Melilotus officinalis

Botanical Name : Melilotus officinalis
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Tribe:     Trifolieae
Genus:     Melilotus
Species: M. officinalis
Kingdom: Plantae
Order:     Fabales

Synonyms:  Yellow Melilot. White Melilot. Corn Melilot. King’s Clover. Sweet Clover. Plaster Clover. Sweet Lucerne. Wild Laburnum. Hart’s Tree.

Common Names :Yellow sweet clover, yellow melilot, ribbed melilot and common melilot

Habitat :  Melilotus officinalis is  native to Eurasia and introduced in North America, Africa and Australia.It is found in dry fields and along roadsides, in waste places and chalky banks, especially along railway banks and near lime kilns.

Description:
Melilotus officinalis is perrinial or biennial plant is 4–6 feet (1.2–1.8 m) high at maturity. The plant has a bitter taste.

It blooms in spring and summer. Flowers are yellow. Its characteristic sweet odor, intensified by drying, is derived from coumarin.

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The smooth, erect stems are much branched, the leaves placed on alternate sides of the stems are smooth and trifoliate, the leaflets oval. The plants bear long racemes of small, sweet-scented, yellow or white, papilionaceous flowers in the yellow species, the keel of the flower much shorter than the other parts and containing much honey. They are succeeded by broad, black, one-seeded pods, transversely wrinkled.

All species of Melilot, when in flower, have a peculiar sweet odour, which by drying be comes stronger and more agreeable, somewhat like that of the Tonka bean, this similarity being accounted for by the fact that they both contain the same chemical principle, Coumarin, which is also present in new-mown hay and woodruff, which have the identical fragrance.

Cultivation:
Prefers a well-drained to dry neutral to alkaline soil in a sunny position. Prefers a clay or a saline soil. Dislikes shade. Established plants are drought tolerant. The flowers are rich in pollen making this a good bee plant. If they are cut back before flowering, the plants will grow on for at least another year before dying. The dried plant has a sweet aromatic fragrance like newly mown hay. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby.

Propagation:
Seed – sow spring to mid-summer in situ. Pre-soaking the seed for 12 hours in warm water will speed up the germination process, particularly in dry weather. Germination will usually take place within 2 weeks

Edible Uses:
Edible Parts: Flowers;  Leaves;  Root;  Seedpod.
Edible Uses: Condiment.

Root. Consumed as a food by the Kalmuks. Young shoots – cooked. Used like asparagus. Young leaves are eaten in salads. The leaves and seedpods are cooked as a vegetable. They are used as a flavouring. Only fresh leaves should be used, see the notes above on toxicity. The crushed dried leaves can be used as a vanilla flavouring in puddings, pastries etc. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. Flowers – raw or cooked. The flowers and seeds are used as a flavouring. The flowers also give an aromatic quality to some tisanes

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Constituents: Coumarin, the crystalline substance developed under the drying process, is the only important constituent, together with its related compounds, hydrocoumaric (melilotic) acid, orthocoumaric acid and melilotic anhydride, or lactone, a fragrant oil.

Medicinal Uses:
Parts Used :The whole herb is used, dried, for medicinal purposes, the flowering shoots, gathered in May, separated from the main stem and dried in the same manner as Broom tops.

The dried herb has an intensely fragrant odour, but a somewhat pungent and bitterish taste.

Melilot, used either externally or internally, can help treat varicose veins and haemorrhoids though it requires a long-term treatment for the effect to be realised. Use of the plant also helps to reduce the risk of phlebitis and thrombosis. Melilot contains coumarins and, as the plant dries or spoils, these become converted to dicoumarol, a powerful anticoagulant. Thus the plant should be used with some caution, it should not be prescribed to patients with a history of poor blood clotting or who are taking warfarin medication. See also the notes above on toxicity. The flowering plant is antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, diuretic, emollient, mildly expectorant, mildly sedative and vulnerary. An infusion is used in the treatment of sleeplessness, nervous tension, neuralgia, palpitations, varicose veins, painful congestive menstruation, in the prevention of thrombosis, flatulence and intestinal disorders. Externally, it is used to treat eye inflammations, rheumatic pains, swollen joints, severe bruising, boils and erysipelas, whilst a decoction is added to the bath-water. The flowering plant is harvested in the summer and can be dried for later use. A distilled water obtained from the flowering tops is an effective treatment for conjunctivitis.

Melilotus officinalis has been used as a phytoremediation—phytodegradation plant for treatment of soils contaminated with dioxins.

Other Uses: In the chemical industry, dicoumarol is extracted from the plant to produce rodenticides.

Horticulture:
This plant is mainly used for agricultural purposes. It is grown as hay despite its toxic properties when moldy. It is considered an excellent green manure.

Melilotus officinalis or Sweet clover is a major source of nectar for domestic honey bees.

Flowers and seeds can be used as flavoring.

Green manure;  Repellent.

The leaves contain coumarin and they release the pleasant smell of newly mown hay when they are drying. The leaves are dried and used as an insect repellent, especially in order to repel moths from clothing. They can be put in pillows, mattresses etc. Poorly dried or fermented leaves produce a substance called dicoumarol. This is a potent anti-coagulant which is extremely poisonous in excess, it prevents the blood from coagulating and so it is possible to bleed to death from very small wounds. Dicoumarol is used in rat poisons. The plant can be used as a green manure, enriching the soil with nitrogen as well a providing organic matter.

Known Hazards :Melilotus officinalis contains coumarin that converts to dicoumarol (a powerful anticoagulant toxin) when the plant becomes moldy. This can lead to bleeding diseases (internal hemorrhaging) and death in cattle. Consequently, hay containing the plant must be properly dried and cured, especially in wet environments.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/melilo29.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melilotus_officinalis
http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Melilotus+officinalis

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