How to Plant, Raise, and Use This Versatile “Weed”

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One of the wonderful things about studying plants for home gardens is that others think a weed is actually a useful, beneficial plant. Black Medicine is one such example. You can find black medicine growing on lawns, along roadsides, and other places people don’t want it.

But this is one “weed” that you may change your mind about.

Black medicine is not just an old weed but is useful for health, in the kitchen and for improving the soil. This is a versatile plant that you should add to your list of greens and soil conditioners.

What is Black Medicine?

How to Plant, Raise, and Use This Versatile "Weed"

Black Medicine (Medicago Lupulina) is a self-seeding annual that grows low to the ground. It has yellow flowers and hairy stems. It was brought from Europe and Asia to North America to be used as crop feed. These days, it is not gaining popularity as a cultivated plant in the US because most people consider it a weed.

It is often found contaminating the seeds of alfalfa and clover.

Black medicine has many names, including hop clover, black clover and yellow trefoil, and you will often find it growing wildly in dry meadows and along roadsides.

This so-called weed is an excellent addition to the kitchen. You can use the leaves as spinach or collards. They are full of protein and fiber and are mild laxative. You can also roast the seeds and eat them. The plant contains compounds that make you feel full for longer.

Black medicine has antibacterial properties, so it is useful for mild infections and is even used to increase blood clotting.

need more? How to use black medicine as a soil conditioner? You can apply it as a green manure to add nitrogen to the soil.

how to apply black medicine

Black medicine thrives in zones 3 to 9, although it will grow outside those zones in the most random places.

Plant in direct sunlight as it prefers sun for up to 6 hours per day. Black medicine will do fine with a few hours of sun per day, but the quality of leaves, seeds and flowers will be low.

The soil should be free-draining with the ability to remain moist. Although black pepper thrives in most soil types, loamy soils with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 are optimal.

Black Medic is likely to pop up in any desolate spot in your property, and although it has a reputation for occupying an area, I’ve never had this problem. It develops a tap root, but it is easy to remove completely. It reminds me of goosegrass removal.

planting seeds

If you want to try growing black medicine and it isn’t growing naturally, you’ll need to locate seeds. Many local retailers will not carry the seed, but many online retailers such as Amazon do.

Although you can plant seeds any time of year except late fall and winter, spring is the best time to start your seeds. Soak the seeds in warm water for at least 12 hours before sowing. Keep a 12-inch distance between them, cover the seeds lightly in soil, and press down gently with your hand. Water well, but do not soak the soil.

care and maintenance

How to Plant, Raise, and Use This Versatile "Weed"

Perfect for black medicine containers. If you are concerned that this plant will take over your lawn or garden, plant it in a container. You can move it around to follow the sun, place it near the house, or even put it in a small container on your kitchen windowsill so you can add leaves to your cooking.

When you first prepare the bed before planting, dig up well-rotted compost, and black medicine will flourish. Unless your soil is highly deficient, no additional feeding is needed. Container plants should be fed once a year in early summer.

Black Medicine is fairly drought resistant but responds well to consistent moisture. Water well, keeping the soil moist, but not soggy. If your black medicine is in a container (which I highly recommend), make sure you drink water at least twice a week.

Soak well and let the water run through the container until it seeps out from the bottom. This way, the soil stays moist and the leaves are lush.

Companion Planting for Growing Black Medicine

To ensure optimum performance, try growing black medicine with the following:

  • Beetroot
  • Carrot
  • parsley
  • Maize
  • Cucumber
  • salad
  • Potato

Do not plant it with onions or garlic as they release a compound that can inhibit the growth of legumes such as black medicine.

Common problems and solutions for growing black medicine

Yes, it is a weed, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never encounter problems, although they are usually rare. Here are some problems to watch out for:

lack of strength or growth

Just because black medicine is considered a weed that can be found growing anywhere, it doesn’t mean it will always be of high quality. Lack of vigor and growth can be caused by a number of issues, but it is likely because the soil is too alkaline with this plant. You should adjust anything above a pH of 7.0 with sulfur or peat moss.

You should also make sure you are providing enough water and sunlight. If it all looks good, offer to side-dress your plant with some nitrogen-based fertilizer or well-rotted compost.

root rot

Slow plant death and poor quality root rot can occur in wet conditions. Black medicine specializes in growing in compact, dry soil and does not like wet feet. Too much water or heavy clay soils can cause root rot and promote other soil-borne diseases.

bacterial wilt

The youngest leaves will turn yellow with bacterial wilt, starting at the edges and going inward—eventually, the plant will wither and die. It is better to try to fight it to avoid bacterial wilt as there is no cure. Avoid extremely high pH soils, rotate crops regularly, and move plants outside to allow good airflow.

bacterial brown spot

It is common in warm climates and begins as small brown circles with yellow edges. The plant looks like it has been beaten. It looks sleek and discreet.

There is no cure, so pull your plants and try not to grow black medicine in the same spot for at least three years. Also be sure to buy certified disease free seeds.

blister beetle

Blister beetles eat flowers and sometimes leaves of plants. Often, you don’t know they exist until you have a problem with your skin. While they can waste a good portion of the black medicine by ingesting it, they also release a chemical in self-defense that can cause skin irritation and blisters.

Pick them by hand if you see them, but be sure to wear gloves. You can also spray them with a spinosad-based insecticide, taking care that the spray hits the beetles directly.

Harvesting and Cooking with Black Medic

How to Plant, Raise, and Use This Versatile "Weed"

In places like Europe, where black currant is common, they roast the leaves in a pan like you would spinach. Frying them in a little butter and salt is a treat.

Add the leaves to stews, soups and casseroles.

Simply cut the leaves into bunches, wash and use as you like. I would not recommend using them raw in salads as the uncooked leaves can be bitter.

You can also eat roasted seeds, though limit your intake as it can hinder the absorption of protein. If this is a concern, germinate the seeds instead and eat the sprouts.

Another great thing about black medicine is that the lovely little yellow flowers attract bees. Many beekeepers say that in areas where black medicine is present in appropriately sized patches, honey has another layer of flavor.

collecting black medicinal seeds

This is where black medicine has a bad reputation. It is an annual (a short-lived perennial in some warm regions), and has a habit of self-seeding and expanding its area. The plant produces beautiful yellow flowers in summer, which eventually turn into seeds that drop into the soil.

If you don’t want it to spread or where you don’t want it, there are a few things you can do:

  • Plant in areas where you don’t care about spread such as the edges of gardens or areas where less hardy plants can’t grow.
  • Plant in pots and containers.
  • Use the leaves throughout the season until you notice that the flowers are starting to die. Remove the plant before seeds develop at this point. You will still get a bountiful harvest.
  • Remove flower heads as they develop.
  • Weed frequently to remove developing seeds.

If you want to save the seeds, allow the ends of the flowers to die off and watch the black, shiny seeds develop. Pick the stem and allow the seeds to dry before placing them in a paper envelope.

Black medicine as cover crop

To use black medicine to improve your soil, you can plant it as an understory ground cover between tall crops such as corn. Then, drag the corn into the soil until you get black medicine. You can also plant it as a fall or spring cover crop. Be sure to till it before it goes to seed.

Since kale is a member of the legume family, you can use it to fix nitrogen in the soil.

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