When I first bought the Singing Horse Ranch, back in August 2021, the land had been terribly overgrazed by cattle for 15 years straight. The first thing the land asked of me was, “No more cows!!” So I gave up my opportunity for Farm Status (which means a huge hike in property taxes) and only had the horses on the land for this entire year. I let the forage grow up unhindered (shoulder height in some areas) and there was an explosion of “weeds” and “invasive plants” like thistle, burdock, hoary alyssum, lamb’s-quarters, baby’s breath, knapweed, tansy, etc.
But here’s the thing about ‘weeds’ – they are often the plants with really long tap-roots, 12-14 feet long, so they will bring up the minerals from deep in the earth. These are the minerals that are missing from overgrazed soil. So are they ‘weeds’ or are they nature’s medicine plants come to play a pivotal role in healing and restoring the land?
Luckily, having read Isabella Tree’s fabulous book, Wilding, I already knew this regeneration process was not going to be easy. Being in a remote area I didn’t think I’d have too much hassle from neighbors, since I only have 2 that border my property – but nope, I too had to deal with a neighbour upset at the prospect of weed seeds blowing onto his land.
But what surprised me the most, was the result of hundreds of burdock plants and their velcro seed heads’ effect on my horses and dog! I’d only had the briefest encounter with burdock burrs when Cobra joined the herd from the wild rangeland (not far from the Singing Horse Ranch). Of course I couldn’t touch Cobra at that time, but I noticed that towards winter, he rubbed them off on the grass and then I saw the other horses pulling them out with their teeth – et voila! No more burrs.
Well, when the burrs first began to attach to the horses at the ranch, my cousin Katrina and I spent an hour removing every single burr from Zorra’s mane, tail and forelock. Five hours later, they were all back. Not even a day or two of grace, nope, five hours. And so the burdock dialogue began…
Message from Raven
As I read in the video:
“Raven magic is a powerful medicine that can give you the courage to enter the darkness of the void, which is the home of all that is not yet in form. The void is called the Great Mystery. Great Mystery existed before all other things came into being. Great Spirit lives inside the void and emerged from the Great Mystery. Raven is the messenger of the void.
If Raven appears, you are about to experience a change in consciousness. This may involve walking inside the Great Mystery on another path at the edge of time. It would portent a signal brought by the Raven that says, “You have earned the right to see and experience a little more of life’s magic.” Raven’s color is the color of the void – the black void in space that holds all the energy of the creative source.” (from Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carlson)
Raven sees beyond the here-and-now into the realms of magic, Nature Spirits and Angels. As creatures that consume the remains of other animals, they also carry the meaning of cleansing and can indicate that there might be something in your life that needs purging. Raven is also considered a provider and teacher; for example, in the Book of Kings, God sends a raven to feed the prophet Elijah, and in the story of Cane and Abel, raven is the one that instructs Abel on how to bury his brother.
Burdock Liver Cleanser
It will be interesting to see what happens when 17 cow/calf pairs (and 1 bull) arrive in the Spring – the number appropriate for the land now. Because many cows LOVE to eat young burdock. They are also delicious for humans to eat in Spring, when the roots are young, Ashley Adamant says:
“It’s traditionally peeled, sliced thin and added to stir-fries. It’s also pickled like daikon. My friend Colleen at Grow Forage Cook Ferment tosses it with olive oil and salt before roasting it on a pan. She doesn’t even peel it!”
You can also eat the burdock stalk while it’s still plump and before it dries out and becomes fibrous. According to Ashley, the inner stalk tastes almost exactly like artichoke.
But where burdock reigns supreme is as a liver cleanser; which then bolsters the kidneys and lymph. Milk thistle and burdock are the two top herbs you’ll see in any liver cleansing tincture. Honestly, there’s probably enough burdock on this ranch to provide an entire country with liver support! So who knows, maybe I will meet someone who wants to collaborate on a crop share to produce and sell burdock tincture. If you have any burdock in your fields, it is very easy to make a medicinal tincture of it. Ashley is a huge fan of burdock tincture as she used it to heal inflamed lymph nodes and a vicious sore throat:
“Burdock tincture and I have a special relationship. It’s one of the first tinctures I tried where I actually saw the difference within hours of taking it. The results were dramatic, and I’d never before seen herbal medicine have such a dramatic impact so quickly.”
I missed the window for all burdock eating and medicine-making this year, but I look forward to getting into it all in the Spring – lord knows I’ll have enough!
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
9 thoughts on “Messages from Burdock (Burrs), Raven & The Herd”
What an interesting post. Your environment is definitely opening up so many different things that a lot of humans would be bothered by. Ice ball hooves are something I have not ever dealt with and being the hoof junkie you know I am would be very curious to watch the horses navigate and move with. The burs/ burdock are something we have in our environment but not at all even close to the level you are experiencing. But so much of what you have said resonates with me. Coping and even being at peace with those burs on that level attached to the horses would be a huge lesson in allowing and trusting in the bigger picture or as you said just excepting that they seem to not be causing any ill affects so why cause the horses and yourself so much trouble and maybe even a lot of discomfort to try and remove them? I am also someone who has acute senses. Although I lost my sense of taste and smell with a recent illness and it has been a gift and a curse. Not smelling some of the odors that I dislike has been a nice reprieve but not tasting food has made me realize how much I took it for granted and how much I miss the pleasures of tasting what I put in my mouth. But normally I also can smell so much that others don’t or way before they do. Perfume has been a nemesis of mine for a long time it over powers my senses and leaves me feeling ill.
I was actually wondering who the new dog was until you focused in on Kumba and realized he was shaved. Can’t imagine the odor he must have had. Roofus was sprayed by a skunk in the summer and then came through the doggy door and jumped on our heads in bed at 2am in the morning so that was pretty bad. We had to go sleep in our motor home because the smell permeated the whole house quickly. I could still smell it strongly in the motor home because it felt as if it stuck to us. I washed him and all the bedding several times without a lot of relief. Fortunately skunk smell is not as awful as some other smells to me personally so I coped with it pretty well. My husband though was very bothered by it for several days.
Leaving the burs in the horses fur would definitely test me and my patience with letting things play out unfold as they are meant to. I think it’s a great message to so many of us about life’s annoyances. I really like that comparison. I was curious about the cows you mentioned? Are you bringing them to the land? Because you had said the land said no more cows? Maybe you can elaborate a bit more on all this?
I am so interested to see how it turns out and if the burs work their way out at any point and time? They are so thick and have basically taken over the majority of most of the horses longer hairs. Just fascinating. I hope you will do an annual post on what each year teaches you from and about the wild environment of the 160 acres that you and the horses inhabit. Every environment has so many different offerings and also challenges and I feel horse care taking can be very tricky in some of these environments. Ours (northern California foothills…for those who are curious) seems to be one of the easier for the most part. I have always had forest envy and desire but realize it comes with so much that I would need to adapt to. ✌🏼💚🐴
Hi Michelle, the land said no more cows for a year – to let nature balance herself. Hence all the burdock!
We are going to harvest a bunch of the root this spring to go into a medicinal tincture. And then we’ll mow back a lot of the big patches before they go to seed. We’ll probably need to do that ongoing. Unless burdock and the land decide to change things. I may have to shave Kumba every summer just to keep the burrs manageable in his coat.
But skunk – THANK GOD I have not had to deal with. I pray fervently I never do!
And yes I will do my best to track everything as we go along. I’m SO looking forward to this spring/summer and actually being able to implement things properly because I’m on-site 🥳
We also have burrs, maybe of another kind here in Finland. I’ve been cutting most of them down for a few years, so they don’t spread and get stuck to the horses. But they are so resilient, they grow back in a couple of weeks, just smaller, and still grow seeds. When I continue cutting them down, they transform into mini burrs. If I don’t cut them with my scythe, they can grow taller than me. Last summer I harvested wild plants for me and the horses for winter and when I started looking, I realized we have almost all the plants traditionally used for healthcare growing right here on our small piece of land. Many of them considered to be “weeds” like the burrs. Meadowsweet-tea is my favorite. And I love how this strengthens my bond to the land, and I so enjoy serving these treasures of last summer to the horses in the midst of winter.
That’s SO interesting to know Sofia! Thanks so much for sharing all the details with us. I’ll be interested to see what happens with ours over the next few years… LOVE that even your small bit of land has produced all the medicines (and mineral variety) you and the horses need – happy, well-loved land for sure!
So interesting to know about this plant. I live in New Mexico so I have cactus and alot of it. So many kinds. Wonder what I could do with cholla and pad cactus. Anyways I thought about goats…do you think goats would be a good idea for your place. They eat alot of weeds. I dont know if you want them. It just came into my thoughts as I was reading about the cows coming and the land said no cows. I guess a year without cows might be helpful enough for the land. Sure love the pictures and words you write. Happy New Year to you and the horses.
Oh man I wouldn’t wish jumping cholla on anyone!! I personally find goats way too mischievous and too much hassle. But I may try a wilder variety of sheep this year and see how that works… I’ll keep you posted!
Loved the topic of this video! Myself being of the practical nature & also very aware & particular about most things in my environment as well. I think you are accepting this burr bummer quite well Jini. I use powdered burdock in an immune formula herbal mix I make for the horses. I am grateful it has not taken home here on the land. On the 43 acres here (Northern CA) there is a smaller less noxious burr (hitchhiker!) in late summer that attaches to the horses, as well as many prickly thistle varieties that want to take over the pastures. I hand pull TONS of thistles because if left on their own they will be everywhere & reduce the amount of food for the horses (grass!). The other challenge the animals face here is foxtails! Wow those things are unpleasant & the dogs have the hardest time as they lodge in ears, eyes, throat & paws.
Country life at its best! Not for the faint of heart or those who don’t like (lots!) of physical work.
Oh Foxtail – we call that Speargrass here and jeez louize that stuff is way worse than burrs. I have seen both a horse and cat where 1 piece of spear grass has worked its way into the animal’s body, requiring surgery to remove. If not, the animal would likely have died. Hard to imagine where nature’s wisdom is with that…?
To answer your other comment on here – one thing I’ve noticed is that when I’m already feeling stressed or overwhelmed, the burrs bother me a heck of a lot more! It started raining the other day and I noticed that Juno’s tail was so heavy from the burrs getting water logged. So I may try shaving off the outside layers, so the burr tail still has length, but less bulk. I’ll see what horse wants to let me try that!
And yes, I’m looking forward to harvesting burdock root and making medicine with it this Spring!
Forgot to mention that the connection you made to the “burrs of life” was also so relevant & I think we can all relate to that wonderful metaphor! I am constantly working with myself on getting through each challenging burr with as little stress & anxiety as possible. This is the one area we do have control over- how we manage ourselves through the daily bumps in the road. Sometimes better than other times! Thanks Jini for another wonderful introspective opportunity to reflect & learn.