During secondary succession on abandoned agricultural fields the diversity and abundance of insect communities often increases, whereas the performance and nutritional quality of early successional plants often declines. As the diversity and abundance of insects on a single plant are determined by characteristics of the environment as well as of the host plant, it is difficult to predict how insects associated with a single plant species will change during succession. We examined how plant characteristics of the early successional plant species ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris), and the herbivores and parasitoids associated with these plants change during secondary succession. In ten grasslands that differed in time since abandonment (3–26 years), we measured the size and primary and secondary chemistry of individual ragwort plants. For each plant we also recorded the presence of herbivores in flowers, leaves and stems, and reared parasitoids from these plant parts. Ragwort plants were significantly larger but had lower nitrogen concentrations in recently abandoned sites than in older sites. Pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) composition varied among plants within sites but also differed significantly among sites. However, there was no relationship between the age of a site and PA composition. Even though plant size decreased with time since abandonment, the abundance of stem-boring insects and parasitoids emerging from stems significantly increased with site age. The proportion of plants with flower and leaf herbivory and the number of parasitoids emerging from flowers and leaves was not related to site age. Parasitoid diversity significantly increased with site age. The results of our study show that ragwort and insect characteristics both change during secondary succession, but that insect herbivore and parasitoid abundances are not directly related to plant size or nutritional quality.