IS RAGWORT REALLY THE ENEMY?
OR IS IT JUST A SYMPTOM OF AN UNDERLYING PROBLEM?
MANY ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THE YEARLY INFLUX OF RAGWORT. AND EVERY YEAR WITHOUT FAIL WE HEAR THE CALL TO SPRAY AND THE BLAME GOING AROUND TO EVERYONE WHO DOESN’T.- Albert Einstein said that we cannot solve our problems with the same mindset we used when we created them. Silo-thinking is a leading contributor to our current environmental problems – Ragwort amongst them – and holistic thinking provides the solutions. What is holistic thinking? It is contextual thinking, looking at the left and right – yesterday and tomorrow – looking at the bigger picture – at the flow-on effects before decisions are made and programs are developed.
To apply holistic principles we first have to answer some questions – Who is the perceived enemy – in this case Ragwort? Why is it there in the first place? The answers will point us to the solutions.
So first – who is the perceived enemy? According to the ‘Modern Herbal’* Ragwort was formerly employed medicinally for various purposes.
The leaves are used for soothing poultices with anti-inflammatory purposes.
It has been used with success in relieving rheumatism, sciatica and gout, a poultice of the green leaves being applied to painful joints and reducing inflammation and swelling. It has been used to treat sores and cancerous ulcers – hence one of its older names Cankerwort.
Ragwort contains high levels of toxic alkaloids considered toxic to people and livestock. They are considered accumulative, which means that the effect accumulates in the body and toxicity often occurs at a later stage. Of course we always endeavour to avoid exposing our animals to toxic plants and we always err on the side of caution.
According to my experience, any livestock will avoid plants that are not palatable or toxic to them unless as long as there is a choice of feed available. Often plants, which are deemed toxic are not toxic all year round.
Often at other times with sufficient other forage, those plants are fine to possibly even beneficial.. It is on you to discern how much risk you want to take.
In my personal experience most livestock is ‘smart’ enough to avoid toxic plants, if they are properly mineralised. In most cases, ruminants, which have ingested toxic plant material, are mineral deficient.
This leads me to mineral deficiencies, which are the leading cause of most health issues in all livestock. I am a huge fan of Pat Coleby, who was a trailblazer in her generation and the first, who has put this into a comprehensive system – the Pat Coleby minerals. You find an entire chapter about mineralising livestock in my book ‘Radical Soil Care’.
My goats love Ragwort. They prefer the flowers and the stems when they turn lightly woody and are especially rich in minerals, mostly in autumn, which confirms that Ragwort is not toxic all year round. After years of eating Ragwort none of my animals have displayed any signs of toxicity.
Secondly – why do we have such an influx of Ragwort? Poor soil quality provides the ideal conditions for Ragwort. This means that depleted soil with a lack of soil biology support the spread of Ragwort.
LET’S HAVE A CLOSER LOOK AT SOIL BIOLOGY. ON THE RANGE OF SOIL CONDITIONS, WE HAVE ON ONE END OF THE SPECTRUM HIGHLY COMPACTED SOILS, THAT ARE ACIDIC (LOW PH), MINERALS ARE NOT BIOAVAILABLE AND THE SOIL IS DRY AND WATER-REPELLENT. THIS SOIL IS BACTERIAL-DOMINANT AND OFTEN LACKS OXYGEN.
ON THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM WE HAVE RICH ALKALINE TOPSOIL WITH EXCELLENT WATER-HOLDING CAPACITY, ALL MINERALS ARE BIOAVAILABLE AND IT SMELLS FANTASTIC. It is full of air pockets with high levels of oxygen. This soil is fungal dominant.
Soil always tries to rebalance itself from bacterial dominant to more fungal dominant, from acidic to more alkaline, from compaction to more cohesion, and from anaerobic to aerobic. It does this with the help of plants. So ALL plants, some are called weeds, have a role in soil improvement to play. We often call plants succession plants because they appear in succession to improve soil quality, depending on what is needed at the time.
SO IT WOULD MAKE SENSE THAT IF WE WANT TO REDUCE A PARTICULAR PLANT WE CHANGE THE SOIL CONDITIONS SO THAT THE SOIL DOES NOT NEED TO GROW MORE OF THAT PARTICULAR PLANT TO REBALANCE ITSELF.
Spraying herbicides further destroys soil biology, increasing the need for soil to grow even more Ragwort to allow it to do its work in improving soil biology.
Spraying does not address the root cause , which is the lack/misbalance of soil biology, it is only treating the symptoms. Treating the symptoms without addressing the root cause makes absolutely no difference and achieves nothing more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Spraying unwanted plants will ultimately favour the conditions of those plants because it misbalances soil biology even more. The result? More Ragwort next year.
I am not saying that the rampant occurrence of Ragwort does not need to be addressed. I am saying that spraying will achieve absolutely nothing to solve the problem long-term.The only way forward is to improve the poor quality of the soil biology in our region.
Contact me if you would like to know more about how to improve soil conditions.
‘Modern Herbal – Botanical.com’