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Common Cow-wheat

Melampyrum pratense

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
35 centimetres tall
Grassland, heathland, meadows, moorland, mountains, rocky places, wasteland, woodland.

Yellow, 1 petal
Annual. Flowers in pairs with leaf-like bracts at the bottom, pale to deep yellow, sometimes tinged pink, up to 2cm.
Elliptical, oval, flattened capsule, carrying 4 seeds, later splitting on one side. Seeds are dispersed by ants. The botanical name of 'Melampyrum' is derived from the Greek 'melas' (black) and 'pyros' (wheat) because the seeds made bread turn black during the bread-making process. Pratense simply means 'meadow' which refers to the habitat in which it sometimes grows.
Opposite, linear-lanceolate leaves which are nearly stalkless. Leaf bracts have long teeth at the base.
Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) doesn't have a distinct or well-documented aroma. As it's primarily appreciated for its visual beauty and ecological role, there isn't specific information available regarding its fragrance or aroma.
Other Names:
Broad-leaved Cow-wheat, Common Yellow Cowwheat.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Melampyrum pratense, also known as common cowwheat or broad-leaved cowwheat, is a species of flowering plant in the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae). It is native to Europe, where it grows in a variety of habitats, including meadows, grasslands, and wooded areas. The plant is a herbaceous perennial with green, lance-shaped leaves and small, pink or purple flowers that bloom in the summer. Melampyrum pratense is an important food source for many species of wildlife, and it is also used medicinally and as a natural dye. It is closely related to other species of Melampyrum, such as M. arvense (field cowwheat) and M. cristatum (crested cowwheat).


Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) is a species of flowering plant that belongs to the Orobanchaceae family. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to Europe and Asia, and can be found growing in meadows, grasslands, and woodland clearings.

The plant is easily recognizable by its yellow flowers that grow on spikes and its oval-shaped leaves. The flowers are small and have a tubular shape, and they bloom from May to July. The leaves of the common cow-wheat are bright green and can grow up to 10 cm in length.

Common cow-wheat is a hemiparasitic plant, which means that it partially relies on other plants for its survival. It obtains some of its nutrients by tapping into the roots of nearby plants, but it also photosynthesizes and can grow on its own without a host.

One of the interesting facts about the common cow-wheat is that it is an important food source for several species of butterflies and moths. The nectar from the flowers is particularly attractive to insects, and the plant is a valuable resource for pollinators. In addition, the leaves and stems of the plant are edible, and they have been used in the past as a substitute for coffee.

The common cow-wheat is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of soils and conditions. It is also an excellent choice for gardeners who are looking for a low-maintenance plant. Once established, the common cow-wheat requires little care and can thrive with minimal attention.

The common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) is a fascinating species of plant that is well-worth considering for any garden. With its attractive yellow flowers and its importance as a food source for pollinators, it is sure to make a valuable addition to any garden. Whether you are an experienced gardener or just starting out, the common cow-wheat is a plant that is easy to grow and care for, and it is sure to bring beauty and interest to your garden for years to come.

In addition to its ornamental and ecological value, the common cow-wheat has also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. In traditional medicine, various parts of the plant were used to treat a wide range of ailments, including coughs, colds, and digestive problems. The plant is also said to have antiseptic and astringent properties, and it has been used to clean wounds and treat skin conditions.

In recent years, scientific studies have confirmed some of the traditional uses of common cow-wheat. Research has shown that the plant contains compounds that have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. These compounds have been found to have potential therapeutic applications, and more research is needed to fully understand the medicinal properties of this fascinating plant.

It is important to note that the use of common cow-wheat for medicinal purposes should only be done under the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider. Some parts of the plant can be toxic, and self-medication with common cow-wheat should be avoided.

In addition to its ornamental and medicinal uses, the common cow-wheat is also an important plant for wildlife. The plant provides habitat and food for many species of insects, birds, and small mammals. By planting common cow-wheat in your garden, you can help to support and protect local wildlife populations.

The common cow-wheat is a highly versatile and valuable plant that has a rich history of use in traditional medicine, horticulture, and ecology. Whether you are a gardener, a naturalist, or a health enthusiast, the common cow-wheat is a plant that is worth learning more about. By planting common cow-wheat in your garden, you can not only enhance the beauty and diversity of your garden, but you can also contribute to the conservation of wildlife and the preservation of traditional knowledge and practices.

Another interesting aspect of the common cow-wheat is its folklore and cultural significance. Throughout history, the plant has been associated with magic and superstition, and it has been used in various rituals and customs.

In some cultures, the common cow-wheat was believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits and protect the home. It was often planted near the house or hung over the door to provide protection from harm. In other cultures, the plant was used in love spells and was believed to bring good luck and happiness to relationships.

In modern times, the cultural significance of the common cow-wheat has diminished, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of many people. For some, it is a reminder of their heritage and the traditions of their ancestors. For others, it is a symbol of nature's beauty and power, and a reminder of the importance of preserving our natural heritage.

The common cow-wheat is a fascinating and multi-faceted plant that has much to offer. Whether you are interested in its ornamental value, its medicinal properties, its ecological significance, or its cultural and historical significance, there is something for everyone to discover in this amazing plant.

The common cow-wheat is also a great plant for gardening enthusiasts who are interested in sustainable and eco-friendly practices. The plant is easy to grow, and it is well-adapted to a variety of soils and growing conditions. It requires very little watering and fertilizer, and it is a great choice for gardeners who are looking to reduce their environmental impact.

The plant is also a great choice for those who are interested in natural landscaping and habitat restoration. By planting common cow-wheat, you can help to create a diverse and thriving ecosystem in your garden that will support a variety of wildlife species. This can be especially important in urban areas where natural habitats are limited and wildlife populations are struggling to survive.

In addition, common cow-wheat is a great plant for those who are looking to attract pollinators to their garden. With its attractive yellow flowers and its rich nectar, the plant is a great resource for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. By planting common cow-wheat in your garden, you can help to support pollinators and ensure the health of our ecosystems.

In conclusion, the common cow-wheat is a great plant for those who are interested in sustainable and eco-friendly gardening practices. With its low maintenance requirements, its ability to support pollinators and wildlife, and its cultural and historical significance, the common cow-wheat is a plant that is well-worth considering for any garden.

Some Facts About Common Cow-wheat

Here are some key facts about Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense):

  1. Botanical Classification: Common Cow-wheat is a flowering plant belonging to the Orobanchaceae family. It's a hemiparasitic plant that derives some nutrients from the roots of other plants.

  2. Appearance: The plant features delicate, tubular, yellow flowers with a purple upper lip, arranged in a terminal spike. The leaves are narrow and opposite along the stem.

  3. Habitat: It is commonly found in grasslands, woodland edges, open forests, heathlands, and meadows, favoring partially shaded areas with moderately moist soils.

  4. Ecological Role: Common Cow-wheat is part of the natural ecosystem, contributing to biodiversity by providing nectar for pollinators like bees and butterflies.

  5. Season: Typically flowering from late spring to early summer, it adds a splash of color to the landscape during this time.

  6. Distribution: It's found in various parts of Europe and parts of Asia, including the UK, particularly in upland and lowland regions.

  7. Parasitic Behavior: While it photosynthesizes, Common Cow-wheat also taps into the roots of nearby plants to obtain some of its nutrients, functioning as a semi-parasitic species.

  8. Cultural Significance: While not traditionally used for culinary or medicinal purposes, Common Cow-wheat holds value as a wildflower, contributing to the visual appeal of natural landscapes.

  9. Conservation: In certain regions, efforts are made to protect and conserve its habitat as it plays a role in supporting local ecosystems and biodiversity.

  10. Adaptability: This plant can thrive in different conditions, displaying resilience in various habitats, adding to its ecological significance.

These facts help to understand the ecological role and the characteristics of Common Cow-wheat within its natural habitat.


Common Cow-wheat filmed on Hutton Roof, Cumbria on the 28th May 2023 and 9th July 2023.


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Distribution Map

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