White Melilot (Melilotus albus) Identification

White Melilot / Spring / Summer / Edible

White melilot can often be found growing on disturbed ground and can have a flavour somewhere between peas and vanilla.

Common Names

Sweet Clover, Hart’s Tree, Kings Clover, Lucerne.

Botanical Name

Melilotus albus

 Meaning of Botanical Name

Melilotus means honey lotus, from two Greek words, the latter the name of a Greek plant, possibly Clover, or meaning fragrant like the Lotus.  Abus means white.

 Scientific Classification

Kingdom, Plantae

Division, Clade, Tracheophytes

Clade, Angiosperms

                Clade, Eudicots

                Clade, Rosids

Order, Fabales

Family, Fabaceae

Subfamily, Faboideae

Genus, Melilotus

Species, M. albus

Known Hazards

The presence of a mould on White Melilot, produces coumarin which is a blood thinner, therefore this plant is contraindicated if taking blood thinners. If dehydrating, always dry thoroughly and completely.  Any damp conditions will allow the mould that creates the coumarins to flourish and render your harvest inedible and quite toxic.  Do not ferment as this can also increase the coumarin content.

Could be confused with 

There are several species of Melilot and they all look very similar.  White Melilot, as the name suggests has white flowers.  The only other species of Melilot with white flowers is Small Melilot, (Melilotus indicus), but this is much shorter.

Food Plant of..

Traditionally Melilot has been used as fodder for cattle and horses, but because high amounts of coumarins can build up if it is too damp, due to the presence of mould, it is used sparingly and mixed with other feed over winter.

Bees and many other insects are attracted to the sweet nectar rich flowers.

Range and Distribution

Introduced from Europe and Asia.  Casual or naturalised in England and up to central Scotland, but commonest in south east England.


Arable land, waste ground, roadsides.  Doesn’t like acidic soils, particularly if they are wet.

Physical Characteristics of White Melilot

Erect branched annual or biennial, up to 150cm high.  The stems are round and can be slightly ribbed or furrowed, without any hairs.


Sharply toothed trifolate leaves, alternate up the stem, approximately 1 to 5cm in length.

Robert Flogaus-Faust, CC BY 4.0


White, 4 to 5mm in many flowered racemes with the standard petal longer than the wings and keel.

Kristian Peters — Fabelfroh 07:56, 18 September 2006 (UTC), CC BY-SA 3.0


Ridged and hairless, 4 to 5mm, brown when ripe.



It was once thought that washing the head of a person who has gone mad or apoplectic with distilled Melilot would drive the madness away, and if it is boiled in wine, it can be used to cure inflamed eyes!

Edible Uses of White Melilot

The young leaves can be eaten raw before the plant flowers, after which time they become a tad too bitter, although they are still bitter and aromatic when young.  They are a good addition in salads.

All the upper parts of the plant can be thoroughly dried and used to make a tea with a vanilla flavour.

The young shoots can be picked and cooked like asparagus

The flowers taste lovely and sweet and can be added to blossom jams and jellies, for cake decorations, sprinkled in pancake batters, tossed through salads and dropped into tea or cocktails.

The seeds can be used as a seasoning when crushed.

The leaves and seedpods can be used to make a soup and the pea like seeds can be used in a similar way to split peas.

Use sparingly.  Over consumption can cause nausea.  Some people report getting a headache at the smell of this plant.


The whole plant, when harvested in flower is carminative and emollient.  The dried leaves contain coumarins which are anti clotting and it is this phyto-chemical that is used to make warfarin.

It has also been used topically in the past to apply to any type of swelling.


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