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Onobrychis viciifolia

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Fabaceae (Pea)
Also in this family:
Alpine Milk-vetch, Alsike Clover, Birdsfoot, Birdsfoot Clover, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Bithynian Vetch, Bitter Vetch, Black Broom, Black Medick, Bladder Senna, Broad Bean, Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea, Bur Medick, Burrowing Clover, Bush Vetch, Clustered Clover, Common Broom, Common Gorse, Common Laburnum, Common Restharrow, Common Vetch, Crimson Clover, Crown Vetch, Dragon's Teeth, Dwarf Gorse, Dyer's Greenweed, False Acacia, Fine-leaved Vetch, Fodder Vetch, Garden Lupin, Garden Pea, Goat's Rue, Grass Vetchling, Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Greenweed, Hairy Tare, Hairy Vetchling, Hairy-fruited Broom, Haresfoot Clover, Hop Trefoil, Horseshoe Vetch, Hungarian Vetch, Kidney Vetch, Knotted Clover, Large Trefoil, Lesser Trefoil, Lucerne, Marsh Pea, Meadow Vetchling, Narrow-leaved Bird's-foot Trefoil, Narrow-leaved Everlasting Pea, Narrow-leaved Vetch, Nootka Lupin, Norfolk Everlasting Pea, Orange Birdsfoot, Petty Whin, Purple Milk-vetch, Purple Oxytropis, Red Clover, Reversed Clover, Ribbed Melilot, Rough Clover, Russell Lupin, Scorpion Senna, Scottish Laburnum, Sea Clover, Sea Pea, Sickle Medick, Slender Bird's-foot Trefoil, Slender Tare, Slender Trefoil, Small Melilot, Small Restharrow, Smooth Tare, Spanish Broom, Spanish Gorse, Spiny Restharrow, Spotted Medick, Spring Vetch, Strawberry Clover, Suffocated Clover, Sulphur Clover, Tall Melilot, Toothed Medick, Tree Lupin, Tuberous Pea, Tufted Vetch, Twin-headed Clover, Two-flowered Everlasting Pea, Upright Clover, Upright Vetch, Western Clover, Western Gorse, White Broom, White Clover, White Lupin, White Melilot, Wild Liquorice, Wood Vetch, Yellow Oxytropis, Yellow Vetch, Yellow Vetchling, Zigzag Clover
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
150 centimetres tall
Grassland, roadsides.

Pink, 5 petals
This is Britain's only member of the pea family with a stalked spike of bright pink flowers. The flower spikes are thickest in the middle. Flowers come in two forms, one is a more duller pink than the other. Flowers have purple veins and measure between 10 and 14mm across. Yellow anthers. The pea-like flowers are pollinated by bees.
The fruit is a pea-like pod, 5 to 8mm in length.
The leaves are pinnate with 6 to 14 pairs of narrowly oblong leaflets (plus a terminal leaflet). Leaflets measure up to 3.5cm long and are pointed at their ends. The leaves are without tendrils. The stem is hairy, 4-angled and ribbed. Perennial.
Other Names:
Common Sainfoin.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Onobrychis viciifolia, also known as sainfoin or common sainfoin, is a perennial legume that is native to Europe and Asia. The plant is a member of the pea family, it has a bushy habit and can grow up to 1.5m tall. The leaves are compound with 6-8 leaflets and the flowers are pink, purple or white in color. It blooms in Summer, and produce seed pods that resemble pea pods. Onobrychis viciifolia is often used as a forage crop for livestock because it is high in protein and energy, and is drought-tolerant. It is also known to be beneficial for the soil, it fixes Nitrogen and improves soil structure. It is also used as an ornamental plant, it is known for its attractive flowers and it is attractive to bees and butterflies.


Sainfoin: A Nutritious Forage Crop for Livestock

Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) is a forage crop that has been gaining popularity in recent years, particularly in Europe and North America, due to its numerous benefits for livestock. Sainfoin is a hardy, drought-resistant plant that grows well in a variety of soil types and climates. It is also a legume, which means it is able to fix nitrogen in the soil, improving soil fertility.

One of the primary benefits of sainfoin is its high nutritional content. Sainfoin is a rich source of protein, fiber, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. This makes it an ideal food source for livestock, particularly ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats. In fact, sainfoin has been shown to have a higher protein content than alfalfa, another commonly used forage crop.

Another advantage of sainfoin is its low levels of secondary compounds. Unlike some other forage crops, sainfoin is low in compounds such as tannins and lignin, which can be harmful to livestock if consumed in large quantities. This makes sainfoin a safer and more digestible option for animals, reducing the risk of digestive problems and improving their overall health and well-being.

Sainfoin is also a long-lived perennial crop, which means it can be harvested for many years without the need for replanting. This can be a more cost-effective and sustainable option compared to annual crops, which must be replanted each year. Additionally, sainfoin is relatively low maintenance, requiring less fertilizer and pesticide input compared to other forage crops.

Aside from its benefits for livestock, sainfoin also has a number of environmental advantages. For example, the nitrogen-fixing ability of sainfoin can help improve soil fertility and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. Additionally, sainfoin is a relatively low-growing plant, which can help reduce soil erosion and improve soil stability on hilly or steeply sloped land.

Sainfoin is a highly nutritious and versatile forage crop that offers numerous benefits for both livestock and the environment. With its high protein content, low levels of secondary compounds, and ability to improve soil fertility, sainfoin is a valuable addition to any livestock operation. Whether you are a farmer or rancher, it is worth considering sainfoin as a forage option for your animals.

In addition to its nutritional and environmental benefits, sainfoin has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic properties. Research has indicated that sainfoin contains compounds that can help reduce inflammation in livestock, which can improve their overall health and performance. Furthermore, sainfoin has been shown to have potential as a natural parasite control method. The plant's secondary compounds can deter the development of certain parasites, such as stomach worms, and may also have an inhibitory effect on the larvae of certain insects.

In terms of production and use, sainfoin is relatively easy to grow and manage. It can be seeded directly into the field or established as a cover crop, and can be harvested for forage or used as a hay crop. Sainfoin can also be intercropped with other forage crops, such as grasses, to provide a more diverse and nutritious feed source for livestock.

In terms of market demand, there is growing interest in sainfoin as a forage crop due to its numerous benefits for livestock and the environment. In Europe, sainfoin has been used as a forage crop for many years, and there is a well-established market for sainfoin-based livestock feed products. In North America, sainfoin is becoming more widely recognized as a valuable forage option, with increasing numbers of farmers and ranchers planting the crop on their lands.

Sainfoin is a highly versatile and valuable forage crop that offers a range of benefits for both livestock and the environment. Whether you are looking to improve the health and performance of your animals, or to cultivate a more sustainable and environmentally friendly forage system, sainfoin is a crop worth considering.

Another advantage of sainfoin is its tolerance to drought. Sainfoin has a deep root system that allows it to access water and nutrients from deeper in the soil, making it less susceptible to drought stress compared to other forage crops. This makes sainfoin a valuable option for farmers and ranchers in arid or semi-arid regions where water availability is limited.

Sainfoin is also a relatively low-input crop, requiring less fertilizer, pesticide, and water compared to other forage crops such as alfalfa. This can help reduce production costs for farmers and ranchers, and can also have positive environmental benefits by reducing the need for synthetic inputs.

In terms of grazing management, sainfoin can be used as a rotational grazing crop, with livestock moved to new pastures as the sainfoin regrows. This system can help reduce the risk of overgrazing and improve the overall health of the pastures. Sainfoin is also well-suited to grazing management systems that utilize intensive grazing techniques, where livestock are moved frequently between paddocks to promote plant regrowth and prevent overgrazing.

In terms of marketing, there is growing interest in sainfoin-based livestock feed products, particularly among consumers who are concerned about the health and welfare of the animals that provide their food. Sainfoin is a high-quality, natural forage crop that offers numerous benefits for livestock, and is increasingly seen as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option compared to traditional forage crops.

In conclusion, sainfoin is a valuable forage crop that offers a range of benefits for livestock and the environment. With its high nutritional content, low levels of secondary compounds, and ability to improve soil fertility, sainfoin is a valuable option for farmers and ranchers who are looking to improve the health and performance of their animals. Whether you are looking to grow sainfoin for forage, hay, or intercropping, it is a crop worth considering for your operation.


Video 1: Sainfoin filmed at Devil's Dyke, Newmarket Racecourse, Suffolk on the 25th June 2022.


Video 2: Sainfoin also filmed at Devil's Dyke, Newmarket Racecourse, Suffolk on the 25th June 2022.

Music credits
Heartwarming by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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