The name Restharrow describes how the tough stems of this plant used to stop horse-drawn harrows in their tracks (plough-like implement with big teeth for breaking up clods in fields). This is the only widespread Scottish version of the Ononis species, though there are many varieties elsewhere. It can be found in rough grassland and sand dunes in the East lowlands and near Western coastlines. It has been in decline in the North East.
Restharrow has hairy shrubby purple coloured stems, sometimes with soft spines. The leaves have three leaflets which are soft and downy, with fine-toothed edges and a neat crease down the middle. Leaves grow in clusters all along the stems, and near the ends, crowding the flowers. All the stems, leaves and stipules are hairy with sticky blobs on the end of the hairs.
The flowers are usually purple-pink, turning white nearer the centre, and have 5 petals. A large upper flag-like petal, two side wings and a fused pair at the base curving upwards to form a ‘keel.’ The overall effect makes the flower look like a butterfly. Long white stamens curve upwards with small anthers.
In days of old the roots and young shoots were widely consumed as vegetables, usually boiled and sometimes pickled.