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Ononis arvensis is a Perennial herb, growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in). Rootstock short, taproot strong. Stem with long and sticky hairs, also with glandular hairs, smells unpleasant.
Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, light red, 15–20 mm (0.6–0.8 in.) long, fused at base. Petals 5; the upstanding the ‘standard’, the lateral two the ‘wings’, the lower two united to form the ‘keel’, overall shape of corolla being butterfly-like. Keel white. Calyx 5-lobed, lobes long. Stamens 10. A single carpel. Inflorescence a lax, leafy terminal raceme or flowers axillary in pairs.
Leaves: Alternate, stalked, stipulate. Blade with 3 leaflets, sometimes with 1 leaflet; leaflets elliptic–quite round, with serrated margin, terminal leaflet stalked. Stipules large, united with stalks.
Flowering time: July–August.The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.
Fruit: The seeds ripen from Aug to October.Opening, same length as calyx, 6–9 mm (0.24–0.36 in.) long, 1–3-seeded pod (legume).
It is hardy to zone 6.
Eadle part is root – eaten raw or cooked. A liquorice substitute. Soaked in cold water it makes a refreshing cold drink. The young shoots were at one time much used as a vegetable, being boiled, pickled or eaten in salads
The whole herb has been used in the treatment of bladder stones and to subdue delirium.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
It is a favourite food of the donkey, from which the generic name is derived, onos being the Greek word for an ass.
A tradition exists that this was the plant from which the crown of thorns was plaited for the Crucifixion.
The plant is obnoxious to snakes.
It can fix Nitrogen.
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