In former times, races with unicoloured yellowish seeds were the main form used for human consumption, being eaten like lentils. According to the Flora of the USSR[
], this form is called Vicia sativa leucosperma Ser. However, we cannot find any other reference to this variety, though there is a species (Vicia leucosperma Moench) which is considered to be a synonym of Vicia sativa[
Vicia abyssinica Alef.
Vicia alba Moench
Vicia amphicarpa Dorthes
Vicia amphicarpa L.
Vicia angustifolia L.
Vicia angustifolia Reichard
Vicia bacla Moench
Vicia bobartii E. Forster
Vicia bobartii E.Forst.
Vicia bobartii Koch
Vicia canadensis Zuccagni
Vicia communis Rouy
Vicia consobrina Pomel
Vicia cordata Hoppe
Vicia cornigera Chaub.
Vicia cornigera St.-Amans
Vicia cosentini Guss.
Vicia cuneata Gren. & Godr.
Vicia cuneata Guss.
Vicia debilis Perez Lara
Vicia erythosperma Rchb.
Vicia glabra Schleich.
Vicia globosa Retz.
Vicia heterophylla C.Presl
Vicia incisa M.Bieb.
Vicia incisaeformis Stef.
Vicia intermedia Viv.
Vicia lanciformis Lange
Vicia lentisperma auctor ign.
Vicia leucosperma Moench
Vicia macrocarpa Bertol.
Vicia maculata C.Presl
Vicia maculata Rouy
Vicia melanosperma Rchb.
Vicia morisiana Boreau
Vicia nemoralis Boreau
Vicia nemoralis Ten.
Vicia notota Gilib.
Vicia pallida Baker
Vicia pilosa M.Bieb.
Vicia pimpinelloides Mauri
Vicia segetalis Thuill.
Vicia subterranea Dorthes
Vicia terana Losa
Vicia vulgaris Uspensky
Common Name: Winter Tares
Flowering plant, growing as a weed in Australia
Photograph by: Harry Rose
Vicia sativa is an annual to biennial plant growing 20 - 120 cm tall. The erect or ascending stems can be branched or unbranched, often scrambling over the ground or climbing into the surrounding vegetation where they attach themselves by means of tendrils[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. It has a long history of cultivation, dating back to at least 500 BCE when it was grown as a food crop. It is still occasionally cultivated for this purpose, though the seed is purported to contain anti-nutrtional compounds; it is much more often grown as a green manure and cover crop.
The wild common vetch grows as a weed in spring crops. Particularly harmful is var. platysperma Barab., which grows
as a weed among lentil crops and is difficult to separate from the latter[
There is some evidence that the seed may be toxic but this has only been shown under laboratory conditions, there are no recorded cases of poisoning by this plant in Britain[
Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to N. Africa and W. Asia.
Hedges and grassy places, avoiding acid soils or shady positions[
]. Field edges, waste places, crops, as a weed among oats, barley, rye and sometimes lentils[
|Other Uses Rating
|Bees, Lepidoptera, Self
Vicia sativa is a plant of the cool to warm temperate zone, where it is found at elevations up to 3,300 metres. It is also cultivated at moderate elevations in the Tropics. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 11 - 23°c, but can tolerate 4 - 28°c[
]. When dormant, the plant can survive temperatures down to about -5°c, but young growth can be severely damaged at -1°c[
]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 600 - 800mm, but tolerates 350 - 1,160mm[
Succeeds in any well-drained soil in a sunny position if the soil is reliably moist throughout the growing season, otherwise it is best grown in semi-shade[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 7, tolerating 4.9 - 8.2[
Forms with yellowish to whitish seeds are the main form that has been used for human consumption, being eaten like lentils[
The cultivar 'Blanche Fleur' has been developed in Australia as a food crop, and has been exported as a cheap replacement for red lentils[
The plant can provide groundcover within 60 - 80 days from seed, flowering after 100 - 130 days, and maturing in 120 - 170 days. It can be plowed under as green manure in about 90 days[
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[
]. Not very palatable nor very digestible but it is very nutritious[
]. The seed can be dried, ground into a powder and mixed with cereal flour to make bread, biscuits, cakes etc[
]. The beans compliment the protein in the cereal making it more complete[
]. The seeds are 3 - 5mm in diameter[
Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
Leaves, young shoots and young pods - cooked[
The leaves are a tea substitute[
A very valuable green manure crop, it can be sown in spring or as late as October. A deep rooted and fast growing plant, it is winter hardy, an effective weed suppresser, produces a good bulk and fixes a large amount of nitrogen[
]. It is grown in pure sowings or in mixtures with cereals or other legumes, often with peas[
Sow in situ from late winter to early summer and again in the 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.