Restharrow – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

Restharrow - flower
Restharrow - flower: taken by Michael Becker, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The spiny restharrow is in Europe a well-known medicinal plant, which is mainly used for the treatment or relief of bladder and kidney diseases. The pretty-looking plant with its pink-colored papilionaceous flowers contains plenty of saponins and essential oils, which why it finds its way into naturopathic applications. In many gardens, however, the plant is not always popular because of its deep tap roots and sharp spines.

Profile of Restharrow:

Scientific name: Ononis spinosa

Plant family: bean family, legume family, pea family

Other names: thorny restharrow, spiny restharrow

Sowing time / Planting time: October – March

Flowering period: June – September

Harvest time: August – September

Location: sunny

Soil quality: nutrient-poor, dry and well drained

Use as a medicinal herb: bladder problems, bladder stones, kidney gravel, inflammation of the kidney (supportive), urinary tract infections

Use as spice herb: young shoots for salads

Plant characteristics and classification of restharrow

Synonyms of the restharrow include: Spiny restharrow or thorny restharrow. This suggests that the plant is not necessarily pleasant. Their current name, also indicates that the farmer’s harrow was used to remove the plant from the ground before plowing.

Origin and distribution of restharrow

It is a European-based plant, which is therefore – with the exception of the Scandinavian countries – found in almost all European countries. The plant is also sometimes found in North Africa and West Asia. The restharrow prefers sunny, dry and slightly calcareous sites and can therefore be found mainly in forest glades, roadsides and embankments.

Plant order of the restharrow

The restharrow (Ononis spinosa) belongs to the legume family (Fabaceae) and thus maintains a direct relationship with important crops such as pea, bean or lupine as well as known medicinal plants such as red clover. The genus restharrow (Ononis) has about 80 known species, of which the thorny restharrow (Ononis spinosa) is probably the best known species. Also known are other subspecies such as the common restharrow (Ononis spinosa subsp. Maritima) and the field restharrow (Ononis spinosa subsp. Arvensis).

Look and characteristics of the restharrow


Restharrow is a very attractive plant for flowering. The usually between 25 and 70 cm (10 and 28 inches) high growing plant has typical characteristics of a semi-shrub. Particularly striking is the taproot, which grows up to 50 cm (20 inches) into the ground.


The herb has serrated, threefold pinnate leaves with stipules. The stipules are also serrated. The side branches have sharp thorns.


The pink colored flowers are arranged on short shoots, which form relatively dense grape stalks. The calyx has a noticeable hairiness. The heyday of the thorny restharrow usually takes place from mid-May to early October. Afterwards, small, hairy legumes evolve.


The spiny restharrow emits a partly unpleasant, slightly sweet smell at the flowering time.

Restharrow: Javier martin – public work,

Restharrow and its use

In the kitchen

The plant finds little use in the kitchen. Occasionally, restharrow attracts lovers of wild herb salads, using the young shoots, which have a slightly pungent taste. Adult plants have a very unpleasant taste.

As a medicinal herb

Restharrow is a very old medicinal plant, which was already used in the time of the ancient Romans. Also Greek doctors in the 1st century AD mentioned restharrow. At that time, the plant was mainly used for kidney, urinary and stone complaints.

In herbal books in the Middle Ages, the bark of the restharrow was placed in wine and drunk to break stones with “force”. Likewise, the plant was used to treat genital warts, relieve liver discomfort (“constipation of the liver”) and spleen diseases, or to improve urine flow. In addition to internal diseases, the herb was also used for toothache. Here the roots were treated with water and vinegar.

Also in today’s application, the restharrow is mainly used for some kidney and bladder diseases. Here the root of the plant is mostly used in the form of teas. The roots contain saponins, essential oils and tannins that increase the amount of urine. In addition, the tea extracts are also used for the prophylaxis of urinary and kidney stones and for the removal of kidney semolina.

Restharrow tea – Instructions for use

  • For the preparation of a restharrow tea, it is sufficient to pour 200 ml (7 fl oz) of boiling water with about 1 ½ teaspoons of sliced restharrow root.
  • Then steep the infusion for about 20 to 30 minutes. Cover the container well!
  • Per day, not more than 3 cups of this tea should be drunk. Do not use for more than three days in a row.
  • If prolonged use, wait about a week and consult a doctor if symptoms persist.

In folk medicine, the plant is still occasionally used for blood purification.

Attention: In case of known weakness of the heart or known water collects, the use of a restharrow should be avoided or at least consulted with a doctor.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy restharrow – What is there to pay attention to?

Restharrow is relatively rare in the trade. The plant is usually only to buy in online trade or at selected herbalist. The same goes for seeds, which are usually very cheap.

For naturopathic applications, only the root is needed. Restharrow roots are available from specialist herbalists or online. To evaluate the quality of the product is relatively difficult. Some roots contain only insufficient active ingredients, which is usually due to inexperienced wild collection. So if you buy online, you should look for a good reputation of the trader and avoid private sellers in online marketplaces.

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