Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Coronilla varia - Common crown-vetch

Family: Fabaceae (Pea family) [E-flora]

"Crown vetch is an introduced perennial rhizomatous species in the Pea Family (Fabaceae) that is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa (Global Invasive Species Database 2011). In North America, it is found in across the United States and in most Canadian provinces (USDA 2011) where it occurs in disturbed areas, including along roadsides and railway tracks. In British Columbia, crown vetch has been introduced for erosion control along highways, and has naturalized in several locations in the southern part of the province. It is noticeably spreading in some areas (e.g. lower elevations of Cypress Mountain Road in West Vancouver)." [E-flora]

"Crown vetch is a pretty pink, purple, or white flowered species that can form a dense ground cover. It is considered an invasive species and is ecologically tolerant of a variety of conditions, including drought, heavy precipitation, cold temperatures, and a variety of soil types, although it is shade intolerant (Global Invasive Species Database 2011). In addition to use for erosion control, it has been widely planted in North America for ground cover, mine reclamation, as a cover crop, and as forage for livestock. (Global Invasive Species Database 2011)." [E-flora]

"Coronilla varia is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6. It is in flower from June to November, and the seeds ripen from August to November. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees.
It can fix Nitrogen.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.
" [PFAF]

"General: Perennial herb from extensive rhizomes; stems spreading, 20-100 cm long/tall, branched above, angled, glabrous." [IFBC-E-flora]

"Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compound; leaflets 11 to 19, oblong to elliptic, 1-2 cm long, pointed, blunt or notched at the tip, papery-margined; stipules free, oblong, blunt-tipped, 2-5 mm long." [IFBC-E-flora]

"Habitat/Range Mesic to dry roadsides, railway tracks and waste places; rare, scattered throughout S BC; introduced from Europe." [IFBC-E-flora]

Synonyms and Alternate Names


"The seeds contain cardenolide cardiac glycosides, which have a bitter taste (Duke 1981)." [Bajaj LOC 1]

"The whole plant contains a toxic glycoside called coronillin[9, 13, 19, 65]. It is one of the most toxic plants growing in Britain[9]." [PFAF]

Animals: "Crownvetch contains two classes of toxic constituents, aliphatic nitro compounds and cardenolide cardiac glycosides. Investigations of the first group established NPA as the toxic entity. NPA occurs esterified to glucose as mono-, di-, and triesters (Gustine 1979). Concentrations of esters in leaves and flowers may be as high as 12 and 20 mg N02/g dry wt., respectively. If administered at a sufficiently high dosage, either NPA or the esters are toxic to chickens, pigs, meadow voles, and mice (Gustine 1979; Gould and Gustine 1982).... The NPA compounds are generally not toxic to ruminants because rumen microorganisms hydrolyze the esters and detoxify NPA (Gustine et al. 1977)."[Bajaj LOC 1]

"Cardenolides (Williams and Cassady 1976; Steinmetz 1962) hyrcanoside and coronillin (a cardiac glycoside, not to be confused with the NPA ester) occur in flowers and seeds of crownvetch. These constituents were reported to have potentially beneficial pharmaceutical properties. They have anti-tumor activity and alleviate irregular heart action (Williams and Cassady 1976)."[Bajaj LOC 1]

Food Use

"Crownvetch seeds are sometimes used to flavor flour in the Soviet Union (Duke 1981)."[Bajaj LOC 1]

Other Uses

"This plant has been widely used for erosion control and ground cover (McKee 1964; Ruffner 1964; Ross and Rodgers 1968). Crownvetch stands do not require maintenance and persist for decades, thus providing excellent erosion control and attractive bank stabilization. Crownvetch is also considered valuable as a protective cover for wildlife. It is also used as a forage crop in areas where other forage legumes are difficult to grow because of low soil fertility or wet conditions. It is an acceptable forage when grazed (Burns et al. 1977) or fed as hay (Burns et al. 1972)."[Bajaj LOC 1]


"... it has limited use as a forage crop owing to lack of persistence under continuous grazing, low palatability, and the presence of several aliphatic nitro compounds (3-nitropropanoyl- D-glucopyranose esters, NPA) which are toxic for nonruminants (Gustine et al. 1977; Majak and Clark 1980)." [Bajaj MAPS 9]

"A procyanidin was present in Lespedeza cuneata Don., an accession of Sericea, and crownvetch (Coronilla varia L.), both reputed to have low nutritive values, but was not detected in sainfoin or birdsfoot trefoil, forages considered to be palatable and not anti-nutritive." [Chu PP]


"In some papers it was mentioned that the productivity of Coronilla varia under the climatic conditions of Russia reached 65 t/ha green mass (Dronova T.N. et al,, 2009); in South Africa crown vetch yielded 10.6 t/ha of dry matter, but alfalfa - 7.1 t/ha (LeRoux C.J.G., 1988)."[Titei et al.,2016] "The calculated gas forming potential of the fermentable organic matter of Coronilla varia reached 501 litre/kg VS, being lower than in the control species (514-526 liter/kg VS), but it had similar content of methane (52.5%)."[Titei et al.,2016] "The methane yield per ha of studied species of the family Fabaceae (first mowing) ranged from 2214 to 2843 m3/ha, Coronilla varia exceeding Medicago sativa." [Titei et al.,2016]


"Glucose esters of 3-nitropropanoic acid, karakin, coronarian, and cibarian, isolated from Coronilla varia , Lotus pedunculatus , and few other plants, were found toxic to larvae of Costelytra zealandica (white grass grub). At 1 % dose, 70, 55, and 75 % mortality were observed for coronarian, cibarian, and karakin, respectively (Hutchins et al. 1984 )." [Singh APB]

"However, another insect, Sparganothis sulfureana, feeds on Coronilla varia, crownvetch, a plant containing 3- nitropropionate derivatives, and seems to be relatively insensitive to the effects of these compounds." [Seiger PSM]

Love Charm

"Blacks from the southern states of America used it as a love charm. They would chew it and rub it on the palms. That would give a man power over any woman with whom he later shook hands... It is called Devil’s Shoestring there, and mix it with “snail water” (the secretion from a snail when sprinkled with salt), “planted” round the house, and that was reckoned to be infallible in keeping any woman at home. Another “conjure”, to bring your wife home, was to get some dried Devil’s Shoestring, some dust from her right foot track, and a piece cut from the “hollow” of her right stocking. Mix them together and “plant” them near your house (Puckett)." [DPL Watts]

Medicinal Use

Plant: "The whole plant, used either fresh or dried is a cardiotonic[9, 13]. It should be used with extreme caution, see the notes above on toxicity[9]. A decoction of the bark has been used as an emetic[257]. The crushed plant has been rubbed on rheumatic joints and cramps[257]. " [PFAF]


"The introduction of a hydroxyl group at the 6- or 8-positions of quercetin causes a significant shift in color, and the resulting compounds (e.g., quercetagetin, found in flowers of Coronilla..." [Lattanzio RAPR]

"It has been demonstrated that legumes containing CT [condensed tannins], such as Lotus corniculatus, Coronilla varia, Onobrychis vicciifolia or Astragalus cicer L., either as sole feeds or in mixtures with bloat-forming forages, prevents bloat in ruminants (Mueller-Harvey, 2006; Rochfort et al., 2008; Wang et al., 2012)." [Combs Tannins]

"Among terpenoids, all classes of terpenes have been found in legumes. The occurrence of triterpenes and triterpene and steroidal saponins (including cardiac glycosides in Securigera and Coronilla, both Loteae)..." [Acamovie PPRT]

"Systematic fractionation of the extract led to the isolation of two cardenolides, one of which was identified as hyrcanoside (I); three coumarins, daphnoretin (II), scopoletin (III), and umbelliferone (IV); and two unidentified compounds. Compounds I-IV have been reported to occur in Russian varieties of C. varia (1, 2), and I11 and IV have also been shown to occur in C. varia (var. Penngift) (3)" [williams1976]

"The chemical composition of Coronilla varia dry matter: 14.72% raw protein, 2.81% raw fat, 35.46% raw cellulose, 39.74% nitrogen-free extractive substances and 7.27% minerals. Coronilla varia green mass is characterized by high level of potassium and iron, but lower – of magnesium and sodium. The forage value of 1 kg natural forage accounts 0.20 nutritive units, 2.22 Mj metabolizable energy and digestible protein content – 132.10 g /nutritive unit." [Titei et al.,2016]

"Analyzing the results on the amino acid content in the fodder (table 3), it was found that the species Coronilla varia was distinguished by an optimal content of both essential and nonessential amino acids." [Titei et al.,2016]

"We found that Coronilla varia fodder was very rich in proline and glycine, rich in asparagine, glutamine, glycine and alanine, but had lower content of phenylalanine, arginine, valine, isoleucine, leucine, histidine and tyrosine in comparison with traditional forage crops." [Titei et al.,2016]

"Comparing each macro element separately with traditional fodder leguminous crops, we could mention that the content varies from species to species. The species Coronilla varia in comparison with Medicago sativa is distinguished by low content of calcium (12.90g / kg) and higher content of phosphorus (5.67 g/kg), but inversely proportional in Onobrychis viciifolia fodder. Coronilla varia fodder is characterized by high level of potassium (21.54 g/kg), but lower – of magnesium (2.31 g/kg) and sodium (52.85 mg/kg)." [Titei et al.,2016]

"It was determined the content of trace elements in dry matter of Coronilla varia, so, it included: 5.55 mg/kg copper, 26.96 mg/kg zinc, 63.69 mg/kg manganese, 389.80 mg/kg iron, and 35.42 mg/kg strontium. Coronilla varia fodder contained large amounts of iron and poor – of copper." [Titei et al.,2016] "In Canada it was determined that Coronilla varia fodder contains: 17.9-18.4 g/kg calcium, 2.2-2.8 g/kg phosphorus, 27.2-31.1 g/kg potassium, 1.7-1.6 g/kg magnesium, 0.15-0.16 g/kg sodium, 8.0-9.3 mg/kg copper, 34-40 mg/kg zinc, 36-40 mg/kg manganese, 169-179 mg/kg iron (Gervais P., 2000); in Russia crown vetch forage harvested in budding period contains 40 g/kg calcium, 8 g/kg phosphorus, 0.6 g/kg magnesium, 2.48 mg/kg copper, 14 mg/kg zinc, 49 mg/kg manganese, 105 mg/kg iron (Kshnikatkina A.N. et al, 2005); in Pakistan 22.2 g/kg calcium, 22.4 g/kg potassium, 1.88 g/kg magnesium, 14.46 mg/kg copper, 67.35 mg/kg zinc, 40.37 mg/kg manganese, 482.6 mg/kg iron (Acar Z. et al, 2001)" [Titei et al.,2016]

"Coronilla varia green mass contained: 0.20 nutritive units/ kg, 2.22 Mj/kg metabolizable energy and digestible protein – 132.10 g/nutritive unit. According to the mentioned indices, the natural fodder of Coronilla varia had lower nutritional value in comparison with traditional crops, because of the low content of dry matter and raw protein. Thus, if we compare the nutritional value of dry matter, 100 kg of dry matter of Coronilla varia contain 89 nutritive units, 990 MJ/kg metabolizable energy and 11.78 kg digestible protein" [Titei et al.,2016]

"The chemical composition of Coronilla varia dry matter: 14.72% raw protein, 2.81% raw fat, 35.46% raw cellulose, 39.74% nitrogen-free extractive substances and 7.27% minerals (high level of potassium and iron, but lower – of magnesium and sodium)." [Titei et al.,2016]


"Interestingly, some higher plants, including Pisum sativum L., Glycine max (L.) Merr., Oryza sativa L., Solanum lycopersicum L., Coronilla L. spp., and Medicago truncatula Gaertner, secrete quorum sensing mimics that stimulate AHL reporters and thus interfere with bacterial communication [106,107]." [Pinton TR]

"An alcoholic extract of the seeds of Coronilla varia L. (var. Penngift) (family Leguminosae) was found to have inhibitory activity against cells derived from human carcinoma of the nasopharynx (KB)'." [williams1976]

"The result of this study showed that the ethanolic extract of exhibited varied range of antimicrobial activity against the tested organism including gram positive and gram negative bacteria, which is comparable to standard antibiotic effect. The Coronilla varia extracts exhibited the greatest antimicrobial activities (as determined by the diameters of the inhibition zones towards susceptible bacteria like Proteus mirabilis and did not show any activity in Enterobacer cloacae, Klebsilla pneumonia and Staphylococeus aureus. The therapeutic effect of herbal materials in inhibition of cancer cell growth was shown. This study investigates the effect of ethanolic extract from Coronilla varia on MCF7 cancer line. Cancer cell line was more sensitive to ethanolic extract from Coronilla varia .The Coronilla varia ethanol extract could inhibit the proliferation of MCF7 cell line in RPMI 1640 medium. 0.6(mg/ml) was the optimum concentration in inhibition of cell line growth. The MCF7 cancer cell line was more sensitive to Coronilla varia methanol extract. This anticancer activity might be due to presence of its proteolytic enzymes [13]." [Dehpour et al.,2015]

"In summary, pharmacological evaluation of Coronilla varia extract reveals some interesting activities like cytotoxicity and antibacterial activities of this plant. Since, crude ethanol extract of Coronilla varia showed cytotoxicity and antibacterial effect, we assume that different active secondary metabolites are present in its extracts may function in a synergistic manner." [Dehpour et al.,2015]

"Polar extracts from C. varia have been described as antiproliferative and antibacterial agents, whereas the essential oil was revealed to be superior to extracts as antiradical and enzyme inhibition agents [7–9]. Currently, the content of the glycoside hyrcanoside could explain, albeit partially, the cardiotonic and antiproliferative properties of C. varia seed extracts [6,10], while terpene compounds such as phytol and -terpinene could mediate the antiproliferative e ects of the essential oil [9]." [Ferrante et al.,2020]

Cultivation & Propagation

"The roots form an extensive branching network with deeply penetrating tap roots. The plant spreads by sprouting from adventitious buds on the roots." [Bajaj LOC 1] "Coronilla varia was characterized by slow germination, seedling emergence and development compared with red clover, birdsfoot trefoil or alfalfa (Peiffer R. A., 1972)." [Titei et al.,2016]

"Crownvetch is relatively free of insect and disease problems, partly because it is a recently cultivated crop." [Bajaj LOC 1]

"Wheeler (1974) surveyed insect populations and damage to crownvetch growing in large forage fields, highway plantings, and greenhouses. He reported that 19 of 33 primary pests associated with major forage crops also were observed on crownvetch. However, only grasshoppers (Me/anop/us differentialis) and a gelechiid moth (Stomopteryx pa/pilinee/a) were associated with damage to crownvetch, which occurred on south-facing slopes of highway plantings. Other insects found in abundance on crownvetch were the alfalfa plant bug, potato leafhopper, clover stem borer, and a nitidulid beetle." [Bajaj LOC 1]

"Coronilla varia L. (crown vetch) is described as an invasive plant on a coastal sand dune system (Mahoneys Beach) in Nova Scotia facing the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. This is the first time that C. varia has been shown as invasive in Atlantic Canada, and the first time it has been characterized as invasive on coastal sand dunes. Accordingly, colonies of C. varia forming more than 90% of the plant cover occupy 8% of the total dune system and account for 32% of the area in the vegetation zone where C. varia has become abundant. ... Where C. varia achieves maximum abundance (i.e., >80% cover and ca. 200 shoots m2), it has seemingly replaced A. breviligulata and L. japonicus." [Flynn et al.,2013]

"Plants of C. varia have very robust stems that allow them to be self-supporting, and over 70% of the above ground biomass is in stems with about 20% in leaves and the balance in flowers and fruits."[Flynn et al.,2013]

"It thrives on a wide range of soils and climatic conditions and it is considered drought-tolerant and frost- and winter-hardy (Kenson 1963)." [arcioni1988]

"The crop is resistant to most root-knot nematodes even though some of them have been isolated from it. It resists most insects, but several fungi, none very serious, attack it (Duke 1981). Crownvetch is propagated by seed, which should be inoculated with a specific strains of bacteria." [arcioni1988]

Aphid Host Species; "Acyrthosiphon caraganae, pisum; Aphis coronillae, craccae, vineti" [Blackman AWHPS]

Allelopathic Plant

Coronilla Sp.

"The present interest in this genus as a medicinal plant is due to the occurrence in several species of cardiac glycosides (Stoll et al. 1949; Komissarenko and Beletskii 1968; Komissarenko et al. 1969a, b; Komissarenko 1969; Williams and Cassady 1976; Kovalev and Komissarenko 1985) and the hydroxycoumarins (Fig. 1) umbelliferone (I), scopoletin (11) and daphnoretin (111) and the furocoumarin psoralen (IV) (Innocenti et al. 1989 and references therein)." [Bajaj MAPS 9]

"As regards the production of psoralen, the occurrence of this compound in the vegetative organs of C. vaginalis (Innocenti et al. 1989) and of other Coronilla species (Innocenti et al., submitted), although in smaller amounts than those recorded for fruits and seeds, raises the question of whether cultivation for seed production or as a forage crop is preferable." [Bajaj MAPS 9]

"As a rule, mixtures of furocoumarin compounds occur in plant material. In contrast, Coronilla and Securigera species contain only one furocoumarin, namely the linear compound psoralen. Therefore the species belonging to Coronilla sp. might be more interesting alternative natural sources, allowing psoralen recovery more easily than the classical ones. The total chemical synthesis of psoralens, although possible (Guiotto 1990), is prohibitively expensive (Bourgaud et al. 1990)." [Bajaj MAPS 9]

"Coronilla scorpioides Koch (Fam. Leguminosae).—In 1886 Cardot, in a thesis (Nancy) announced that the Coronilla scorpioides (Medic.) Koch, a papilionaceous plant of Southern France, is an active cardiac poison. In 1889 Schlagdenhauffen and Reeb (Rev. Gen. de Clin. et de Therap., July, 1889) isolated a glucoside, coronillin, to which they assigned the formula C7H12O5. It was a yellowish powder, soluble in water, acetone, and amyl alcohol; slightly soluble in chloroform and ether. Heated with diluted hydrochloric acid an amorphous resin was separated, coronillein. This also occurs as a yellow powder, but is not bitter to taste. It is insoluble in water, but dissolves in alcohol, acetone, and chloroform. The physiological studies ... have demonstrated that coronillin acts upon the heart in a manner similar to digitalis." [Remington USD20]

"In small doses it slows the pulse through stimulation of the inhibitory ganglia, and in larger quantity increases the tonicity and contractility of the heart, eventually leading to systolic spasm of the ventricle. This action upon the heart is accompanied by increase in the arterial pressure, followed after a time by lowering of the pressure, which apparently is the result of failure of diastole, causing the amount of blood forced out of the heart at each systole to be insufficient to fill the arteries. The drug also depresses the spinal cord, and lowers the respiratory movements by an action which is believed by Maramaldi to be partly centric and partly peripheral. Death is produced by cardiac arrest." [Remington USD20]

"Locally, coronillin appears to be actively irritant. In Maramaldi's experiments it failed to assert its physiological action when administered to the dog by the mouth, a result believed by the investigator to be due to its decomposition by the acid in the stomach. As it has been found by various clinicians to be active in man when given by the mouth, it is probable that the comparative feebleness of human gastric juice permits of its absorption unchanged. The dose given by various clinicians has varied greatly, probably because of differences in purity of the various samples used; of the commercial coronillin the dose is commonly stated at present to be one and one-half grains (0.096 Gm.) from four to six times a day, but it must be noted that Schlagdenhauffen affirms that three-fourths of a grain (0.048 Gm.) is a toxic dose." [Remington USD20]

"Coronilla varia of Europe also probably contains coronillin. (V. Poulet, B. G. T., 1891.)" [Remington USD20]

"Coronilla species, belonging to the Coronilla genus (Fabaceae), have long been used in traditional medicine for treating cold, diabetes, pain, and as cardiotonics."[Ferrante et al.,2020]

"Specifically, all tested extracts displayed an antimycotic effect against C. albicans and A. minutes. On the other hand, the sole hydroalcoholic extract was efective in inhibiting B. cereus growth. Like other plants belonging to the Fabaceae family, C. minima revealed a good source of phenolic compounds, including resveratrol. This could explain, albeit partially, the efficacy of the hydroalcoholic extract as antimicrobial, antioxidant and antiproliferative agent." [Ferrante et al.,2020]


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