Forage plants


Cleavers (Galium aparine)

This native annual plant can be found along verges and hedgerows and is also known as stickyweed, sticky willy or goosegrass.  This wonderful little plant starts to emerge in spring around March/April and produces small white flowers around June - August.  It grows well in most soils but prefers nutrient-rich soil, in a sunny position with some shade.  This plant grows from seed only and these are best sown around July - October, ensuring they are covered with soil, or raked in.  If sown in spring they tend to be slow to germinate.  The plant has long sticky stems, with small seeds that appear late summer which can be  seen clinging to animal fur and tails.  Cleavers can be quite invasive but would be a useful addition to a wild garden area, or alongside a paddock.

This plant has blood cleansing properties (sometimes referred to as a blood purifier), and acts as a lymphatic system tonic which could be helpful for laminitic horses.  These cleansing actions are supportive to the immune system, and could potentially improve skin conditions.  The plant also has mildly diuretic properties which are supportive for circulatory issues, such as filled legs and windgalls, as well as supporting the urinary system.  The cooling action of this plant on the body could be beneficial for inflammatory issues such as arthritis. Cleavers contains high levels of  silica which is supportive for healthy coat, connective tissue, hooves and nails, and promotes bone health.

Cleavers tends to be a favourite of many horses and is regularly selected, however dogs may also have a munch while out on a walk, usually preferring the tops of the plant.  The plant can be squeezed or blended to extract the juice, and this can be offered to animals (including cats) as an alternative, or in a tea.  Traditionally the whole plant above ground can be used, with the tops being preferred.  The plant is best used fresh and gathered early spring until the plant flowers.

Cleavers supports a range of insects including aphids and spittlebugs.


Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

This easy to grow annual (or biennial) plant produces a purple flower in June to July and enjoys a sunny position.   If the seeds are sown around March/April after the last frost flowers usually follow that year, however if the seeds are sown May - Aug the plant will usually flower the following year.   The leaves of the milk thistle plant  have distinctive white veins running through them.  This is a non-latex producing thistle (also known as sticky sap) with bitter, warm energetics.

Milk thistle contains silymarin-flavinoid complex (silibinin, silidianin and silichristin) which studies have shown to be a powerful antioxidant.  Silibinin is used in Europe as an antidote to treat death cap mushroom poisoning (if administered by IV 24 - 48 hrs after ingestion).

Milk thistle offers support for the liver in several ways:

-  offering protection from toxins, which may be supportive during drug therapy, anaesthetic administration and after vaccination.  

-  supporting regeneration, which may be supportive for damage caused by worm burden, particularly in horses

-  increasing bile secretions from the liver. which could in turn promote healthy digestion and support the removal of toxins from the liver

Milk thistle has historically been used to promote milk production along with  kidney support (by its protective action).  The seeds are also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (particularly lineolic acid) and could therefore be supportive in balancing female hormones.  


As the seeds contain the higher concentration of constituents these are traditionally used.  They are collected late summer after the plant has flowered and the white fluffy seed head appears.  Horses will readily select the seeds, and these can be ground down into a powder and offered to other animals.

Generally speaking wild thistles are supportive for the liver, with Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre) often selected by horses.  This thistle is found, as the name suggests, in locations that are damp.

Thistle flowers also support a range of pollinators such as bees and butterflies, while insects feed on the plant, and some songbirds on the seeds.


Angelica (Angelica archangelica)

This plant is usually biennial and can reach around 2.5 metres in height, preferring to grow in damp places or close to water.  The flowers, which usually appear in its second year, are green/white in appearance and create an umbrella shape.  Seeds are best sown autumn or late spring on the surface of the soil as light is needed for them to germinate.  The plant has warming, drying and stimulating energetics.

There is some evidence to suggest the whole plant has antioxidant activity (Kothiyal, Subhash, 2018).  Angelica is also supportive for the liver, with a stimulating effect on this as well as circulation, thus improving blood flow.  Constituents of this plant also offer antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory support, particularly for arthritis-like pain.   Research at the University of Iceland has shown that Angelica contains compounds that appear to stimulate the immune system.

Angelica has traditionally been used as a digestive tonic  with constituents that encourage appetite, and improve the digestive process.  Other traditional uses include that of an expectorant and decongestant.


The plant has calming properties which are supportive for the nervous system and conditions such as anxiety.  There is also some suggestion crushed leaves could help relieve travel sickness.

Angelica has long been viewed as a plant with spiritual properties and  could be supportive emotionally by instilling peace and comfort, put animals  back in touch with themselves, and generally improving mood.

The dried root, leaves, stem and seeds can all be used.  The leaves are best collected early summer and the seeds in autumn.

Caution should be taken as Angelica could possibly cause photodermatitis (a skin reaction to sunlight).  There is also the potential for interaction with anticoagulant drugs and is also best avoided before surgery.

Young Angelica plants are enjoyed by slugs, snails and aphids  and to ensure the survival of your plants sand placed around a few will discourage them feeding on these.  The flowers also support a range of pollinators.