Veterinary Uses Of Plants

GARLIC - an Irish method of treating black leg in cattle is to make an incision in the skin and put in a clove of garlic. The wound is then stitched, leaving the garlic inside. Patrick Logan could think of no reason why this should have any effect, so perhaps the only reason for the garlic is to drive away the evil spirits that caused the disease, for in folklore garlic is the prime agent for combatting evil influences. ASH-Devon farmers believed that feeding infected cattle with ash leaves was a cure for foot and mouth disease, and BLUE COMFREY (Symphytum caucasicum), or PRICKLY COMFREY (Symphytum asperum) was also believed to help prevent the disease, as well as acting as a cure for it before wholesale slaughter was enforced by law (Macleod; Quelch). Foot rot in cattle was cured in Worcestershire by cutting a sod of turf from the spot on which the animal was seen to tread with its bad foot, and then hanging the turf on a blackthorn. As the sod dried out, so would the hoof heal (Drury. 1985). BRACKEN has its uses in this connection; powder made from it apparently cured the galled necks of oxen (Tynan & Maitland), and it was used on South Uist for something called the dry disease in cows. The roots would be boiled, and the juice given to the cow to drink. They often used TANSY there to treat red water in cows, by boiling the entire plant, putting the juice in a bottle, then pouring it down the cow's throat (Shaw). Bracken has always been said to make the best litter for horses and cattle, and it was cut in huge quantities for the purpose. After a cow had calved, country people used to feed it with SANICLE leaves, to promote the expulsion of the afterbirth, and to stop any bleeding (Drury. 1985). Sanicle is a great wound herb, used for centuries as such. When cattle coughed, they used to be treated by the use of STINKING HELLEBORE. It was done by making a hole in the dewlap with a setter, or thread (hence the name Setter-grass, or Setterwort, given to the plant), and a length of hellebore root inserted to irritate the flesh and keep it running (Grigson. 1955). Or sometimes a few rolled-up leaves were used (Hartley & Ingilby). It was the way, too, to treat a pig that had been bewitched, by making a hole in its ear and putting a piece of stem there (Lovett). A poultice of the roots of LESSER PERIWINKLE would be applied to a cow's udder to cure milk fever, at least in Cambridgeshire (Porter. 1969).

RAGWORT is a problem. It is well-known as being severely toxic to animals (Forsyth), causing cirrhosis of the liver, from which the animal cannot recover. The trouble is that animals will not usually eat it, so it flowers and seeds undisturbed, and the effect is eventually to produce more ragwort than grass in a pasture. The condition is known in Canada as the Pictou cattle disease, and the scientific name is seneciosis. The problem is that the plant seems to have been used as a curing agent; this is St James's Wort, and St James is the patron saint of horses. The use of Ragwort in veterinary practice seems to be confirmed by other names, such as Staggerwort, that is, the herb that cures staggers in horses. Sir Edward Salisbury, for one, stated clearly that staggers was actually caused by Ragwort. If both views are correct, here is an example of homeopathic magic at work, of like curing like. East Anglian horsemen favoured the use of FEVERFEW on their charges. A way to control unruly horses was to rub freshly gathered leaves (or rue) on their noses (Porter. 1969), and they used it for curing colds, and for giving their horses an appetite (G E Evans. 1960), just as TANSY would make their coats shine, by sprinkling a little of the dried, powdered leaves now and then into their feed (G E Evans. 1960). The same source reported that Suffolk horsemen used the herb FENUGREEK as a horse medicine, to give them an appetite. They called it Finnigig, which Evans suggested was a deliberate corruption on the part of the horsemen, so that third parties would not be able to recognise the true identity of what they were buying. The HELLEBORES were used for the same purpose. ROWAN berries were fed to pregnant mares to ensure an easy birth, and, one may be quite sure, to protect the foal. 17th century Yorkshire shepherds used tansy, finely chopped and mixed with fresh butter, to heal the wound on castrated lambs. As the butter healed the wound, the tansy would keep flies away (Drury. 1985). BOX leaves were at one time fed to horses to cure them of bots, and oil of JUNIPER was put into a drench for the same purpose (Drury. 1985). MARSH MALLOW ointment, made from the crushed roots, besides being used for a number of human conditions, was used in horse doctoring, too, for sores and sprains (Boase). East Anglian horsemen used marsh mallow to cure a horse "with a pricked foot" (G E Evans. 1969).

In some parts of Ireland, GREATER SPEARWORT (Foster), or better, COMFREY is used to treat swine fever, by boiling the roots in milk and adding everything, roots and all, to the pig's feed. This has to be kept up for some weeks (Logan). But Norfolk pigkeep-ers added comfrey leaves to the pig's feed to keep them in good health. That was not the whole story, though -the comfrey feed had another function, that of ensuring that the pig could not be bewitched (Randell). SUGAR BEET leaves have found a use in treating erysipelas in pigs. When they are fed to them, the blisters disappear and the pigs improve quickly (V G Hatfield. 1994).

Irish horse handlers used HAZEL in the breast-band of the harness, to keep the horse from harm (O Suilleabhain); in much the same way, Somerset drovers always used a hazel stick to drive cattle and horses, though in most places ROWAN was preferred. For a horse that had over-eaten, the remedy was to bind its legs and feet with hazel twigs to relieve the discomfort (Drury. 1985). Another purely magical use was recorded in Wales as a charm: "if calves were scoured over much, and in danger of dying, a hazel twig the length of the calf was twisted round the neck like a collar, and it was supposed to cure them" (Owen). The very soil from under a hazel bush was valuable. In Yorkshire it was given to cows that had lost their cud (Hartley & Ingilby, and recorded as late as 1966). GREATER SPEARWORT was used in Ireland to cure farcy. It was stewed with garlic (Foster), and there is a Yorkshire record of boiling RUE in ale to give to horses to cure farcy, or glanders. A little rue juice would be put in the horse's ears, too (Gutch. 1911). Horsemen in the Fen country would use it to control unruly horses, by rubbing it, freshly gathered, on its nose (Porter. 1969), and a sprig or two given to horses would make them well, and their coats shine (Randell). Norfolk turkey breeders used rue to make the birds eat, and put on weight, while a leaf is given to poultry to help in curing croup (Brownlow). This is actually a 17th century usage from Lincolnshire and other areas, when the owner was told to chop the herb very finely and form it into piles with butter, and so feed it to the sick hens (Drury. 1985). The Pennsylvania Germans made a ball of ELDER bark, and pushed it down a cow's throat when it had indigestion (Dorson). Gypsies use the leaves to treat a horse's leg - they soak the young shoots from the tips of the leaves in hot water, and bandage them round the lame leg (Boswell). In Ireland, too, the water in which elder leaves had been boiled was used to dose pigs. One way to treat a horse that cannot urinate is to strike it gently with an elder stick, and to bind some leaves to its belly. Lameness in pigs used to be treated by boring a small hole in its ear and putting in a plug of elder wood. As the plug withered or fell out, the animal would be cured (Drury. 1985). A similar usage was to cure coughs in cattle by putting a piece of OX-EYE DAISY root in a hole made in the cow's ear or dewlap (Drury. 1975). Manx vets still use ALEXANDERS as a treatment for animals with sore mouths (Garrad). Martin, in his account of the Western Isles, reported that horses were wormed with WILD SAGE, and "a quantity chewed between one's teeth, and put into the ears of cows and sheep that become blind, cures them, and perfectly restores their sight, of which there are many fresh instances both in Skye and Harris, by persons of great integrity". ELECAMPANE has been a famous medicinal plant in its day. Nowadays, though, most of the usages are for veterinary medicine. The various 'Horseheal' names given to this plant are witness to that. It is used in America for horses' throat ailments (Leighton), and in Britain for skin diseases in horses and mules, as well as for scab in sheep (Wiltshire). The leaves, too, are fed to horses to improve their appetite, and BLACK BRYONY root was put in feed to bring up the gloss on their coats. But they believed it had supernatural powers as well - the association with Mandrake (see WHITE BRYONY) was evident here, for they said it had aphrodisiac qualities for both man and horse (G E Evans. 1960). An ointment made from THORN-APPLE is used to rub on the fetlocks of horses for "scratches" (Ohio and Illinois - see Bergen. 1899). Pieces of it, rubbed or bound on the sores, used to be an English cure for galled horses, particularly in Littleport, Cambridgeshire (Porter. 1969). Irish people used to treat horses' blistered feet (as long as the blisters were not too severe) with melted goose grease to which turpentine and the juice of HOUSELEEK had been added (P Logan).

BRAMBLE leaves were used in Ireland to cure scour in cattle, just as they have been used, because of their high tannin content, to combat diarrhoea and dysentery in humans. WHITE BRYONY root was given to mares as an aid to conception, but only because this was the English Mandrake (see MANDRAKE). They were also given to horses in their feed, to make them look sleek. It was certainly used in East Anglia for that purpose, and the chopped leaves, gathered before the flowers appeared, were also used (Porter. 1969). But it was always known to be a dangerous practice. See the rhyme:

Bryony if served too dry,

Blinded horses when they blew (G E Evans. 1966).

During the disastrous foot and mouth disease outbreak in Britain in 1968, on one Cheshire farm which escaped, although in the midst of the infection, the farmer's wife had laid rows of ONIONS along all the windowsills and doorways of the cowsheds. The farm's escape was attributed to this precaution (M Baker. 1980). Apparently it was standard practice in Yorkshire to hang four or five onions round a distempered cow's neck. A few days of this, and the cow's nose would run, and so the disease would be cured. The onions had to be buried deep after removal (Gutch. 1911). Is foot-and-mouth disease the modern term for murrain? BLACK BRYONY bears the name Murrain-berry (Britten. 1880), or Murren-berry (W H Long), surely indicating that some part of the plant was used to contain the disease.

Aubrey noted the use of BROOM in Hampshire and Wiltshire to prevent rot in sheep (Aubrey. 1847). He knew of "carefull husbandmen" who cleared their land of broom, "and afterwards their sheep died of the rott, from which they were free before the broom was cutt down". So then they made sure of leaving some plants of it round the edges of their land just for the sheep to browse on, "to keep them sound". An ointment made from SOLOMON'S SEAL was used for treating ulcers and wounds in horses and cattle (V G Hatfield. 1994), and East Anglian horse handlers used the juice of BISTORT to rub round horses' teeth to prevent decay (A W Hatfield).

Viburnum lantata > WAYFARING TREE

Viburnum opulus > GUELDER ROSE

Viburnum prunifolium > BLACK HAW

Vicia faba > BROAD BEAN

Vigna unguiculata > COWPEA

Vinca major/minor > PERIWINKLE

Viola odorata > VIOLET

Viola tricolor > PANSY

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