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Ragwort: Health Benefits and Toxicity

  1. Ragwort is a beautiful, yellow flowering but poisonous plant that is especially feared by horse owners. Ragwort grows on sunny roadsides and meadows all over Europe. In earlier times the plant was used medicinally against menstrual pains (the above-ground plant parts) and as a laxative (the root). In 2020, it is being investigated whether the plant is suitable for the treatment of cancer. However, there is a risk of liver damage with internal use. Ragwort is poisonous to most mammals as well as humans. This is because the plant contains sixteen different alkaloids. These are active substances that mainly occur in plants and are considered poisonous. Ragwort flowers contain twice as much poison as the leaves.

What is Ragwort?

  1. Plant from the composites family Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris subsp. Vulgaris) belongs to the composite family (Compositae or Asteraceae), which together with the orchid family form the largest plant family.

Recognizing the plant

  1. Ragwort is a biennial plant that reaches a height of 40 to 100 cm. It is a poisonous plant that can cause a lot of damage to horses and other livestock and therefore it is important to be able to recognize the plant. The lobed leaves of the plant are dark green on top and slightly white on the underside. The plant has green, multi-shaped leaves in its first year and very young plants often have a rosette-shaped habit. The plant has a purplish core. The biennial plant can be recognized by (usually) red stems, yellow flower buds and green multiform leaves.

Profile of Ragwort

  1. The characteristics of Ragwort are:


  1. Ragwort contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids. According to the RIVM, these substances are harmful if people consume them in too large quantities. They have carcinogenic properties and can seriously damage the liver, not only orally but even in contact with the skin. The content of this substance in the flowers is usually up to twice as high as in the rest of the herb. Specifically, it concerns the substances acetyl, E- and Z-erucifoline, 21-hydroxyintegerrimin, integerrimin, jacobine, jacolin, jaconine, jacozin, retrorsin, ridelline, senecionine, seneciphylline, senecivernine, spartioidine and usaramine. In addition, sesquiterpene lactones are present in the plant, as in all plants belonging to the composites family. These substances can cause allergic or toxic reactions in overdose. Grazing cattle can be the victim of this.

Toxicity of Ragwort

  1. In earlier times Ragwort was very popular as a medicinal plant, especially the parts of the plant above the ground were used during the flowering period. Because the pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the plant parts have a toxic effect, medicinal use is not recommended in 2020. The alkaloids can cause irreversible liver damage, harm unborn children, alter genetic material and cause cancer. The toxic substances are in all parts of the plant, but the largest share is in the flower parts. The main toxins are jacobine and senecionine, which can also be present in the milk of grazing livestock. Some Ragwort seeds have also been found in honey or grains. Typical symptoms of poisoning that can occur with the use of Ragwort are gastrointestinal problems, stomach cramps, intestinal cramps, coordination problems, weight loss, loss of consciousness, sensitivity to light (photosensitivity) and severe liver damage which can lead to death in animals. Horses in particular are very sensitive to it.

Health Benefits

  1. Ragwort was used as a versatile medicinal plant until the nineties of the last century; in folk medicine it was mainly used for urinary urgency, painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) and rheumatic complaints. A compress made from freshly pressed leaves has been used for neuralgia, sciatica, joint problems, skin inflammation and skin diseases. It also played an important role in nosebleeds and menstrual disorders. The plant was used in many different ways. Aqueous decoctions and extracts made from the herb were particularly popular. They were used as a gargle against sore throats, tonsillitis (tonsillitis), fever and diarrhea, flu, nosebleeds and asthma. In 2020, the use of ragwort is discouraged because of its toxic effect: the toxic alkaloids can cause permanent liver damage.

Drug interactions

  1. Ragwort is broken down by the liver. Some of the chemicals that are created when the liver breaks down Ragwort can be harmful. Medicines that stimulate the liver to break down ragwort can enhance the toxic effects of the toxins in the herb. Some of these medicines are carbamazepine (a drug that suppresses the symptoms of epilepsy), phenobarbital (mainly used as a sedative), phenytoin (a long-standing anti-epileptic), rifampicin (an antibiotic), rifabutin (a bactericidal antibiotic used primarily used in the treatment of tuberculosis).

National Flower of the Isle of Man

  1. The name Ragwort can be traced back to the flowering date around July 25, that is the name day of Saint Jacob, although the flowering time already starts at the beginning of June. But the flowering of the plant does not fully develop until later. Ragwort is the so-called national flower of the Isle of Man (English: Isle of Man) and is called "Cushag". Josephine 'Cushag' Kermode (1852-1937), a poet from the island, wrote the following poem about the plant:

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