly on a dirt track rather than a thick sward of grass as the tracks can get muddy in the winter. These grasses will be ‘clump’ forming and offer valuable fibre all year round. They may be used as standing hay in the winter and as a way to get the horses off the track for periods of time. The use of a Smart phone app (Laminitis Risk or similar) will allow the ‘trackie to monitor the likely sugar values of grass in general and so make a decision about when, and how long for, to allow their horses access to areas of grass such as this. Other grass types that may be considered are soft rush grass and sheep’s fescue along with bristle bent grass although the soil type will favour one or more of these over others.
Thank you for reading through this latest plant use, application and identification blog. We hope to be offering another Forage Walk in the late Autumn and this will be promoted through the various Facebook pages/groups that we are members of. If you’re not linked to the Total Contact Saddles Facebook page yet then simply ‘like’ it to keep up to date with news and views from us and clients. Happy plant hunting ….