Ethnoveterinary medicine: Are you able to help?

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?

Traditionally, for example, Yellow Iris was used to increase the flow of urine in horses (Cardiganshire), Wormwood to treat cuts in cows’ udders (Carmarthenshire), and small quantities of Yew to make horses’ coats shine (montgomeryshire).

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 have studied the effect on treating animals with these plants.

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, 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.”

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 or alternatively, write to William milliken, royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Wakehurst Place, ardingly, rH17 6TN.

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