Black Medick – Medicago Lupulina: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Alfalfa’s Invisible Sibling

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As far as medicago spp. go, alfalfa takes the edible and medicinal plant spotlight. Black medick (medicago lupulina) is a less potent version of alfalfa, an invisible sibling that gets no mention in my herbal library.

Black medick (medicago lupulina) is uncommon around Haliburton, Ontario. Patches can be found trailside, along roadsides and in other disturbed areas. Around Haliburton, purple-flowered alfalfa is more common, but in Algonquin park you’re more likely to find black medick, especially on the west side.

Medicago spp. are closely related to true clovers and sweet clover. They share many folk names with these plants too. Medic is sometimes called black clover, because the yellow flowers eventually turn black. And it’s sometimes called hop clover or hop trefoil, not to be confused with the lookalike trifolium hop clovers. Before flowering, wood sorrel is another lookalike.

Black Medick – Medicago Lupulina
Black Medick – Medicago Lupulina

Edible Uses of Black Medick

The leaves are edible cooked as a potherb.

The seeds are edible too, but best sprouted, parched or roasted. The roasted seed can be ground into flour. The raw seed contains “trypsin inhibitors”, which heat will decrease or destroy. Soybeans are another food item that contains these proteins, so many folks boil fresh soybeans for about 15-30 minutes to reduce and nearly eliminate it.

Medicinal Uses of Black Medick

Black medick is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive

Medicinal tags include Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a nutritional supplement like alfalfa. It’s rich in protein, fiber, and minerals. In some ways it’s considered a weaker version of alfalfa.

Due to possible estrogenic properties pregnant and breastfeeding women should speak to their doctor before consuming, and you may want to pass on this one for children. Phytoestrogens have minimal effect yet their usage should still be supervised by a professional.

Like alfalfa, it contains the amino acid L-Canavanine which can aggravate lupus and autoimmune disorders, and there are drug interactions to be aware of. See warnings below.

Alternative Uses of the other Hop Clover

It’s another nitrogen fixer and crop cover.

Black Medick – Medicago Lupulina patch along a trail
Black Medick – Medicago Lupulina patch along a trail

Growing Medicago Lupulina

Unless you’re in agriculture, crop cover (which is typically nonnatives like clover and alfalfa) is only a minor improvement over a grass lawn. Planting prairie species of native plants over a lawn or meadow will benefit the ecosystem much more. You can get a lot of ideas from your local native plant groups/forums. My favourite is Ontario Native Plant Gardening.


Consume in moderation and don’t eat if you have lupus or a compromised immune system. Also check with your doctor if you’re on anticoagulants*, antidiabeties, hormone related medications or photosensitizing drugs. There may also be herbal supplement interactions.

*Don’t take alongside anticoagulant medications like Warfarin (coumadin) as there is a major drug interaction and these two shouldn’t be combined.

Don’t consume in large amounts if pregnant.

Consume in moderation due to laxative effect.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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