Melilotus abyssinica Baker
Melilotus elegans is an erect, branched, annual plant growing 30 - 150cm tall.
The leaves are sometimes eaten.
The plant contains coumarin, a substance produced by the plant because it acts as an appetite suppressant and gives some protection from grazing - it is also the compound that gives some dried plants the smell of new mown hay. Coumarin is found naturally in many fruits, including strawberries, black currants, apricots, and cherries; it also has some medicinal applications, though it is also known to be toxic, affecting especially the liver and kidneys. Coumarin is of relatively low toxicity to humans – indeed it has often been used as a flavouring and aromatic additive in foods and other commodities. However, it can be much more toxic to other species, especially rodents and specifically rats.
The fresh plant material, consumed in moderation, is generally safe. However, the dried plant material, especially if it is not dried properly and is invaded by fungi, is potentially much more toxic as the coumarin breaks down to form other compounds that can have a strongly anticoagulant effect upon the blood. Warfarin, a well-known anticoagulant drug and rat poison, is one of those compounds produced from coumarin.
Mediterranean Europe and N. Africa to Ethiopia.
Grassland, especially by the sea in the Mediterranean[
]. Cultivated or disturbed ground at elevations around 1,700 - 2,800 metres[
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A plant mainly of the Mediterranean region, extending into higher elevations in tropical Ethiopia.
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[
]. When removing plant remains at the end of the growing season, it is best to only remove the aerial parts of the plant, leaving the roots in the ground to decay and release their nitrogen.
Leaves - cooked[
]. The leaves are used as a flavouring[
The herb is sometimes used in hair pomades[
Seed - sow in situ[
]. Pre-soaking the seed for 12 hours in warm water will speed up the germination process, particularly in dry weather[
]. Germination will usually take place within 2 weeks.
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