Plant of the week: Juncus Effesus

A plant thought to be undesirable in grasslands as it is unpalatable to livestock, but horses seem to love it! Naturally for a good reason…

Many of the strongest, best known or most frequently used medicinal plants, such as Ginseng and Boswellia come from Asia, perhaps because Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine is effective and still practised both in their countries of origin and growing in popularity in the West? Ginseng grows in North America, along the eastern seaboard, but over harvesting has diminished stocks and now it is an endangered species, it is possible to grow ginseng in the UK with at least one UK farmer turning to ginseng as an alternative lucrative crop, selling at £50 per kg.
Ginseng and Boswellia feature in many equine supplements, a quick search came up with 30 for Ginseng and 25 for Boswellia, Ginseng used to increase energy and general health, and the Boswellia used to reduce pain and inflammation.
The effectiveness of both ginseng and boswellia is due to the high levels of triterpenes that interact with the immune system to increase the horses defence system particularly against allergies and inflammation. Triterpenes are plant anti-oxidants, higher levels are found in plants that have evolved and adapted to their local environment, a healthy strong young plant in its natural environment will have higher levels of triterpenes than cultivated single plant varieties. Wild plants are more potent and are more desirable, which is reflected in the price per kg.
Is there a UK plant alternative?
An excellent alternative to Ginseng and Boswellia can be found in a soft rush grass called Juncus Effesus, a plant thought to be undesirable in grasslands as it is unpalatable to livestock, but horses seem to love it! We had some analysed as part of grassland research, to find it contained a higher sugar content in the autumn and winter months and a high triterpene content all year around. For horses with ems/ obesity and laminitis, the triterpenes help the horse digest sugar better and for older horses with Cushings the triterpene content will aid recovery from the secondary symptoms such as abscesses, lethargy, muscle wastage and late coat shedding.
Our youngsters have come down to summer grazing from the hills and are have made a bee line into the marshy areas tucking into the young juncus and other wetland varieties of grass/flowers.
Although a number of synthetic medicines are available, drugs of natural origin have aroused great interest. Triterpenes seem to demonstrate adequate properties. Many experiments have shown that these compounds have several antidiabetic mechanisms. They can inhibit enzymes involved in glucose metabolism, prevent the development of insulin resistance and normalize plasma glucose and insulin levels. These natural compounds, in contrast to synthetic drugs, apart from producing a hypoglycemic effect have also been found to manifest hypolipidemic and anti-obesity activity. Triterpenes are also promising agents in the prevention of diabetic complications. They have strong antioxidant activity and inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products, implicated in the pathogenesis of diabetic nephropathy, embryopathy, neuropathy or impaired wound healing. Until now very few clinical studies have been concerned with the application of triterpenes in treating diabetes. However, due to their great therapeutic potential, these compounds deserve special attention

- With special Thanks to Dr. Carol Hughes, Director of Phytorigins. PhD, Equine Natural Nutritionist -

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