Scientific name:

Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.


Agronomic Legume


Bulkley - Nechako

Cariboo - Fraser Fort George


Northeast - Peace Liard

Thompson - Okanagan

Typical BEC range:

Boreal White and Black Spruce

Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir

Interior Cedar-Hemlock

Interior Douglas-fir

Montane Spruce

Ponderosa Pine


Sub-Boreal Pine-Spruce

Sub-Boreal Spruce

Annual precip. min (mm):


Annual precip. max (mm):


Seed size:


Seeds per kg:


Typical seeding objectives:

Forage enhancement

Grazing season extension

Soil improvement

PR Suitability note:

Sainfoin is not been widely used in the Peace Region, although it is adapted in many respects. It is not that competitive, and therefore is not suited to mixtures with the more competitive grasses commonly used for pasture and hay in the Peace Region.

Key considerations:

Sainfoin is a non-bloating, drought tolerant (but not prolonged) but relatively short-lived legume. It maintains good quality forage late in the season. It has a high alkalinity (pH) tolerance.

General Description:

Sainfoin is a drought tolerant, relatively short-lived, deep-rooted, non-bloating perennial legume. It can be useful in grazing systems because it is non-bloating and maintains good forage quality for late-season grazing or stockpiling. It may have a place in site rehabilitation and reclamation situations as it will grow on high pH, alkaline, thin, or gravelly soils. It is resistant to several diseases that threaten alfalfa productivity. It has deep taproots with many branches of lateral roots, and a stout branched crown. Sainfoin’s erect, hollow stems can reach up to 100 cm (39 in.) tall. Stems are very succulent and palatable in spite of their coarse appearance. There are 11 to 29 paired leaflets on each compound leaf. Seed heads are wide at the base and narrow at the top, with up to 80 pink flowers attached to a common stalk. Cross pollination produces fibrous seed pods. Pods are kidney shaped and detach easily from the plant. Seed pods do not easily open to detach their greenish brown to dark brown seeds. Seed is often used with the pods.


Origins in Europe, Russia, Turkey, and parts of Asia. Improved varieties were developed in Montana and southern prairies. It is also called saintfoin or holy clover.

Habitat and climate:

Adaptation similar to alfalfa with somewhat less drought tolerance.


Used for pasture, hay, stockpiled forage. Also used in site rehabilitation and reclamation.

Optimal time of grazing use:

Graze in spring and early summer. Can be fall grazed after first killing frost. Sainfoin maintains its nutritive quality into full bloom.

Recovery after use (rating):


Recovery after use:

It has poor tolerance to close and/or frequent grazing, and is better suited to rotational rather than continuous grazing. To increase longevity, cut or graze leaving 30 cm (12 in.) stubble and do not use during last 6 weeks before frost, and normally allow a full season rest period after use. Sainfoin needs its leaves to photosynthesize and regrow as very few root reserves are stored during summer.

Forage yield (rating):


Forage yield:

Yields are 80 to 90% of alfalfa, but the nutritive quality of sainfoin is maintained longer into the growing season than alfalfa. Yields of 1,800 kg/ha (1,600 lb/acre) in the Brown soil zone, 6,700 kg/ha (5,9820 lb/acre) in the Dark Brown soil zone, and 5,900 kg/ha (5,267 lb/acre) in the Black and Grey soil zones are possible.

Palatability/Nutritional Value:

Palatable with 18% protein during full bloom and 63% digestibility. Sainfoin is non-bloating for livestock, and its stems are more palatable than the stems of alfalfa. It is preferred over alfalfa by mule deer and other wildlife.

Longevity (rating):



Plants are moderately long lived (> 5 years).

Persistence (rating):



Stand persistence is very dependent on crown survival.

Invasiveness (rating):



Plants have become naturalized in some locations in the western United States, and may spread by seed under ideal conditions.

Competitiveness (rating):



Sainfoin is not competitive in many mixtures, but does well with bunchgrasses over the longer term. It can be competitive in the early years with mixtures such as intermediate wheatgrass or smooth bromegrass.

Weed resistance (rating):


Erosion control (rating):


Drought tolerance (rating):


Winter hardiness (rating):


Soil texture preference (rating):


Soil texture preference:

Sainfoin can grow on all soil textures, even on gravelly or thin soils.

Flooding tolerance (rating):


Flooding tolerance:

Can withstand 1 week of flooding or saturated soils in the spring.

Salinity tolerance (rating):


Acidity tolerance (rating):


Acidity tolerance:

Tolerates soil pH levels as low as 6.0.

Pests and/or disease threats:

Potential pests include alfalfa curculio, alfalfa plant bug, sainfoin seed chalcid, and webworms. Crown and root disease can be a problem for stand persistence, but the main threat is winter crown rot. Two major threats to alfalfa, bacterial wilt and alfalfa weevil, do not affect sainfoin.

Ease of establishment (rating):


Ease of establishment:

Sainfoin germinates well when planted into the soil, but establishes slowly but satisfactorily. Some sources state that scarifying seed improves germination.

Application requirements:

Sainfoin establishes best if it is seeded to a shallow depth (i.e., no more than 6 to 20 mm [1/4 to 3/4 in.] deep). Better establishment is achieved and if it is seeded alone, rather than with a nurse or companion crop.

Suggested mixtures:

Mixes well with bunchgrasses, such as Russian wildrye and crested wheatgrass, but is out-competed by grasses that are creeping rooted (produce rhizomes).

Management Considerations:

Inoculate and scarify seed before establishing sainfoin. Sainfoin lacks a specific nitrogen-fixing bacteria and is sometimes not the highest nitrogen fixer. However, it is non-bloating for livestock.