I first came across Hogweed many years ago when my little palomino Solas developed thick blisters on the pale skin of his nose. Initially I assumed he was suffering from sunburn and proceeded to smother his pink skin in sun screen, as any good horse mom would.
However, the blistering didn’t stop. Watching him in the paddock one day I noticed he was eating the tall, thick leaves of a white flower – which turned out to be Hogweed.
Hogweed is a phototoxic plant. This means that toxins in the plant cause cause the skin to react when exposed to sunlight. Its sap can cause severe reactions to skin if touched and if ingested, causes extreme photo-sensitivity. This means that when a reaction occurs and the skin is exposed to sunlight, it causes severe lesions and/or blistering that appear as burns.
If untreated, these lesions can get infected. In such cases, veterinary assistance is recommended as there may be a need for antibiotics. However, in my experience, removing the plant from the paddock and sheltering your horse during peak sunshine hours are sufficient. Aloe Vera based lotions or creams specific for skin irritations also work well.
Recently I noticed that our neighbour’s cobs were suffering from blistered muzzles – which indicated they have been munching on the wild Hogweed which is growing on the ditches in our local area. These guys have plenty of grazing so I can only imagine that Hogweed must taste good!
Hogweed is robust in nature and it’s seeds can survive for up to 15 years before germinating. It comes from the same family as Celery and is closely related to Cow Parsley, which we know is a firm favourite of our equine friends.
Funnily enough, it’s taller and even more poisonous relations, Giant Hogweed, is known as “Feabhrán Capaill” in Irish – which literally means Horse Hogweed!