Description. Esparcet is a perennial fodder and nectariferous plant of the Legumes family. There are about 150 species, wildly growing in middle and southern Europe, in western Asia and in northern Africa. These are grasses, small bushes or half-shrubs, seated with abundant spines. The plant can grow in the same place from three to seven years.
Esparcet is a perennial herbaceous plant, its height reaches 30-70 cm. It has a main root, the stem is straight, its upper part is branched. The esparcet leaves are odd-pinnate, with stipules. The main petiole sometimes turns into a spine.
Esparcet has bright, beautiful flowers of pink-purple color, they are collected in trusses, the length of which can reach 20 cm. The fruit of the plant is a bean, flattened, half-spherical, less often curled as a snail, wrinkled, not opening, with one or two seeds. The fruit of the plant is very rich for protein.
The flowering begins since the second year of plant life, the esparcet flowers from early summer to early July. Each blooming flower does not live very long for about 10-12 hours. It is an excellent nectariferous plant: bee colonies can collect up to 6 kg of honey in one day from one hectare, which has up to 500 million flowers.
Honey, harvested from this plant, is transparent, fragrant and tasty, of light amber color, is not sugared for a long time.
Esparcet is very valuable in the world of beekeeping, its features are taken into account when forming bee yards in Rostov and Voronezh regions, the North Caucasus and the Transcaucasus. The esparcet grows on meadows, forest edges, among bushes.
Most wild-growing species of esparcet are very valuable fodder plants. Three kinds of esparcet are cultivated: common sainfoin or Onobrychis viciifolia (O.sativa Lam.), Hungarian sainfoin (O.arenaria D.e.), Onobrychis transcaucasica Grossh (O.transcaucasica).
Esparcet is not fastidious to the soil, it can grow even on dry soil, because it has an extensive root system, thus it gets moisture from a deep surface that reaches more than one meter. The plant is frost-resistant, it brings a rich harvest of hay.
For the first time, esparcet was grown in France from the 15th century as a pasture plant, in Transcaucasia it was known since the 10th century. The animals that were fed with this plant did not get sick.
It is sowed to loose, not harrowed soil, usually under the cover of early grain crops, slightly reducing the rate of sowing of the latter or mowing them for green fodder. Esparcet is removed for hay no later than from the middle of flowering. In the field crop rotations, the plant is mainly used as a fallow-grown crop.
It also enriches the soil with nitrogen and improves its structure; on the whole, the esparcet is a good precursor of all spring crops. In fodder crop rotations, it is sowed in grass mixtures with meadow fescue, awnless brome, alfalfa or clover. The best components for esparcet in the grass stand are awnless brome, meadow fescue, in arid regions - wheatgrass and slender wheatgrass, under irrigated conditions - a cocksfoot. In such grass stands esparcet persists for about 3-5 years.
Application. It is very popular as a nectariferous plant and is rightfully considered to be one of the best.
Honey productivity of esparcet strongly fluctuates: in central-chernozem regions, in Ukraine and in the south of Russia, honey from the esparcet reaches 120 kg, and in the southeast of Kazakhstan - only 70 kg per hectare.
Esparcet is bred for hay, green mass, herb flour, it is a valuable fodder crop.
Esparcet honey contains large quantities of ascorbic acid, carotene, proteins, various enzymes, carbohydrates, other useful substances. Esparcet honey is of light amber color, transparent, has a pleasant delicate aroma and taste, is not prone to sugar.
It is also used for medicinal purposes: it normalizes the level of blood cholesterol and hemoglobin, helps improve the hormonal level, etc.