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June 9, 2014


My father used to tell a story about walks he and his brother would take through the big city where they lived in the 1920's. Wild alfalfa plants grew alongside the roadways, and they would pick a plant or two and feed them to the horses that pulled the ice wagon and the milk delivery wagon.

I can only wish that we had alfalfa plants growing wild here, but we have something almost as good: vetch.

I think the variety we have is common vetch. A European plant that was grown for fodder, it was brought to the US and then "escaped", and now grows wild in many places. Vetch is a legume that reaches deep into the ground and fixes nitrogen. Farmers often plant vetch as a green manure crop, cutting it down and sometimes tilling it under after its growing season. The nitrogen improves the soil for other crops.

Vetch is a weak vine that climbs up other weeds and along fences. As well as growing in my pastures, there are several patches down the road, where the purple flowers against the green foliage are a pretty sight. Without something to climb, vetch can reach heights of about one foot, but grows much higher with a form of support, like this fence.

We have arrowleaf clover growing in a portion of the horses' pasture, on the hillside where it is too steep and rocky to brush-hog. Vetch grows among the clover stalks. Some years we've cut this jungle down with a weed-whacker and let it dry, then fed it to the goats.

The flowers are small but I think they're showy. The branches have curly tendrils that find and cling to other plants, fences, and so on.

Can you see the green seed pod? They resemble pea pods. 

I've been tearing out this fence and replacing it, which meant pulling up all the vetch that has been growing on the fencing. It has passed the flower stage and is drying out now. I give armfuls of it to the goats over the fence. They like it so much that they stand at the fenceline and cry while I'm working.

The pods shrivel up and turn black as they dry. You can see that several have opened and scattered their seeds in the photo below.

I know it's considered a nuisance weed by many, but I think it's pretty. And since the horses and goats like it, and it's a good source of protein in early summer hay, I let it grow where it may. The leaves, shoots and pods are edible by humans and livestock alike, and taste rather like peas. They can be eaten raw, but most of the information I read online says that they are also good when steamed for five minutes or so, like other leafy greens. 

Common vetch is grown in many areas of the country and makes a high-quality hay when grown alone or mixed with small grains. The protein content of vetch hay ranges from 12-20%. (I finally got to the point: vetch is high in protein like alfalfa!) It can also be used in grazing, although it is best used in a rotational grazing setup since it doesn't tolerate being grazed close to the ground very well.

Disclaimer: Remember, before using this or any herb or plant, please research it fully.
You are responsible for your own health. 

Other posts in this series:
Woolly Mullein
Wild Onions
How to Harvest Yarrow
Curly Dock
DIY Herb Field Guide

This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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  1. I just found this at Tuesdays with a Twist... and I'm so glad I popped over to read it!
    I have this growing all over our very old homestead. We've only lived here about 18 and 1/2 years and I'm just now (these past 3-4) figuring out what value I have here!
    Vetch, you say...I've seen these black pods in so many places... I must investigate further and make sure this is what I have.
    Pinning this and going back to read other posts in this series.
    So glad to have found you.

  2. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead9:23 AM

    I'm so glad you stopped by! I hope you find more of value in the other posts in this series.

    I know what you mean; we've lived here ten years and I'm still learning about and identifying plants. We're never too old to learn!

  3. In SW Missouri have found this growing too. Back in Pa crown vetch was planted along roadways. I'm still looking for a local source in the area for hairy vetch seed to use as a green manure/cover crop under vine crops in the garden.

  4. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead12:12 PM

    Suz, I hope you are able to find the seed. Years ago when we lived in Illinois we planted hairy vetch, I think we found the seeds through mail order (pre-internet days!)

  5. That's fun, Kathi! We have Vetch growing wild here too. Sometimes I pick it. Sometimes I leave it be. It's beautiful when it's in bloom, especially among wild sweet peas.

    Garden Valley Homestead

    1. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead6:04 PM

      I wish had wild sweet peas for it to grow among, Sally. That sounds so pretty.

  6. Thanks for sharing this on The Green Thumb Thursday Garden Blog Hop. We hope you will join us again this week.
    I am almost positive we have this growing in our fields and I did not know it was such a good source of protein. I will need to research this more.

  7. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead6:34 PM

    And thank you for hosting.

  8. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Thank you for sharing your Grandfathers story...Love it. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  9. Vetch has always been a favorite flower of mine since a botany course I took in college. I love the the color!! So excited to learn of it's other uses. Just found your site looking for info on yarrow. I'm drinking a sun-brewed black tea concoction that has some herb tea thrown in.... i added clover heads, yarrow leaves (just freshly picked) and mint... added a nice herb-y sweetness to my tea. I'm following you on facebook now too!

  10. Just found your site while looking up info on harvesting yarrow. We decided to let our back yard area just grow as there are so many rocks... driving the tractor through was like navigating the titanic! We started with a small section and when I found there to be a large section of mint, some gorgeous poppies, and an amazing fruit called wineberry (like raspberry, but yummier!) as well as lovely patches of blackberries.... well, let's say I became a lot more interested to see what else would start growing. Yarrow, yellow bedstraw, wild strawberries, red and white clover, yellow hops, and some kind of low-creeping berry that reminds me of blackberries but are not erect. We'll see as the season goes on here in southern Rhode Island. Looking forward to seeing more of your posts!

  11. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead2:03 PM

    Thank you for following my FB page, Kristin!

  12. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead2:06 PM

    Kristin, (comment #2) - your yard sounds lovely! I wonder if the unknown berries are dewberries?


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