Ragwort

(Senecio jacobaea) Severely toxic to animals (Forsyth -"Ragwort alone probably causes more annual loss to the livestock industry, than all the other poisonous plants put together ..."). It causes cirrhosis of the liver, from which no recovery is possible. The condition is known in Canada as the Pictou cattle disease, and it is known scientifically as seneciosis. The trouble is that the animals will not normally eat it, so it flowers and seeds undisturbed, and the effect is eventually to produce more ragwort than grass in a pasture (Long).

Nevertheless, this is a fairy plant, dedicated to them in Ireland, and called Fairies' Horse (Friend), for it is believed to be a fairy horse in disguise. If you tread them down after sunset a horse will arise from the root of each injured plant, and will gallop away with you (Skinner). The fairies look to ragwort for shelter on stormy nights, according to Hebridean folklore, as well as riding on it when going from island to island (Carmichael). Folklore equates fairies with witches in many particulars, the belief in their using ragwort to ride on at midnight being very widespread (Henderson, Hunt, Wentz). "As rank a witch as ever rode on ragwort" was a common saying in those areas where the belief held (Cromek) (perhaps any Kecksies when dry would do (Briggs. 1978)). Yeats quoted a story in which the local constable, when there was a rumour of a little girl's being taken by the fairies, advised the villagers to burn all the ragwort in the field from which she had been taken, as it was sacred to the fairies. Lady Gregory, too, has a story about burning ragwort, and thereby bringing a protest from those who used the plant as horses.

In the Isle of Man, it was used as a protection against infectious diseases (Friend). When visiting a sick person, you were advised to smell a piece of ragwort before actually going into the sick room (Gill). Was that a genuine medicinal usage, or a charm against witchcraft? The latter, probably, for there was a Scottish belief that if a mother takes bindweed and puts it burnt at the ends over her baby's cradle, the fairies would have no power over her child (Wentz). Although this is given as bindweed, it is almost certainly ragwort (bundweed) that is meant.

Gerard passed on the recommendations of others for using ragwort in a number of ways for healing "greene wounds", ulcers and the like, and also, in the form of an ointment, "to helpe old aches and paines in the armes, hips and legs", including the "old ache in the huckle bones called Sciatica". That is recorded as an Irish treatment, too. Hot fomentations with decoctions of the whole plant in water would have been used. Bruises were treated with the bruised leaves in lard as an ointment (Egan).

Jacobaea is the specific name, and so we find book names like Jacoby, St James's Wort, or St James's Ragwort. In the vernacular, James's Weed is used in Shropshire (Grigson). Perhaps it is because the plant is in full flower on St James's Day, which is 25 July, but it is pointed out that St James is the patron saint of horses, and the use of the plant in veterinary practice is confirmed by other names, such as Staggerwort, that is, the herb that cures the staggers in horses. This disease is an acute form of selenium poisoning (Drury. 1985), and it also occurs in cattle and sheep, one of the principal symptoms being a giddiness in the head (Sternberg). All this is very confusing - ragwort's toxic properties have already been mentioned, and Sir Edward Salisbury, for one, stated clearly that staggers was actually caused by ragwort. If both views are correct, here must be an example of homeopathic magic, of like curing like. Prior had different views, regarding it more probable, as the name Seggrum suggests, that ragwort was applied to stop the bleeding of newly castrated bulls, called seggs or staggs (see Watts for other similar names).

Enneagram Essentials

Enneagram Essentials

Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment