Aspirin Takes the Headache Out of Establishing Sustainable Pastures

It seems like there is a lot of good research results becoming available right now. In June, we learned how plants develop “memories” to adapt and survive heat stress. This week we find out that native grasses may benefit from a headache cure!

Researchers at Curtin University in Perth, Australia have shown how a readily available, cheap and safe-to-use product found in the medicine cabinet of most homes could be the key to better ecological restoration practices with major benefits for the environment and agriculture.

The study revealed that aspirin, which naturally occurs in the bark of the willow tree and other plants, can improve the survival of grass species important for ecological restoration and sustainable pasture when applied in a seed coating.

Lead researcher Dr Simone Pedrini from the ARC Centre for Mine Site Restoration in Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said salicylic acid has been used for its medicinal properties for more than 4,000 years and its modern synthetic version, acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin, is one of the most widely used medications in the world.

“Our research found that aspirin can do more than just ease a headache; it can also help restore degraded land and ecosystems and establish sustainable pastures through improving plant growth and survival,” Dr Pedrini said.

“This study was performed on native perennial grasses and showed that applying very low concentrations of salicylic acid to the seed can improve plant survival and therefore its effectiveness in reaching restoration goals.

“Salicylic acid was already known for its ability to improve stress resistance for plants such as tomatoes, making it useful for the agricultural industry, but its effect on native species and potential to aid landscape restoration was still unknown.”

Research team member and Director of the ARC Centre for Mine Site Restoration, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Kingsley Dixon said salicylic acid was applied to the seeds of the native grass species using a technology called seed coating, perfected by Curtin University researchers, that allows seed shape and size to be modified, improving seeding efficiency, and can be used to carry growth benefiting compounds.

“This is the first study to deliver aspirin via coating on native species which means the technology can be scaled up for improving restoration targets such as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to be launched on 5 June 2021,” Professor Dixon said.

“Further research is now needed to test salicylic acid as a coating in other wild species to improve native plant resistance to drought, extreme temperatures, salinity, pathogens, and herbicides.

“Moreover, coating with salicylic acid in combination with other beneficial compounds should be tested on a broader array of plant species used in restoration, as their combined impact on seed germination, emergence, growth and plant establishment could improve the successful deployment of native seed onto degraded landscapes, ultimately allowing for a more efficient seed-based restoration.”

How Can We Use This?

As of this writing, you can’t head down to the local coop and find salicylic acid coated seeds. But, to get us there, we’ve forwarded this to some seed companies in the U.S. to take a look. I’ll let you know what they say about using the research to create seed coatings for customers here.

The full paper, ‘Seed encrusting with salicylic acid: a novel approach to improve establishment of grass species in ecological restoration’ was published in PLOS ONE and can be found online here.

3 thoughts on “Aspirin Takes the Headache Out of Establishing Sustainable Pastures

  1. I’m not sure about this, but “willow water” is claimed to help rooting. If it helps that way, would it help seedling roots, too? If so (a big if, I know), why use synthetically produced aspirin?

    1. Hi Curt,

      I had not heard of using Willow Water, so of course I looked it up. One of the sites that came up is one I often go to when I’m trying to find out if something is myth or reality. Robert Pavlis at “Gardening Myths” breaks down what it is in the willow that helps it root, and whether or not that occurs in Willow Water. His take on it:

      “I suspect the myth of willow water was born out of sound science; willows root easily and that they contain rooting hormones. From there, a leap of faith concluded that homemade willow water would work as a rooting hormone. This idea is then bolstered by gardeners who try it and claim it works, without ever running controls.

      “Given the lack of evidence that willow rooting water works, and the fact that it is not easily produced, it seems to make more sense to use commercial products that are easy to use, and are proven to work. For a few dollars you can buy enough rooting hormone powder to last 10 years or more.”

      You can read the whole post here: “Willow Water Rooting Hormone – Does It Work?

      I’m going to send Robert this latest research as well so that he can add it to his store of knowledge. I really like how he looks at the claims, the anecdotal evidence and the science to help us all see things in a new light.

  2. this looks good. Funny thing, I was just talking about old remedies coming back to their own in medicine, and here you gifted us with on for the whole pasture. thank you.

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