Sunday, April 1, 2012

Poisonous Pasture Plants & Hunger Games Herbology

Two brief notes: A couple days ago, Fuglyblog featured my guest post on BLM Mustangs-- click the link to check it out! It was even more controversial than the UW River Falls blogs! Speaking of which, I have disabled further comments on those. I think everyone got enough time to say what they wanted. The response was amazing-- whether you agreed or disagreed with me, I'm glad I got you to pay attention to an issue that deserves notice. Now let's move on.

I've always been interested in wild plants, both edible and poisonous, because I like the thought that I'd be okay surviving in the wilderness for a while (shout-out to Hunger Games fans!). So it was pretty easy for me to memorize which plants affect horses, and what they look like. For non-plant-geeks, however, it's a chore. Library books and online guides are great, and Equus magazine has a nice feature this month, but these resources often have problems, like:
  • They show plants in only one stage of growth, making them harder to identify.
  • Sometimes they don't even show a picture of the plant.
  • They don't list plants that, while not poisonous, are of interest to horse people-- for example, the catnip your barn kitties would love.
  • They throw all the plants at you at once, rather than breaking them down by season or region. Ex: locoweed is very very rare in the north, and unless a starving horse wanders into a garden filled to the brim with foxglove, it's highly unlikely that it will pose any danger.
  • That crap is boring. Scientific names? Method of propagation? *Snore*
This is my attempt to help. I'll be showing you plants of interest, as they're actually growing, for the north-central region only. That should cut down on the amount of brain-hurt you're experiencing. Most of these pictures were taken directly from my (super large and overgrown) pasture in the last 48 hours.

Stinging Nettles

Ouchy! Not poisonous, but can cause major skin rash on people and horses (though some horses seem less affected, and will even nibble young ones). Super common in pastures, or on fence lines, they'll take over an area if you let them. The leaves are arranged like a plus sign. The stalks are purplish. In the spring, they're fairly short, but will grow a lot taller. The "toothy" edges of the leaves are spiky, not rounded. You can soak 'em in water to make them edible, and they're super nutritious-- European peasants often survived on them in tough times. Here's a brief recipe for nettle soup. Some people have actually been able to sell these at farmers markets! Hmmm, I wonder if I could sell "organic fertilizer" to the local yuppies...



Useful, not poisonous. Catnip looks a lot like stinging nettles; same "plus" shape, same leaf type. But the "toothy" edges are rounded, the stems are not purplish, and the whole plant has a slightly fuzzy look to it. Plus, the moment you step on catnip, it smells very strongly of... well, catnip. Catnip tea is supposedly soothing. If you have the patience to distill the oils of the plant (by steaming), it's a great natural bug repellent. And of course, your barn kitties will love both fresh and dried catnip (tie a bunch with twine and hang it up in your barn or garage to dry it). Just be sure to have plenty of Fancy Feast on hand when they get the munchies.


Annoying, but not poisonous. This is the stuff that eventually spawns those awful prickly balls that stick to your horse, saddle blanket, dog, clothes, and everything else. They actually inspired the invention of velcro. The plant starts small and innocent, with tough, wide leaves that grow in clusters from the ground. They get big fast. Kill 'em now before they spread! You can dig up the roots, soak them, and then eat them raw like carrots, blanched in a stir fry, or fried like french fries. Except, much more bland and woody.


Super, super poisonous to horses and people. Also known as "cowbane," because it kills livestock so easily. It's cousin, Hemlock Water Dropwort, looks about the same. Often found in marshy areas or near streams, but also in woods. Hemlock looks a lot like wild carrot (also known as Queen Anne's Lace) which is why several amateur survivalists die every year when their culinary mistakes kill them. Don't attempt to tell the difference; kill anything that looks carroty, and you'll be okay. In spring, there are no tell-tale clusters of white flowers to help you find it either. The good news is, it's not super common, and horses tend to leave it alone...most of the time. Better safe than sorry. This is the only picture I did not take in my pasture, because I wouldn't allow this stuff anywhere near me.

Okay, that's all for now! Pretty painless, right? The early summer edition will show you a couple of these plants as they develop, and I'll add in a few, like nightshade, that haven't really sprouted yet. Before I go, though, I can't resist a little...

Hunger Games Trivia

Real World Rough Equivalents:

Katniss = Arrowhead plant, and edible aquatic creeper with potato-like roots
Groosling = Grouse?
Tracker Jackers = notoriously aggressive yellowjackets?
Nightlock = nightshade, but more instantly deadly
Is Peeta a pun on pita bread?
Mockingjays are of course mockingbirds + here to hear a mockingbird imitate a car alarm, a crow, a seagull and other sounds.
The rue flower.


  1. Hey!
    I love your blog and the fact you are close ROCKS.
    I really wanted to comment on the UWFR...
    I find it funny they don't mention what happens to fillies born to the farm, or fillies donated...
    And I am near the UW Madison hoofers, and not of those... people seem to notice that most of the UW Horse facilities offer lessons to anyone, not just students.
    I am now an ardent reader!!!
    i got you, Snarky, Fugly, and Dressage Curmudgeon that are my daily and weekly reads now!!

  2. Wow. I can't believe a responsible blog owner would delete a post just because it challenged their opinions.

  3. Hi guys-- once again, I believe everyone has had ample time to say everything there was to be said about UW River Falls-- and I didn't delete ANY posts there. Now, however, we've moved on. If you want to continue arguing the same stuff over and over, do it somewhere else. Any further comments will be deleted. That includes supporters of my viewpoint as well-- so thanks for your comments Carol, just don't edge any further into that territory. Don't worry folks, there will be plenty more you can be mad at me for in future episodes.

  4. I was simply trying to clarify a point that Carol in WI posted. I feel that her concerns should be allowed to be addressed. Nevermind that you allowed her supportive post to remain and my critical post was deleted.