General: perennial with numerous trailing to ascending, and often nodally rooting, almost hairless to woolly-hairy stems, 10-40 cm tall, often growing in colonies.
Leaves: alternate, stalkless, with 5 leaflets, the lowest pair basal, the 3 terminal leaflets supported on a short stalk 2-5 mm long, rather definitely flattened, the blades nearly equal in size and shape, elliptic to obovate, 5-17 mm long, 2-7 mm broad, and usually minutely sharp-toothed and with some long hairs on the edges. Stipules glandlike.
Flowers: about 3-15 in head-like umbels on main flower stalks 3-12 cm long from the upper leaf axils. The umbels with a 3-lobed bract at the base. Flowers 8-15 mm long, yellow but mostly tinged with red. Calyx 5-8 mm long, the narrowly linear teeth about equal to the tube. Banner almost round, well upturned. Wings cupped over the keel.
Fruits: pods, cylindrical, 20-40 mm long, 2-3 mm broad. Seeds 10-25, brownish-black, about 1.5 mm long.
Bottomlands or wet places, including lawns, in w. and c. parts of MT. A European escape, known from ID and from w. WA and OR, and apparently slowly spreading, more common in e. U.S.
The flowers of birdfoot deer-vetch are antispasmodic, sedative, and tonic for the heart. The root has agents that relieve and remove gas from the digestive system, are fever-reducing, restorative and tonic. The plant has been used externally as a local anti-inflammatory compress in all cases of skin inflammation.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides (hydrogen cyanide). In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death. This species is polymorphic for cyanogenic glycosides. The flowers of some forms of the plant contain traces of prussic acid and so the plants can become mildly toxic when flowering. They are completely innocuous when dried.
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