Herbs & Plants

Lotus corniculatus

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Botanical Name :Lotus corniculatus
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Tribe: Loteae
Genus: Lotus
Species: L. corniculatus
Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Fabales

Common Name:Bird’s-foot,  Trefoil,Upright trefoil, Common lotus.

The plant has had many common English names in Britain, which are now mostly out of use. These names were often connected with the yellow and orange colour of the flowers, e.g. ‘eggs and bacon‘, ‘butter and eggs’.

Habitat :Lotus corniculatus   is native toEurope, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to N. Africa and temperate Asia. It grows in the pastures and sunny banks of streams, especially on calcareous soils.

It is a perennial herbaceous plant, similar in appearance to some clovers. The flowers develop into small pea-like pods or legumes. The name ‘bird’s foot’ refers to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk. There are five leaflets, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name trefoil.


The height of the plant is variable, from 5-20 cm, occasionally more where supported by other plants; the stems can reach up to 50 cm long. It is typically sprawling at the height of the surrounding grassland. It can survive fairly close grazing, trampling and mowing. It is most often found in sandy soils. It Flowers from June until September.

Landscape Uses:Border, Erosion control, Rock garden. Requires a well-drained soil in a sunny position. Dislikes shade Does well on poor soils. An important food plant for many caterpillars. It is also a good bee plant, the flowers providing an important source of nectar. The flowers are powerfully scented, even though they are able to pollinate themselves. The plant spreads very freely at the roots. 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. Special Features:Attracts butterflies.

Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in warm water and then sow in the spring or autumn in situ. The seed usually germinates in 2 – 4 weeks at 15°c. If seed is in short supply, it can be sown in pots in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in late spring or early summer.

Edible Uses:    The young seedpods are ‘nibbled’. Caution is advised, see notes above on toxicity.

Medicinal Uses;

Carminative, febrifuge, hypoglycaemic, restorative, vermifuge. The flowers are antispasmodic, cardiotonic and sedative. The root is carminative, febrifuge, restorative and tonic. The plant is used externally as a local anti-inflammatory compress in all cases of skin inflammation.
Recommended for the treatment of heart palpitations, nervousness, depression and insomnia.

Other Uses:
It is used in agriculture as a forage plant, grown for pasture, hay, and silage. Taller growing cultivars have been developed for this. It may be used as an alternative to alfalfa in poor soils. It has become an invasive species in some regions of North America and Australia

A double flowered variety is grown as an ornamental plant. The plant is an important nectar source for many insects and is also used as a larval food plant by many species of Lepidoptera such as Six-spot Burnet. It is regularly included as a component of wildflower mixes in Europe. Fresh birdsfoot trefoil contains cyanogenic glycosides   and is thus poisonous to humans.

The plant is one of the few flowers in the language of flowers that has a negative connotation, symbolizing revenge or retribution.

An orange-yellow dye is obtained from the flowers. A useful green manure plant, fixing atmospheric nitrogen. It is difficult to see this plant as a useful green manure, it is fairly slow growing with us and does not produce much bulk.

Known Hazards:   All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides(hydrogen cyanide). In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death. This species is polymorphic for cyanogenic glycosides. The flowers of some forms of the plant contain traces of prussic acid and so the plants can become mildly toxic when flowering. They are completely innocuous when dried.

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.


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