Cow wheat Melampyrum pratense.

 Image courtesy of Pethan CC BY -SA 3.0 license.



Cow wheat, has been given the genus name of Melampyrum , from the Greek melas, meaning black + pyros = wheat, because the seeds made bread black when mixed with corn seeds. They belong to the family Scrophulariaceae . [ They are sometimes placed in the family Orobanchaceae }, and they belong to the order of plants known as the Lamiales.

They are a common wild flower of northern and central Europe. They occur throughout the UK in suitable habitat generally preferring acidic soil. 

Basic components of Cow wheat

Public domain courtesy of Wikicommons.


This species is an annual with slender branched stems, about a foot { 30 cm } high. the leaves are are stalkless, narrow, tapering, smooth in distant pairs, each pair being at right angles to those that are next to it.

The long tubed, pale yellow flowers are placed in pairs in the axils of the upper leaves are 1 to 1.8 cm long. Each flower is often tinged with red and tend to become wholly red with age. The leaves and flower bracts are in pairs and sweep away from the plant. the flowers are two-lipped the upper one being shorter than the lower one. The lower lip stands sharply out unlike hanging downwards as is the case with most Labiate flowers.

They flower from June until October.  They are encountered in shady corners and along paths in shady deciduous and coniferous woodland, and as previously mentioned they prefer acidic soils. 

Cow wheat flowers

 Image courtesy of Meneerke bloem CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


General information.

The seeds of this plant are attractive to ants which carry them away to their nests and in doing so help in the dispersal of the seeds. The plant was not used in medicine as far as I am aware. Indeed, Dodonaeus, informs us that  " the seeds of this herb taken in meate or drinke troubleth the braynes causing headacheand drunkenness.

It is far less glamourous than the Field cow wheat { Melampyrum arvensis} in appearance  however that species is quite rare in the UK and identification is therefore not an issue. They are superficially similar to Yellow rattle {see content banners above scroll down to view}.

The more glamourous flowers of the Field cow wheat.

Melampyrum arvense (inflorescense).jpg

Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert  CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Image taken in Belgium.

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