Lathyrus linifolius montanus (Bernh.) Bässler
Lathyrus macrorrhizus Wimm.
Lathyrus montanus Bernh.
Orobus linifolius Reichard
Orobus pyrenaicus L.
Orobus tuberosus L. p.p.
Common Name: Bitter Vetch
Lathyrus linifolius is a herbaceous perennial plant growing from a thick, cylindrical, branching rootstock with tuber-like thickenings at the nodes. It produces a cluster of erect, ascending or somwhat prostrate stems; the plant growing 15 - 85cm tall[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and a medicine. It has been cultivated for its edible seed in the past, and is also grown as an ornamental[
All parts of the plant, but especially the seed, contain a toxic amino-acid. It is produced in the plant at about the same time that the seed starts to develop. In small quantities the amino acid is innocuous, and the seeds of several Lathyrus species are eaten as a nutritious part of the diet. However, in larger quantities (the seed should form less than 30% of a balanced diet), it can cause a very serious disease of the nervous system known as 'lathyrism'. Symptoms appear as a paralysis of the muscles below the knees, pains in the back, followed by weakness and stiffness of the legs and progressive locomotive incoordination[
Europe - Norway to Finland, south through Britain and Belarus to Portugal and the Balkans; Africa - Algeria
Woods, hedges and thickets in hilly country avoiding chalk[
]. Moist forests, forest glades, among shrubs[
|Cultivated, Ornamental, Wild
Lathyrus linifolius is a moderately cold-hardy plant, able to tolerate temperatures down to around -20°c when fully dormant[
An easily grown plant, succeeding in any moderately good garden soil but preferring a position in full sun[
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[
Seed - cooked[
]. Used as a vegetable, they are served in the same manner as sweet chestnuts[
]. Some caution is advised in the use of this seed, see the notes above on toxicity.
Root - cooked[
]. Boiled or roasted, they have a sweet flavour and are very nutritious[
]. Sweet, but somewhat astringent[
]. The root is sometimes crushed, infused with yeast and fermented to make an alcoholic drink[
The roots are astringent and can be used in the treatment of diarrhoea[
Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in warm water and then sow in early spring in a cold frame[
]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer.
If you have sufficient seed, then it can also be sown in situ in mid spring[
Division in spring. It may not transplant well so care should be taken[