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onobrychis viciifolia - Scop.

Common Name Sainfoin
Family Fabaceae or Leguminosae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Grassland on chalk and limestone[17].
Range Europe, including Britain, from France south and east to Spain, Siberia, Caucasus and Iran.
Edibility Rating    (1 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full sun
onobrychis viciifolia Sainfoin

onobrychis viciifolia Sainfoin


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
onobrychis viciifolia is a PERENNIAL growing to 1 m (3ft 3in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6. It is in flower from June to August. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees. The plant is not self-fertile.
It can fix Nitrogen.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


O. sativa.

Plant Habitats


Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves
Edible Uses:

One report says that the plant is edible[20], but does not say what part of the plant is used.

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

None known

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Soil conditioner  Soil stabilization

A good soil conditioner for poor light soils[115]. The plants can be grown on the land for a number of years, the deep tap roots breaking up the sub-soil and bringing up minerals from below. Plants can be cut during the growing season but care must be taken not to cut too low because the tap root tends to rise above ground level and the plant can be killed if this is cut off[115]. The plant has an extensive root system and is useful for stabilizing soils[160, 200]. Nitrogen Fixer.

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest  Nitrogen Fixer

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Prefers a well-drained neutral to alkaline sandy loam in full sun[1, 200]. Succeeds in poor soils[115] and in shallow soils over chalk[200]. Dislikes shade. Does not succeed in wet soils[115]. A good border plant for the vegetable garden[18, 20], the deep tap root helps to break up the sub-soil[115]. Plants are resistant to alfalfa stem nematodes[160] and are immune to bacterial wilt disease and attacks by the alfalfa stem weevil[160]. A good bee plant[200]. 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[200].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees,Edible Shrubs, Woodland Gardening, and Temperate Food Forest Plants. Our new book is Food Forest Plants For Hotter Conditions (Tropical and Sub-Tropical).

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Plant Propagation

Seed - pre-soak for 12 hours in warm water and sow in situ in the spring[1, 200]. Seed can also be sown in situ in the autumn. If seed is in short supply then it might be wiser to sow it in pots in a cold frame in early spring. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. Division in the spring just before new growth commences[200]. Large divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Native Range

EUROPE: Former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, France

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Onobrychis viciifoliaSainfoinPerennial1.0 5-9  LMNM104

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Tim Bouts   Mon Dec 17 2007

Sainfoin contains condensed tannins which have antiparasitis properties in ruminants. So the usefulness of this plant is much higher than rated by yourselves

Click link to read more.   Jan 9 2011 12:00AM

The seeds are edible, with the plant producing 18,000 seeds/pound. "Sainfoin is subject to crown rot and the stands may not persist more than 5-6 years in areas subject to heavy infection." This problem can probably be eliminated or neutralized by growing sainfoin following barley in a no-till rotation with some of the barley straw left in situ.
Garden Guides.com

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