There are many plants in the world that we as humans have cultivated for our own use, and yellow rattle is one of them. But what is yellow rattle used for? Read on, if you are wondering – we have found out just about everything there is to know about the uses of this plant.
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What is Yellow Rattle Used For?
In times gone by, when much more of our meadowlands were made up of grasses and wildflowers, yellow rattle would have made up a good part a wildflower meadow.
Once it was dried and baled, it would spread its seeds back out over the landscape, starting the growing process all over again.
However, it is not recommended for a livestock feed, so it is falling out of favor in place of crops such as rye grass.
These days, this plant is becoming more and more popular in rewilding projects, where more wildflowers are encouraged.
It can create space for little wildflowers to sprout up, where they may have been dominated by tall, fast-growing grasses.
Yellow rattle is thought to also have an effect on improving spent soil, by affecting the nutrient cycle and the composition of soil microbes.
If a gardener or a farmer is looking to turn their pastures into chalk and limestone type growing mediums, yellow rattle can help with this too.
This little plant is incredibly useful in suppressing grass growth in areas where there is too much – because of its parasitic way of growing, it can stop grass from taking over.
This is incredibly useful in areas where people are trying to move away from the monoculture of rye grass, and to establish more natural growing conditions.
If you’re looking for tips on how to collect seeds from wild yellow rattle to grow your own, check out this video:
When Should I Use Yellow Rattle?
Yellow rattle, because of its parasitic way of gaining nutrients, is great for keeping grass down in areas where you don’t want it.
However, if the grass is too high then the yellow rattle won’t take – they need sunlight to grow, and don’t compete too well with others.
Planting yellow rattle in poor soil, without too much competition, can encourage other wildflowers to bloom.
Grass can really take over everything, so having something that uses the grass’s own nutrients to feed itself can be very useful.
Plant it in areas where you want wildflowers to become established, by clearing an area for it and allowing it its favourite conditions.
You will need to sow the seeds directly onto the ground in the autumn, so they can get really cold which encourages their growth.
Be prepared to do a second sowing the following year at the same time, as this plant can take a while to get established.
Here is a good article, telling you all about the ins and outs of yellow rattle.
Is Yellow Rattle Edible?
If you are looking for an entirely edible garden, my advice to you is to not plant yellow rattle – it is not edible for humans.
It is considered to be toxic to many types of wildlife, though not to the extent of Ragwort, for example.
The Glycosides contained within this plant make it unsuitable for human consumption – although it has had some interesting uses in the past…
Yellow rattle has been used as a natural dye, in the days before synthetic dyes and clothes that can be all the colors of the rainbow.
Unsurprisingly, given the brightness of its flowers, it produces a beautiful, sunny yellow dye, when processed correctly:
- You will need to gather a large quantity of the flowering heads, while they are open but not too old, and before they go to seed.
- Steep the flowers in boiling water until you see a bright yellow color appearing – the longer you leave the flowers, the brighter the color will be.
- “Fix” the color using a mordant such as Alum Mordant. You can use salt, but the effects will be stronger with Alum.
- Use the finished dye to color any fabric you wish – you will find best results using unbleached cotton.
- This is not a dye to rival the colors you find in shops, but it is a great fun project if you have a lot of yellow rattle and you don’t know what to do with it!
Is Yellow Rattle Poisonous To Cattle?
For a plant that is commonly found in hay meadows, there is not a lot going for it in terms of its benefit to livestock!
It is known to be poisonous to many animals, including cattle, and as such it is best to not feed it to them in the form of cut hay.
It contains Glycosides, which can adversely affect the heart (although, interestingly, these are used in a class of medicines used to treat certain heart conditions).
It is not really known whether animals seek out yellow rattle to eat it, nor are there a great many studies on what it can do – but it is definitely best avoided.
Most farmers, if they discover it, tend to leave the plant to die fully before cutting the hay, to avoid any risks to their cows.
Animals may avoid plants that are poisonous to them when they are growing, but can unwittingly eat dried plants in their hay.
Best stick to grazing cattle on grasslands, and leave the yellow rattle to encourage wildflowers elsewhere!
Is Yellow Rattle Poisonous To Dogs?
If you have a dog that likes to nibble your garden plants, or an inquisitive puppy, it’s best to keep yellow rattle out of your garden.
This plant is considered mildly toxic to our furry best friends, so try to keep them away from it.
It is related to the foxglove, which as we all know is highly toxic – yellow rattle is not quite as dramatic, but you still don’t want your pooch nibbling on it.
“The dose makes the poison”, so don’t panic too much if Fido has munched on a petal – if he has eaten the whole patch, however, a trip to the vets is definitely in order.
Avoid costly vet’s bills – and potential heartbreak – by keeping yellow rattle and your hound firmly separate.
Now you will hopefully have a better idea about the uses – both historically and more recently – of this interesting wildflower.
We’re never going to suggest that you eat it, but as you can see it can make useful fodder for some animals, and you can get into natural dyeing too!