Synonyms: Melilotus officinalis Other names: white melilot Nomenclature: albus = white Nativity / Invasiveness: introduced plant, weed
General: sweet-smelling herb, 50-300 cm tall. Growth habit: erect annual or biennial from strong taproot, often growing in colonies. Stems: freely branched above, hairless or with sparse, fine, flat, stiff, very short hairs.
Leaves: alternate, divided into 3 leaflets, elliptic to oblanceolate or oblong, 1.5-3 cm long, with small, sharp teeth almost to the base, almost hairless to finely flat-short-hairy. Terminal leaflet with short stalk. Stipules linear, partially joined to the leaf stalk.
Flowers: white, 4-6 mm long, numerous in tall, narrow clusters, 4-12 cm long, from leaf axils. Calyx teeth almost equal, narrowly lance- to awl-shaped.
Fruits: pods, ovoid, slightly longer than the calyx, 3-4 mm long, with raised, netted veins, dark brown when mature, staying closed, usually with 1 seed.
Disturbed or cultivated ground, along roadsides, in most parts of MT. Introduced from Europe, widely distributed as a weed over much of the U.S. and Canada.
Leaves and seed pods from white sweetclover can be cooked as a 'bean soup'. The pea-like seeds have been used as a seasoning for bean and split-pea soups. Young shoots, raw or cooked, can be added to salads or used as a potherb. Only fresh shoots should be used since the dried leaves can be toxic. This is due to the presence of coumarin, the substance that gives some dried plants the smell of new mown hay. The flowers, raw or cooked, can be used as a vanilla-like flavoring.
The whole herb, harvested when in flower, is aromatic. It has agents that relieves and removes gas from the digestive system and agents that softens and soothes the skin when applied locally. It was at one time widely esteemed as a medicinal herb, though it has fallen from favor in recent times. The dried leaves contain coumarin, this can be taken internally as an anticlotting agent for the blood. The dried flowering plant has also been used in ointments for external ulcers.
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