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Author Topic: Plants used as medicine: can you help?  (Read 563 times)

William Milliken

  • Joined Jun 2019
Plants used as medicine: can you help?
« on: June 05, 2019, 05:32:28 pm »
In the British Isles, local farmers and vets used to use plants to treat their livestock. Information was passed from one generation to the next, and often was not written down. How much of the knowledge now remains in the population?

The use of wild or cultivated plants as animal medicines (Ethnoveterinary Use) is common across the world. For many years, scientists have collected information from farmers in India, Ethiopia and Uganda, for example, and studied the effect on treating animals with these plants. Some species used by farmers in British Columbia also exist in the British Isles. For example, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used to treat mastitis and sternal abscesses, Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) to treat zinc deficiency, Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) to treat wounds, and Juniper (Juniperus communis) to treat endoparasites and liver fluke in ruminant animals.

The Ethnoveterinary Medicine Project, established by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, aims to record the remaining knowledge, from across the British Isles, before it disappears. Some data have already been collected, mostly previously published information from the past. However, but we also interviewed rural people for existing knowledge. Duncan Matheson, from Kyle of Lochalsh, explained that the Rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium), which used to be rare, is now extremely common. “The root is very valuable if you boil it down, particularly for healing wounds on horses. Horses are extremely delicate: cuts and saddle burrs are very difficult to correct. But this stuff is particularly good for it.”

Similarly, wild plants used as feeds were thought to influence the health, behaviour or flavour of the meat or milk. Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca) was used in the past as a fodder plant in South Uist, and it was said that a cow that ate well on this plant would ‘take the bull’ more easily, and earlier in the season. On the Isle of Colonsay, Sea plantain (Plantago maritima) was thought to improve the cream and butter yield of cows and was also gathered as food for domestic rabbits. Kate Anne MacLellen, from North Uist, explained that in the past they would boil Cow tang (Pelvetia canaliculata), a seaweed, in large pots with potatoes, ears of corn and sometimes oatmeal. “If you had a cow that calved, it would leave the milk rich and more abundant as well. They also used to give it to the young beasts, and they would get this lovely sheen off their coats.”

During the project we will be collecting data through websites, letters to local newspapers, agricultural and veterinary communications and subsequent interviews of knowledgeable people. We need to record this information, which forms part of the traditional rural culture, before it is lost.

This knowledge could also be used practically in animal management (livestock, pets) to improve their health and the economy. Over-use of antibiotics in veterinary use, for example, can generate antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Finding new plant-based treatments could also help support Soil Association Organic Standards, which restrict the use of antibiotics and chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products for preventive treatments. Some companies in Britain are already supplying plant-based treatments for animals, including Nettle (Urtica dioica), Plantain (Plantago major), Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and Thyme (Thymus spp.).

If you have any information about ethnoveterinary medicines, feed supplements or other information relating to plants/fungi and animal health from the British Isles, please contribute by sending an email to

Thank you.
Voss Electric Fence


  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow. Some say it's in England.
Re: Plants used as medicine: can you help?
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2019, 05:59:09 pm »
Unfortunately William, I am 2 or 3 generations removed from actual farming and have not inherited any wisdoms to pass on:  however, I do wish you good luck with your research.  Interesting and I do hope you will report back to the forum idc on progress with your studies (or provide us with a link idc to outcomes).
« Last Edit: June 07, 2019, 06:26:24 pm by arobwk »


  • Joined Jun 2013
  • South Wales .Carmarthenshire. SA18
Re: Plants used as medicine: can you help?
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2019, 11:06:11 pm »
Blackberry leaves are an astringent and good if small animals that have the scours are fed  about 1/3 of their diet on them for a couple of days .

Laugh about this one if you like  .

We all know that onions have an antiseptic quality . One Farmer I actually knew in St Ives Cambridgeshire used to  feed his pigs and cattle on rejected onions from the local onion packing plant that was close by . 
 The area was struck with foot & mouth disease … none of his cattle got it despite being almost slap bang in the middle of the outbreak .
Strong belief , triggers the mind to find the way ... Dyslexia just makes it that bit more amusing & interesting


  • Joined Jul 2011
Re: Plants used as medicine: can you help?
« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2019, 11:37:53 am »

There is/was an old wives story of an onion loft where all the onions turned black but the farm was pared foot and mouth. No logic but a good story or the pub. And no proof of it either.
A study on onion antisepsis;
However also note the damaging effects of onions in cats and dogs:"Onions contain compounds called disulfides and thiosulphates which can be toxic cats and dogs if ingested. The ingestion of onions causes conditions called hemolytic anemia, Heinz body anemia, and methemoglobinemia which are all manifestation of damage to red blood cells."
..there's also evidence that garlic and onions can lead to a peasant revolt and the beheading of the aristocracy..
The OP was about plants for farm animals but another of my tales or you: I used to have a very intelligent Dalmatian bitch born with a cleft palate I fixed but with a persistent chronic rhinitis. When her nose as really bad I noticed she would drag me (on the lead) to a local stand of golden rod and graze it. One day I looked up it's effects to discover it's supposedly mucolytic.


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