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Author Topic: Plants used as medicine: can you help?  (Read 142 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 »


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