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Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia): a beneficial forage legume

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2011

Christine Hayot Carbonero
National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge CB3 0LE, UK
Irene Mueller-Harvey
Department of Agriculture, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AT, UK
Terence A. Brown
Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M1 7DN, UK
Lydia Smith*
National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge CB3 0LE, UK
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


The Onobrychis genus comprises a few agronomically important forage legume species, with sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) being the most widespread. O. viciifolia has a long history of traditional culture worldwide, but its use has declined in western countries over the last decades. It suffers from low productivity and is more difficult to maintain than other legumes but is known to have valuable characteristics such as palatability and drought tolerance. Recent studies suggest that it has several other highly beneficial properties due to its unique tannin and polyphenol composition. Condensed tannins present in Onobrychis species have been shown to confer anthelmintic properties, increase protein utilization and prevent bloating; they may also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Positive effects on wildlife and honey production could also be advantageous in the context of sustainable farming. Modern breeding programmes have not been a priority, leading to a lack of genetic knowledge in comparison to extensively used forage legumes. It is expected that potential for O. viciifolia improvements could be achieved by rigorous characterization of the available germplasm and utilization of characters derived from close relatives of the genus. Breeding priorities for the future would include enhanced germination and improved early establishment, allied to the best anthelmintic properties observed in some varieties.

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Copyright © NIAB 2011

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Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia): a beneficial forage legume
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Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia): a beneficial forage legume
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