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Spiny Restharrow

Ononis spinosa

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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, Sainfoin, 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, 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:
70 centimetres tall
Beaches, grassland, rocky places, saltmarshes, sand dunes, seaside, walls.

Pink, 5 petals
Reddish-pink flowers, up to 2cm across. The wings are shorter than the hooked keel. Pollinated by bees.
The fruit is a pea-like pod.
An upright bushy perennial plant with small, blunt-toothed, trefoil leaves. The leaflets are narrower and more pointed than those of the similar looking Common Restharrow (Ononis repens).
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Ononis spinosa, also known as spiny restharrow, is a perennial herb that is native to Europe and Asia. It is typically found in dry, rocky or sandy habitats, and it is often used as a medicinal plant. The root and aerial parts of the plant have been traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments such as urinary tract disorders, kidney stones, and rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been used as a diuretic and as a pain reliever. The plant is also known for its spiny stem and leaves, which serves as a defense mechanism against herbivores.


Spiny Restharrow, or Ononis spinosa, is a plant species that belongs to the Fabaceae family, commonly known as the legume or pea family. It is native to the Mediterranean region but has spread to other parts of the world, including North Africa, the Middle East, and Western Asia. The plant gets its name from the spines that cover its stem, making it difficult for animals to graze on.

Spiny Restharrow is a perennial plant that grows up to 80 cm tall, with a woody base and a branched stem. Its leaves are pinnate, with 5-7 leaflets that are ovate to elliptic in shape and have a hairy texture. The flowers are small, pink to purple in color, and arranged in dense clusters. They bloom from June to September and are followed by small, brownish-black fruits.

The plant is well adapted to the Mediterranean climate, which is characterized by hot and dry summers and mild, wet winters. It can grow in a wide range of soils, from sandy to clay, but prefers well-drained soils with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Spiny Restharrow is often found in grasslands, scrublands, and rocky hillsides, where it forms dense patches that can prevent other plant species from growing.

Spiny Restharrow has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Its roots, leaves, and fruits have been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory problems, digestive disorders, and skin infections. The plant contains several bioactive compounds, such as flavonoids, tannins, and saponins, that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Some studies have also suggested that Spiny Restharrow may have potential anticancer and antidiabetic effects.

In addition to its medicinal properties, Spiny Restharrow has several other uses. The plant has been used as a forage crop for livestock, as its tough stems and spines can provide a source of roughage. It has also been used as a green manure crop, as it can fix nitrogen in the soil and improve its fertility. The seeds of the plant can be used to make a coffee substitute, and the roots can be used to produce a red dye.

Spiny Restharrow is a versatile plant with a long history of use in traditional medicine and other applications. While more research is needed to fully understand its therapeutic potential, the plant's bioactive compounds and adaptability to a wide range of growing conditions suggest that it may have many future uses. As with any medicinal plant, however, it is important to use Spiny Restharrow with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

One of the most distinctive features of Spiny Restharrow is its spiny stem, which can make it difficult to handle or move. However, this adaptation is an important defense mechanism against grazing animals and may also protect the plant from competition with other species. The plant's spines can also be used to deter unwanted visitors in gardens or other landscaped areas.

Another interesting aspect of Spiny Restharrow is its role in ecological restoration. In some regions, the plant has been used to help restore degraded or disturbed ecosystems, as its deep roots can help stabilize soil and prevent erosion. The plant's ability to fix nitrogen in the soil also makes it a valuable component of some reforestation projects or other efforts to restore soil fertility.

Despite its many uses, Spiny Restharrow is also considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, including parts of Australia and the United States. The plant can outcompete native vegetation, reducing biodiversity and altering ecosystem processes. As a result, there are efforts underway to control or eradicate the species in these areas.

Spiny Restharrow is a fascinating and versatile plant with a long history of use in traditional medicine and other applications. While its spiny stem and potential invasiveness can be a challenge, the plant's many benefits make it an important species to study and understand. As we continue to explore the plant's properties and potential uses, we may uncover even more reasons to appreciate and protect this unique member of the legume family.

Another interesting aspect of Spiny Restharrow is its interactions with other species. The plant is known to form mutualistic relationships with certain types of bacteria and fungi, which can help it acquire nutrients and improve its overall health. In particular, the plant has been shown to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that the plant can use. This association can be especially important in nutrient-poor soils, where Spiny Restharrow may struggle to obtain sufficient nitrogen from the environment.

Spiny Restharrow is also an important food source for several species of insects, including bees, butterflies, and moths. The plant's flowers are rich in nectar and pollen, and are an important resource for pollinators in the Mediterranean region. In some cases, the plant's seeds may also be consumed by birds or small mammals, though the plant's spines can make it difficult for larger herbivores to access.

Spiny Restharrow in Mythology

Spiny Restharrow, also known as Ononis spinosa, is a plant that is found in the Mediterranean region, including parts of Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. While this plant does not have a significant role in mythology, it has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.

In ancient Greek mythology, there is a story about a shepherd named Aristaeus who was in love with Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus. When Aristaeus tried to pursue Eurydice, she was bitten by a snake and died. In his grief, Aristaeus sought the help of the nymphs who told him to sacrifice four bulls and four cows to the gods. When he did this, he saw bees emerging from the carcasses of the animals and he realized that he should become a beekeeper. According to some versions of the story, the bees were said to have come from the spiny restharrow plant.

The spiny restharrow has also been mentioned in the works of the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder. He wrote about the plant's medicinal properties and claimed that it could be used to treat a variety of ailments, including kidney stones, asthma, and bladder problems.

In modern times, the spiny restharrow is still used in traditional medicine, particularly in parts of Europe and the Middle East. It is often used as a diuretic and a treatment for urinary tract infections. However, as with any herbal remedy, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using spiny restharrow or any other plant for medicinal purposes.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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