For the past seven years we have been working with a team of scientists attempting to manufacture an anti -diabetic compound from ivy (hedera), the problems include harvesting the berries and making the end product stable enough to add to a manufacturing process. The saponin has been tested on dairy cattle and we have done some initial tests on horse (gut bacteria) However there is still a long way to go and most of the work is protected by IP and Patents so forgive my lack of detail, initially I was horrified at the thought of horses consuming ivy and was adamant that I had never seen any of my horses eating it, EVER! I soon realised that was probably because they had never had access to it…. Some of our herd eat it, some don’t and for that reason I wouldn’t cut any and offer it to a stabled horse but I would try to make it available to the horse in the field (growing). A user friendly saponin can be found in Phytolean Plus.
The word sapo means soap in latin. Saponins make great natural detergents but are toxic if injected into the blood stream, however if eaten in small quantities, all horses require minute amounts to aid digestion, though some horses particularly ‘good doers’ seem to have a large appetite for plants containing these chemicals. Saponins have many medicinal properties because they mimic and interact with the endocrine system (hormones) leading to positive changes within the metabolism.
Saponins are also able to feed the good gut bacteria and make new substances (metabolites) which are then absorbed across the gut wall and are further changed by the liver. These new molecules are fatty esters which have a significant effect on many chronic disease and a positive effect on metabolism.
Saponins reduce those bacteria capable of breaking down the otherwise indigestible alimentary polysaccharides fructans.
Saponins slow down the rate of both gastric emptying and the rate of sugar transport across the gut wall, if you see a horse taking snatches of ivy (hedera) the reason is likely to buffer the effects of a high carbohydrate meal.
In more detail the saponins in ivy (and sarsaparilla) are alpha-glucosidase inhibitors which delay the absorption of complex carbohydrates, inhibiting postprandial glucose peaks thereby leading to decreased postprandial insulin levels. I have a family of ‘good doers’ who are all avid eaters of ivy, if I cut down the tree like ivy shrubs from the stone walls and leave it in the fields it is stripped within days leaving only the large branches.
Plants containing high levels of plant saponins include woody shrubby bushes with small berries such as hedera (ivy) and berberine. Many evergreen shrubs contain saponins such as holly and the very sharp and prickly Butchers Broom. In our experience horse do seek them out and seem to enjoy nibbling the young green leaves (probably because they are less sharp!) and berries. The ivy (hedera) seems to be a chosen in early spring before the berries turn a dark purple.