Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Lupinus albus (Linn.)
Family: N.O. Leguminosae

Synonyms: (French) Lupin. (German) Wolfsbohne.
Parts Used: Seeds, herb.

The Lupinus are a large genus of handsome plants, represented in Europe, Asia and North and South America, the poisonous properties of which are apparently very irregularly and unequally distributed.

A number of the species are cultivated only as ornamental plants, but others are grown for fodder, and if not over-fed, are found highly nutritive and wholesome. If the seeds of certain species are eaten in a more or less mature condition, poisoning is liable to occur, great numbers of animals sometimes being affected. These poisoning accidents have occurred in Europe and in the United States.

The species best known - as fodder - is the WHITE LUPIN of cultivation, Lupinus albus (Linn.) (French, Lupin; German, Wolfsbohne), native of Southern Europe and adjacent Asia, a plant of about 2 feet high, with leaves cut palmately into five or seven divisions, 1 to 2 inches long, smooth above, and white, hairy, beneath. The flowers are in terminal racemes, on short footstalks, white and rather large, the pod 3 to 4 inches long, flattish, containing three to six white, circular, flattened seeds, which have a bitter taste.

History: It is probably of Egyptian or East Mediterranean origin, and has been cultivated since the days of the ancient Egyptians. It is now very extensively used in Italy and Sicily, for forage, for ploughing-in to enrich the land, and for its seeds.

John Parkinson attributed wonderful virtues to the plant.

Many women, he says 'doe use the meale of Lupines mingled with the gall of a goate and some juyce of Lemons to make into a forme of a soft ointment.' He says that the burning of Lupin seeds drives away gnats. Culpepper says they are governed by Mars in Ares: 'The seeds, somewhat bitter in taste, opening and cleansing, good to destroy worms. Outwardly they are used against deformities of the skin, scabby ulcers, scald heads, and other cutaneous distempers.' This Lupin was cultivated by the Romans as an article of food. Pliny says: 'No kind of fodder is more wholesome and light of digestion than the White Lupine, when eaten dry. If taken commonly at meals, it will contribute a fresh colour and a cheerful countenance.' Virgil, however, Dr. Fernie tells us (Herbal Simples, 1897), designated it 'tristis Lupinus,' the sad Lupine. Dr. Fernie further states: 'The seeds were used as pieces of money by Roman actors in their plays and comedies, whence came the saying "nummus lupinus" - a spurious bit of money.' The YELLOW LUPIN, also a native of Southern Europe and Western Asia, is called Lupin luteus from its yellow flowers. The BLUEFLOWERED SPECIES of the North-eastern United States is Lupinus perennis (Linn.), the WILD or BLUE BEAN. In the Western United and southward into the Andes, the species are very numerous.

Cultivation: If grown from seed, Lupins do not often come true to type, but if propagated, they will remain true. They must be isolated, owing to insects which might cross the pollen.

Lupins cross readily, hence isolation for propagation is absolutely necessary.

To intensify their colouring, sulphate of ammonia and sulphate of iron may both be employed.

Climatic conditions also more or less affect their colouring.

In a recent note in The Western Gazette (May 18, 1923) Lupins were spoken of as probably the best crop for light land, such as the poor land on the Suffolk coast, where Lupin growing is extending, as also on similar land in the northern part of Nottinghamshire.

In Suffolk the Blue Lupin is the local variety, and anyone travelling through that country in July will see whole fields devoted to it.

The great value of the plant lies in its capacity for growing luxuriantly on land which is so light and sandy that hardly anything else will thrive. Being a leguminous crop, it assimilates the free nitrogen of the air, greatly enriching the soil; and on light land it is probably quite the best plant we have for green manuring.

Constituents: The bitter principle Lupinin is a glucoside occurring in yellowish needles. On boiling with dilute acids, it is decomposed into Lupigenin and a fermentable glucose.

Willstatter described the following alkaloids as occurring in the different species: Lupinine, a crystalline powder and Lupinidine, a syrupy liquid in LUPINUS LUTEUS and L. NIGER. Lupanine in L. ALBUS, L. ANGUSTIFOLIUS and L. PERENNIS, a pale yellow, syrupy fluid of an intensely bitter taste. E. Schmidt affirmed that the alkaloid of the seeds of L. albus is not the same as that of the herbage. A carbohydrate analogous to dextrin has been discovered in L. luteus.

According to Schwartz (1906) the seeds of LUPINUS ARABICUS contain a crystalline substance to which he gave the name of Magolan, which is a useful remedy in diabetes mellitus.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The bruised seeds of White Lupine, after soaking in water, are sometimes used as an external application to ulcers, etc., and internally are said to be anthelmintic, diuretic and emmenagogue.

In 1917 a 'Lupin' banquet was given in Hamburg at a botanical gathering, at which a German Professor, Dr. Thoms, described the multifarious uses to which the Lupin might be put. At a table covered with a tablecloth of Lupin fibre, Lupin soup was served; after the soup came Lupin beefsteak, roasted in Lupin oil and seasoned with Lupin extract, then bread containing 20 per cent of Lupin, Lupin margarine and cheese of Lupin albumen, and finally Lupin liqueur and Lupin coffee. Lupin soap served for washing the hands, while Lupin-fibre paper and envelopes with Lupin adhesive were available for writing.

Other Species:
L. arboreus (the Tree Lupin), from California and Oregon, will, when well trained, produce a branching stem several feet in height that will live through four or five years, forming a trunk of light soft wood of the thickness of a man's arm.

L. polyphyllus and a few allied species from the same country are tall, erect, herbaceous perennials with very handsome richlycoloured spikes of flowers, which have become permanent inmates of our gardens.

Correction/Update - 2/16/01
Although the commercial cropping of lupins is very new, lupin seed has been used as a food since ancient times. According to Gladstones (1977), the Mediterranean white lupin (Lupinus albus L.) has been used as a subsistence crop for three thousand years or more and the pearl lupin (L. mutabilis Sweet.) has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Andean Highlands of South America. Gladstones (1977) also observed that yellow lupin (L. luteus L.), narrow-leafed lupin (L. angustifolius L.) and the white lupin (L. albus L.) are used as green manure crops in traditional agricultural systems in Morocco and Iberia (Gladstones, 1974), which indicates that the cultivation of these species may have ancient origins. Bitter (high alkaloid) narrow-leafed lupins were first introduced into Northern Europe around 1850 and quickly became the basis of the Saxony Merino Industry. A severe outbreak of lupinosis in 1870 limited their use for grazing (Gladstones, 1977).

Lupinosis was first recognised in Germany in 1872, when many sheep died from grazing mature lupin stems, and a few years later it was suggested by German scientists that a mycotoxin may be responsible (Allen, 1986). Since then, lupinosis has been reported in the United States of America (Ostazeski and Wells, 1962), Poland (Kochman, 1957), New Zealand (Allen, 1986), Australia (Gardiner et al., 1967) and South Africa (Van Warmelo, 1970). Although many animals have been diagnosed with lupinosis, sheep are particularly susceptible and are responsible for almost all of the economic losses caused by the disease in Western Australia (Allen, 1986).

Although it had been suggested, a century earlier, that a fungal toxin might be implicated in the disease, it was not until 1966 that Dr. Gardiner demonstrated that non-toxic lupins could be made toxic by inoculating and incubating them with a mixture of fungal cultures from toxic lupins (Gardiner et al., 1967). Gardiner (1966) had previously suggested that lupinosis was caused by a species of Cytospora. This report was followed by studies that showed the fungus responsible was a species of Phomopsis (Gardiner and Petterson,1972). In 1993, the complete life cycle of this fungus was discovered and the perfect state described as a new species, Diaporthe toxica, the cause of lupinosis in sheep (Williamson, 1993; Williamson et al, 1994)

Williamson, PM. 1993. Processes Involved in the Infection of Narrow-Leafed Lupins by Phomopsis leptostromiformis. PhD Thesis, The University of Western Australia.