Herbs & Plants


Botanical Name: Ononis repens
Family: Fabaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Fabales
Genus: Ononis
Species: O. repens

Common Names: Restharrow, Common restharrow

Restharrow is native to Europe including the UK and Ireland. Its distribution spreads as far south as Morocco and as far east as Poland. It has declined in some parts of Britain but populations are generally stable. Although the species is very widespread, its distribution is often localised, due to its preference for particular soil conditions.

It is found by the sea shore, on cliffs and dunes and is also common in grasslands and dry hill pastures in chalk or limestone areas, over light, well-drained soils. It may occasionally grow on roadside verges or beside railways.

Restharrow is a prostrate (maximum height 60cm) woody perennial, spreading by rhizomes. It has hairy stems and small oval leaves with toothed edges. Leaflets are less than 3 times as long as wide. It occasionally has soft, weak spines, but never hard spines like those of Ononis spinosa. The leaves are covered in glandular hairs which give a resinous smell on bruising.It is in flower from June to September, and the seeds ripen from August to October. Plants are hermaphroditic. The zygomorphic flowers are pink and unscented, 15–20mm.


Prefers a sunny position in a well-drained neutral to alkaline soil. Succeeds on the tops of walls and on dry banks. Similar to O. spinosa, but this species is rhizomatous. It can spread rapidly when well sited and has become an obnoxious weed in some areas. Mature roots are very tough and the plant gained its common name of ‘Rest Harrow’ because ploughs and harrows would be unable to break through it (in the days before heavy machinery was used on the land!). The whole plant emits a delicious resinous odour when bruised[245]. A food plant for the common blue butterfly. Dislikes root disturbance. 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.

Edible Uses:
Roots are 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 salad.

A liquorice flavour drink can be made by soaking the roots in cold water, and historically the young shoots have been used as a vegetable, boiled or in salads.

Medicinal Uses:
The whole herb has been used in the treatment of bladder stones and to subdue delirium.

Other Uses:
A rare species of moth, Aplasta ononaria is specialised to lay its eggs only on common restharrow. Ononis repens is pollinated by bees.

Like other species in the order Fabales, Ononis repens fixes nitrogen into soil from the air, promoting the growth of other plants.

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


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