Tansy wind and foxglove song
It’s hot – the dogs are excavating new holes under the quince in an effort to cool off. I’m holed up in the kitchen canning black cherry juice, trying to keep an eye on the pressure gauge, and I am dreading going out to build fence. The cows are keeping a QC eye on the hay progress. There is so much to do, it’s hard to know what to do first.
My mind can wander a little when I am canning, so I thought maybe a little weed identification might be fun for you, and I’ll stick with poisonous, and poisonous and useful, for good measure.
It seems like weeds in the garden are all I have been posting about lately, but I have a few in the pastures that I keep an eye on also. I am lucky, the area I live in has a fair amount of poisonous plants, but the livestock don’t eat them. Just because a plant has poisonous properties doesn’t mean you need to get rid of it on sight. Foxglove or Digitalis purpurea is beautiful and is probably my favorite wildflower. My least favorite flower is probably Senecio jacobea more commonly known as Tansy Ragwort. Poisonous to cattle and horses, they won’t eat it unless it has been dried, as in the haymaking process. The alkaloid properties of Senecio is cumulative so the first few meals won’t do too much damage. Sheep and goats can eat it without harm and will actually eat the tansy before grazing. When I was a child, the county had an employee that came around and inspected your property looking for Tansy Ragwort. An old cattlewoman next door thought he could smell it clear down in the canyons. No one wanted a visit from Chick, so it was either sprayed or pulled and now that agriculture is not too important in our county the road department doesn’t even care if it is in the right-of-way. The next county over never did pursue the noxious weed program, and there was a Guernsey dairy that became a landmark of sorts, because it was at a crossroads, and if you were giving directions you would just say turn left at the dairy where the tansy is taller than the cows!! The funny thing is, the guy who owned the dairy was a vet, and was the head of the 4-H cattle program at that time. Go figure.
Since we started rotational grazing and the health of our pastures have improved, the Tansy isn’t too big of problem. But it is still here. Where the ground is weakest is where you usually find it, and often is a big problem in overgrazed (continuous grazed) pastures.
Senecio jacobea is a biennial, first year the plant is in a low, rosette form. The second year it puts on it’s unmistakable yellow flowers.
Tansy ragwort in the hay fields are pulled before the hay is cut to keep it from being cured with the hay. In the grazing paddocks I hoe it out after the cattle have grazed the paddock, making sure to get the root. Most of these plants are J- rooted so while they don’t pull too easily, it is easy to hoe.
Another helper is the Cinnabar moth. As the name implies the small moth is red with black accents. The moth lays the eggs in late spring and the larvae (pictured above) eat the flower buds. I have never found these guys to be too much help. But I do leave them if I find them. Strange looking little critters, when they first hatch they are barely discernable, but they grow fat and sassy on the Tansy ragwort. To be effective for control, they work in conjunction with the tansy ragwort flea beetle that eats the roots over winter, killing the plant.
Tansy ragwort leaf.
Tansy ragwort first year rosette.
Another common weed that is often mistaken for Tansy ragwort is St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum. They both have yellow flowers and bloom at the same time.
That is where the similarity ends. I have never seen St John’s wort in the fields, it is almost always at the edge of roads, or anywhere man has compacted the soil. Very useful as medicinal plant, and also poisonous to livestock. St John’s Wort pulls copper from the soil, and if cattle eat it (rare, but more common in arid environments) it will may cause photo-sensitivity. If that is the case, remove the animal from the area with the poisonous plants and keep in a dark area, feeding entirely different feed. The photo-sensitivity should clear up. Ironically, the St John’s Wort tincture is called for on the feed to heal the individual. Like cures like.
A close look at the flowers of the St John’t Wort shows that it isn’t even similar to Tansy Ragwort.
Popular with herbalists for tincturing and healing oils, look for Hypericum perforatum as it has the strongest medicinal properties. If you’re not sure, pull a leaf and hold it to the light. Small perforations or dots should be visible.
I like to use the oil along with the Poplar bud oil for muscle aches and pains, or just for general skin healing. Plus I like the way it looks!
To make the oil, gather blooming plant tops, which include flowers, seeds and some leaves. Let dry for a day or two in a open paper bag, the bugs will leave and the plants will dry a little. Fill a jar (size of your choice) with your wilted plants and cover with olive oil. For tincture do the same and cover with grain alcohol or vodka. Store out of the light in a warm place for two to three weeks. When the oil/alcohol is bright red strain into containers and store in a cool, dark place. These preparations will stay stable and viable for years.
♥ Only gather herbs for human or livestock consumption/medicines at least 50 feet away from paved roadways. Most road right-of-ways are sprayed with herbicides and plants may have accumulated toxins from car exhaust. This goes for berry picking too.
♥ I also don’t cheap out on the oils and alcohol I use either. I will either be applying this to skin, or ingesting it.
♥ Get a good book for your specific region, and find a knowledgeable plant person in your area that can actually show you what plant to use. A good book for the Pacific Northwest is Medicinal Plants Of The Pacific West, by Michael Moore. R.I.P. Excellent tips on how and when to find the plants, how to harvest, and use the medicines you make. He has also written books for other regions as well with the same in depth information.
♥ And always ask permission before wildcrafting on private land. We are inundated year round with every type of wildcrafter imaginable. If you don’t see a State or National Forest sign nearby, you are probably on private land instead of public land. This irks people, I know, but my St John’s Wort,…, is mine, and you probably don’t realize it, but you’re probably the 10th guy that day the land owner had to deal with – so that’s why he’s a little testy.
Obviously not a cure for dirty gardening fingers ;)