Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions
BRIEF: Can horse nettle poison the meat of beef cattle?
I finally did get a plant sample, and it definitely is horse nettle. Can sub-lethal doses poison the meat of beef cattle and how much, if at all, is tolerable in the forage?
I don't think there is any danger of passing enough solanidine (or other solanaceous steroidal glycoalkaloid) through the meat or milk to harm people eating these products. These toxins are very poorly absorbed, are torn to shreds by the rumen and what is absorbed is metabolized and excreted very fast. Humans and livestock can be poisoned directly with GI symptoms, nervous disorders and possibly birth defects, but it takes a lot of material. I don't think there is no way that the meat of even a symptomatic cow would harm a human, much less that of an animal eating a sub-toxic dose. I have not done the specific experiments to prove this, and they might be worthwhile to do, but we eat more of these compounds than one is likely to find in the meat all of the time. On the other hand, one can't rule out rare, idiosyncratic allergic effects of small amounts, but I have never heard of any. Most people can tolerate quite a bit of these toxins, and they impart flavor to tomatoes and potatoes that we value. I have experience feeding these crop by products and Cheeke's book has a good couple of pages on the subject (pp154-156 in Natural Toxicants in Feeds, Forages and Poisonous Plants Cheeke 1998). Have their stock shown any symptoms clearly related to eating horse nettle?