The uses listed here were originally ascribed to Vicia gigantea Hook., which is now treated as a subspecies of Vicia nigricans, as Vicia nigricans gigentea (Hook.) Lassetter & C.R.Gunn[
The species comprises two disjunct populations separated by several thousand miles. The N. American subspecies (Vicia nigricans gigantea) is found along the west coast from Alaska to California, whilst the S. American subspecies (Vicia nigricans nigricans) is found in southern S. American in Argentina and Chile. The records for plant uses refer to the N. American subspecies, but are likely to also apply to the other subspecies[
Lathyrus cinctus S.Watson
Vicia andina Phil.
Vicia apiculata Phil.
Vicia commutata Phil.
Vicia coxii Phil.
Vicia darapskyana Phil.
Vicia fodinarum Phil.
Vicia gigantea Hook.
Vicia leyboldi Phil.
Vicia macraei Hook. & Arn.
Vicia magnifolia Clos
Vicia moorei Phil.
Vicia semicincta Greene
Vicia speciosa Phil.
Common Name: Giant Vetch
Vicia nigricans is a vigorous, herbaceous perennial plant with stout, branched stems that can be 1 metre or more long. The stems scramble over the surrounding vegetation, attaching themselves by means of tendrils, and often forming extensive tangles and draperies over shrubs.
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and hair tonic.
Western N. America - Alaska to California; S. America - Argentina, Chile
Moist places in California, especially in redwood forests[
]. Upper margin of sand or shingle beaches in the driftwood zone, also on rocky headlands and open woods near the coast.
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Species in this genus generally succeed in any well-drained soil in a sunny position if the soil is reliably moist throughout the growing season, otherwise they are best grown in semi-shade[
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[
Young seed - raw or cooked[
]. The seeds are produced in pods 2 - 5cm long, each pod containing 3 - 4 round seeds the size of small peas[
]. They are eaten, when young, like green peas[
], the flavour even of young seeds is rather strong, like old garden peas[
]. Some native North American Indian tribes regarded the seeds as poisonous, though other tribes would eat them as a snack. The pods were harvested when green and then roasted in an open fire until the pods started to split open. The seeds were then removed and eaten[
Young leaves - cooked and eaten as a pot herb[
The roots are laxative[
]. An infusion of the roots has been used as a tonic hair wash and anti-dandruff treatment[
An infusion of the roots has been used as a tonic hair wash and anti-dandruff treatment[
Seed - sow in situ in spring or autumn. The seed has a hard seedcoat and may benefit from scarification before sowing in order to speed up and improve germination. This can usually be done by pouring a small amount of nearly boiling water on the seeds (being careful not to cook them!) and then soaking them for 12 - 24 hours in warm water. By this time they should have imbibed moisture and swollen - if they have not, then carefully make a nick in the seedcoat (being careful not to damage the embryo) and soak for a further 12 hours before sowing.