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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Logan, Utah » Poisonous Plant Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #317122

Research Project: Understanding and Mitigating the Adverse Effects of Poisonous Plants on Livestock Production Systems

Location: Poisonous Plant Research

Title: Toxicity of White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) and chemical extracts of White Snakeroot in goats

item Davis, Thomas - Zane
item Lee, Stephen
item COLLETT, MARK - Massey University
item Stegelmeier, Bryan
item Green, Benedict - Ben
item BUCK, STEVEN - University Of Illinois
item Pfister, James

Submitted to: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/30/2015
Publication Date: 2/25/2015
Publication URL:
Citation: Davis, T.Z., Lee, S.T., Collett, M.G., Stegelmeier, B.L., Green, B.T., Buck, S.R., Pfister, J.A. 2015. Toxicity of White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) and chemical extracts of White Snakeroot in goats. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 63(7):2092-2097.

Interpretive Summary: White snakeroot poisoning causes “trembles” in livestock and “milk sickness” in humans that drink contaminated milk. Although a toxic extract from the plant was shown to cause the disease in the late 1920s, it was also later demonstrated that the extract was a mixture of many different compounds. It is widely believed that tremetone, which is part of the mixture, is the toxin. However, researchers have been unable to definitively demonstrate that tremetone is the toxic compound in white snakeroot. In attempt to correlate poisoning with tremetone concentration, white snakeroot and a hexane extract that contained tremetone and other benzofuran ketones at the same concentrations found in the plant were dosed to Spanish goats. Goats dosed with the white snakeroot plant material were poisoned demonstrating for the first time that white snakeroot is a potent myotoxin in goats. However goats dosed with the hexane extract did not poison suggesting that another compound besides tremetone may have a significant role in the toxicity of the plant. As a result of this study further dosing studies with plant extracts should be conducted to definitively determine the toxic component of white snakeroot.

Technical Abstract: White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is a sporadically toxic plant that causes trembles in livestock and milk sickness in humans that drink tainted milk. The putative toxin in white snakeroot is tremetone and possibly other benzofuran ketones even though it has not been demonstrated in vivo. Toxic white snakeroot was dosed to goats and they developed clinical signs of poisoning, exercise intolerance, significant increases in serum enzyme activities, and histological changes. Tremetone and the other benzofuran ketones were extracted with hexane, the extracts and residues were analyzed for tremetone and dosed to goats at tremetone and benzofuran ketone concentrations similar to the original plant material, however, none of the dosed goats developed the disease. The results demonstrate for the first time that white snakeroot is a potent myotoxin in goats and that other compound(s), that may be lost or modified during the extraction process, could be involved in causing trembles and milk sickness.