Goathead gold mine: Noxious weed valued by some as useful medicinal herb

Date: 08/24/2007
Writer: Jane Moorman, 505-249-0527, [email protected]
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ALCALDE – What is seen as a noxious weed by many can now be turned into a cash crop.


Estevan Herrera, field technician at NMSU’s Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde, stirs ripened goathead seed pods while they are drying. Collecting and drying the pods is part of the NMSU herb research and development program at Alcalde. (NMSU photo by Charles Martin)

The seed pod of Tribulus terrestris, commonly known as goatheads, puncture vine or toritos, is readily available to the industrious soul to market to Chinese medicine practitioners.
“This plant, commonly considered a noxious weed, is a useful medicinal herb in Chinese and Western medicine,” said Charles Martin, New Mexico State University researcher working at the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde. Martin is collecting the pods as part of an herb economic development program.
Martin is buying the pods from 4-H clubs and other youth groups across the state to be included in sample packs that are to be distributed by the Medicinal Herb Consortium, directed by medicinal herbalist Jean Giblette of High Falls Gardens in Philmont, N.Y. The consortium of herb grower associations in five states, including New Mexico, makes domestically grown or wild-harvested plants used in oriental medicine available to acupuncturists and practitioners through a sample pack of about 35 herbs. Ci ji li – the Chinese name for the plant known in New Mexico as goathead – is one of them.
“The packets are to let Chinese medicine practitioners know the quality of herbs that are available from American farmers,” Giblette said. “Charles Martin has been supplying us Tribulus terrestris for a couple of years.”
To stimulate an interest among New Mexicans in providing the herb, Martin is encouraging 4-H clubs and other youth groups to collect and dry the pods. Goathead season is at its peak now as the tiny yellow blossom turns into a greed pod, which is what herbalists like to use in various Chinese medicine formulas.
“This is a great opportunity for kids to earn some cash for school and to learn about underutilized plant species,” Martin said. “Puncture vine or goathead is just one of many plants we consider to be weeds that have medicinal properties and therefore could be cash crops if more people just knew about them.”
The right time to pick the goathead pods is when it is in its green, ripe stage, not brown, over-ripe or moldy. “Not when it is a woody sticker that attaches itself to anything it comes in contact with, including shoe soles or bicycle tires,” he said, adding that the large whole pods are preferred.
Giblette said Tribulus terrestris is listed in the “Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica,” the oldest record of herbs used as medicinals in China. The book includes a wealth of historical information about early descriptions and usages of approximately 300 Chinese herbs. The ancient publication was created by Shen Nong, the Divine Farmer, who legend says, taught his country about agriculture and medicinal herbs. Giblette said the ground, dried goathead pod is included in many of the Chinese medicine formulas used to address pathogenic changes in internal organ functions.
The use of Tribulus terrestris as a dietary supplement became recognized in Western countries after the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, where it was revealed that the gold medal weightlifting team from Bulgaria had used the herb for a natural endocrine system stimulant to boost testosterone production and thus increase their muscle mass. It boosts the endocrine system in both men and women.
“You see it on the market at health food stores selling for around $20 for a bottle of 60 capsules,” Martin said. “That’s why I am encouraging people to collect this plant as a cash crop. This is just one of many under-utilized plants we are trying to develop into a product with economic value. It’s a matter of raising people’s awareness to the potential that is out there.”
For more information on collection, drying, quality control, grading and criteria for packaging, contact Martin at (505) 852-4241 or email [email protected]

Ageratum conyzoides
(billy goat weed)

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From a plant perspective, goat head weed (Tribulus terrestris) is a superhero. The fruits are covered with sharp spines or barbs that help it spread quickly. It has a deep taproot, grows in bad soil, and reseeds like you wouldn’t believe. You have to approach the plant with bravery and determination.

Goat head weed is sometimes referred to as puncturevine, cat’s head, devil’s thorn, bindii, or caltrop. It’s an annual broadleaf that readily reseeds itself. Not only is it difficult to eradicate, but it can also poison livestock and pets, and if you’ve ever stepped on it, you know it’s awful.

This noxious weed is widespread in drier climates and is found widely in the U.S. southwest and Rocky Mountain states. It’s expanding its range and has been identified as far north as British Columbia, Canada. Some communities are so desperate to control the species that they are paying a bounty of one dollar per trash bag to people who collect the plants.

It thrives in rocky locations and does well in roadsides, construction areas, and along railroad tracks. It’s also readily found in yards, pastures, and fields. It prefers dry, well-drained, sandy sites below 7,000 feet in elevation.

Growth Habits

To get rid of this nasty weed, you have to know a little bit about it. Goat head weed typically grows as a ground cover, but in less favorable conditions, the plant will start growing upward to seek sunshine. The plants have a central crown and the stems radiate out in a dense mat. Stems and leaves are covered with hairs and the branches can grow three feet from the crown.

The plant typically flowers from April to October. After the flower blooms, the plant forms the spiny fruit. The fruit itself consists of five barbs that have several spiny points. They’re sharp enough to pierce your foot through your shoes, flatten a bicycle tire or injure the mouths of livestock.

On top of all that, the burrs are sticky and will cling to passersby. This way, the seeds disperse themselves. Goat head is hardy and prolific and can produce between 200-5,000 seeds per season depending on the growing conditions.

The seeds are long-lived and can remain dormant in the soil for up to five years. If all that wasn’t bad enough, the plant has a long taproot that goes deep into the soil.

An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to where it’s currently living. They often out-compete native species causing harm to the environment and economic loss for farmers.

Goathead is an invasive species that is native to the Mediterranean. It easily outcompetes native species by smothering them. This causes a lack of diversity and it harms wildlife. Native plants and animals evolved together and support each other, so when an invasive species takes over, it’s bad for the entire local environment.

Livestock and Pet Concerns

Goat head weed is a danger to your animals. It can cause harm to their mouths and digestive systems if they accidentally eat the burrs while grazing. Typically, livestock will avoid it when other forages are plentiful.

The leaves are toxic to animals when consumed in large amounts. In addition, it can cause necrosis of the skin, damage to the eye, and in extreme cases, it may cause deaths in immature or smaller animals.

Sheep are particularly sensitive to goat head weed, and it can cause them to have a photovoltaic response that results in sensitivity to light. If they ingest the leaves, it may cause swelling of ears and lips. The burrs can also become tangled in the wool, which ruins the fiber quality and can cause skin lesions.

Getting Rid of Goat Head Weed

Eliminating goat head weed from your property can be a major challenge, but it’s possible. Your best bet is to take a multi-pronged approach.

Stop the Spread

The first step in getting rid of goat head weed is to prevent it from reproducing. Don’t let the plant flower or go to seed. Remove any seedlings by pulling them up, tilling them, burning them – whatever it takes.

The best method is to manually pull out each plant. Make sure soil is well-watered a few hours in advance to loosen it. Use a twisting motion and slowly pull the plant upwards to make sure you get the entire woody taproot. Dispose of them immediately before the seed pods fall off.

You can also burn the plants. Use a propane torch weeder to burn plants down to the ground. This may have to be done several times since they can regrow from the roots. Make sure you follow your local laws on burning.

If you’re lucky enough to not have goat head weed on your property, you still need to remain vigilant. The spiny burrs are made to travel, and people and wildlife unwittingly spread it around.

Take precautions so that you don’t bring the burrs into the house. Wipe your shoes off on a rough mat outside. If you have been working in the yard or garden, remove your shoes on the porch or in a mudroom. Check your pants for signs of burrs. Sweep and vacuum floors frequently. You will also need to check your pet’s fur before they come in and jump on the couch.

Remove Burrs

Rake up any burrs you see around the plants so that they don’t establish into new plants. You will want a pair of heavy leather gloves when you deal with the burrs.

One nifty trick is to use a scrap of old carpet to collect the burrs. Simply press the carpet side down on the ground so the burrs stick to it. Then, dispose of the carpet.

Mulch Your Garden

Mulch to help suppress goat head weed. Your mulch should be thick at least three inches thick. Straw or woodchips work best.

Add Dominant Native Plants

After you get rid goat head weed, you can reseed or plant with a strong native grass or flower. If you’re in the southwest desert mallow is a beautiful, easy to grow wildflower that can out-compete goat head weed.

St. Augustine is a good broadleaf grass to try, as well as buffalograss, blue grama, black grama, or tobosagrass.

Introduce Puncture Vine Weevils

You can purchase puncture vine weevils from biological supply companies, but this method has several drawbacks. Weevils location-sensitive and may not survive if you buy them from a company far away.

There are two different biocontrol organisms that you can buy. These are a seed-feeding weevil (Microlarinus lareynii) and a stem and crown mining weevil (Microlarinus lypriformis). Use both for the most effective control.

The seed feeding weevils lay eggs in the burrs. When they hatch, the larvae eat the seed pod in the burr, effectively killing them. The stem and crown feeding weevils attack the base of the plant, stunting its growth.

The success rate with them is mixed. Biocontrol insects will only continue to live in areas where the populations of the host plant are high and can support them. Also, make sure they will not harm other plants in your vicinity.

Contact your extension agent to see if they may be worthwhile in your area.

Chemical Control

You can spray goat head weeds after they emerge in the spring with a chemical weed killer. Once they’ve flowered or seeded, you’re better off using one of the other methods.

Homemade Remedies

Home remedies have mixed reviews, but Epsom salts and white vinegar is one method worth trying. The weed doesn’t like the acidic vinegar. Mix 1/2 cup of Epsom salts and 1/2 cup of white vinegar in a gallon of water. Pour over the plants so that it saturates the ground. Extension agents report that this may work on small patches but are not an overall effective way to deal with the problem.

Removing a Spine

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself stepping on a goat head weed spine. Lameness can occur in animals who step on the spines, which embed themselves in hooves or paws. The spines will go right through a soft-soled shoe and are murder on bare feet.

To remove a spine, pull it straight out from the direction it went in. Wash the area with hydrogen peroxide. You can also dab on some antibiotic cream, aloe, comfrey or witch hazel. Watch the puncture for signs of infection.

Don’t Lose Hope

It isn’t easy to get rid of goat head, we’re not going to lie. But if you keep at it, it’s possible. Try a combination of these techniques and you’ll have your problem under control in no time flat.

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Epimedium an easy-to-grow addition to shade garden

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If you’re the type of gardener who waits with bated breath for the next plant craze, inhale and wait no longer. Epimedium, a long-familiar plant with the unfortunate common names of barrenwort and horny goat weed, has made a meteoric rise with the introduction of many new species from Asia and is likely to be called by its more fanciful alias — fairy wings — a sure sign of rising popularity.

A perfect addition to any woodland shade garden, epimediums are an easy-to-grow perennial ground cover or clumping plant that thrives in well-drained, moisture retentive soils. Once established, most species will tolerate dry shade, making them an excellent choice for planting among shallow-rooted trees and shrubs, or in drought prone areas.

In China, many epimediums grow on limestone, but they’ve proved adaptable to our acidic soils. And though unclean dividing practices can make them susceptible to foliar viruses, these tough plants are relatively pest free and unpalatable to many animals, including rabbits and deer.

Don’t get the idea that this perennial will claim center stage in the garden, however. Epimediums are not large, showy plants such as bleeding hearts (Dicentra) or foxgloves (Digitalis), but will fill the role of a character-filled supporting player, like lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) or forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides).

Most epimediums grow between six inches and two feet tall and offer attractive heart-shaped to arrow-shaped foliage. Depending on the species, the number of flowers produced can vary from just a few to more than a hundred on each wire-like stem. Individual flowers typically last just a few days and then shatter before being replaced by new blooms. Flower colors include white, pink, rose, purple, yellow, orange, and red, or can be bicolored or combinations of several colors, but blooms are typically small.

The type I’ve grown the longest is Epimedium x rubrum, a hybrid that grows eight to 13 inches tall and spreads faster than many of its kin, forming a clump that is roughly a foot in diameter. New growth, with appears in early spring, has a reddish tinge; the three quarter-inch flowers which follow have rosy red sepals and creamy petals.

Last week on a nursery-hopping trip to Georgia, I added two new epimediums to my collection, both offering delicate white flowers. The largest of the pair, Epimedium grandiflorum, lives up to the fairy wing moniker, with eye-catching, long-spurred flowers that bloom for a month or more above foliage that grows to 15-inches tall.

I was completely charmed, however, by the tiny cultivar Epimedium x youngianum Niveum, with small pearl-like buds that open into pure white flowers over the plant’s six-to-eight-inch-tall foliage.

To grow epimediums in Southern gardens like ours, take care to amend heavy soil to improve drainage and keep the plants in the shade. Experts recommend shearing away old foliage in late winter before new growth emerges. Divisions are best taken in fall, from late August into early October.

Epimedium grandiflorum, Horny Goat weed, viable root

Epimedium grandiflorum Wurzeln (keine Samen)

Epimedium grandiflorum is also known as barrenwort or horny goat weed and belongs to the genus of the fairy wings. The barrenwort is native to Japan. Some plants were even found in China but it is not sure if they are really belonging to the species Epimedium grandiflorum. In Germany the fairy wings got the title “shrub of the year 2014”. The horny goat weed grows as a perennial shrub and reaches a height of about 30 cm. The name horny goat weed is due to the fact that it was observed that goats that were eating that plant got really horny. For humans the horny goat weed is also used as tea as an aphrodisiac. But it should be taken with care. An overdose can cause vomiting. The leaves are leathery and robust. They are pinnate and have a long petiole. The leaflets are heart- shaped. Sometimes the leaf margin is slightly red and serrate. In contrast to the leaves the flowers are filigree and fairy like. One associates the flowers with small fairies hovering above the leaves. The flowers are zygomorphic and consist of two times four leaves. The flowers of Epimedium grandiflorum are violet with white apex. Sometimes they are just white. The color underlines the association with a fairy. The main flowering time is in April and May. The fruit of the horny goat weed is a capsule that contains the seeds with a fleshy arrilus. The horny goat weed is a demand less plant that gives great pleasure to the gardeners. It grows best at half shaded, moist places. Briefly speaking, Epimedium grandiflora feels comfortable in forests. The barrenwort can be cut back in autumn. In spring the plant will grow anew.

So what exactly is horny goat weed? Contrary to its quirky name, the active compounds in horny goat weed don’t have much to do with bleating farm animals. Its botanical name is epimedium and it belongs to a genus of flowering plants in the Berberidaceae family. As for the goats… Apparently, the name was coined when farmers noticed that male goats munching on epimedium herbs quickly became more excited around females.

Rise up against erectile dysfunction

Horny goat weed’s biggest claim to fame is as a supplement used to treat the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. It’s more common than you might think, with approximately 40% of men aged 40 and over encountering performance issues.

Cue horny goat weed. Loaded with a flavonoid known as icariin, epimedium is widely coveted for its aphrodisiacal properties. One of the biggest perks is its ability to normalise cortisol levels, which can help combat low energy and involuntary ejaculation. Icariin can also neutralise the negative effects of stress which can drag down sexual performance and trigger issues like involuntary ejaculation.

Icariin is also a powerful vasodilator with the capacity to widen the blood vessels and boost flow. In turn this can help to increase circulation in blood vessels in the penis. This is important, as during sexual stimulation the body releases nitric oxide (NO) to dilate blood vessels in the penis and trigger an erection. Simultaneously, a compound called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) accumulates, though erections can falter when cGMP is broken down by a substance called PDE5. Icariin actively stops PDE5 from breaking down cGMP, which enhances the effects of NO and helps gents stay harder for longer.

Balancing “yin” for the ladies

For ladies, horny goat weed offers a handful of different benefits. Boosting bone density is one of the biggest advantages, with studies suggesting that icariin has the proven ability to increase bone mineral density in both the hips and the lower back. This explains why Chinese herbalists coveted the plant as a treatment for osteoporosis.

Horny goat weed, also known as Yin Yang Huo in the Chinese medicine sphere, is also considered a powerful form of “yin” energy. In women prenylflavonoid compounds act as phytoestrogens, which means the herb can be effective in increasing estrogen levels and toning down the symptoms of menopause, including low libido.

With so much to love, why not consider adding horny goat weed to your daily supplement routine? We love that it can be taken by both ladies and gents, which means couples can reap the benefits together. Not just in the bedroom, but also in day to day life.

Want to know more about how supplements can be used to enhance your diet?

Check out the offerings at Abeeco, a New Zealand based, Mother Nature approved company championing the health benefits of bee pollen, as well as other naturally occurring “super” elements like horny goat weed.

Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium)

Erectogenic and Neurotrophic Effects of Icariin, a Purified Extract of Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium spp.) In Vitro and In Vivo

Men’s Health: Does Horny Goat Weed Work for Erectile Dysfunction?

Horny goat weed(Epimedium spp.)

What’s to know about horny goat weed?

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