Name: Lupin (Lupinus albus)
Otherwise known as: Many Leafed Lupin, Wolfsbohne
Habitat: A perennial member of the Leguminoseae family growing up to 1.5m in moist, well-drained soils throughout the world’s temperate zones and probably native to the eastern Mediterranean. This handsome plant has an erect stem containing a circlet of compound pinnate leaves that support a sturdy raceme of pea-like flowers ranging in colour from pale white to deep scarlet. The mature seeds and leaves are poisonous.
What does it do: The plant has been grown for millennia as fodder for grazing animals and as ornamentals for the garden but has been responsible for numerous fatalities in cattle, sheep and humans. The seeds may safely be consumed during the early stages of development but when mature are highly toxic. It was discovered in medieval times that if the seeds were roasted they would be rendered harmless, but as the plants were invaluable to farmers for green manuring, being able to fix nitrogen in the soil, fatalities continued.
In 15th century Italy the seeds were mixed in compounds made from goat’s gall and were used by the ladies of the court to soften the skin and remove blemishes and wrinkles.
Culpeper writes: ‘The seeds, somewhat bitter in taste, opening and cleansing, good to destroy the worms. Outwardly they are used against deformities of the skin, scabby ulcers, scald heads, and other cutaneous distempers’. Pliny recommended that if taken at meal times ‘it will contribute a fresh colour and cheerful countenance’. In the past it has have been consumed as a flour, coffee substitute, margarine and processed as fibre.
The plant has an important role in agriculture, as it will not only fix nitrogen and phosphate in the soil it will also absorb excess pesticides, heavy metals and other poisons; following the Chernobyl disaster they were planted around the site to absorb the plutonium. In Australia they are planted along perimetre fences to deter rabbits.