Shrubby Trefoil

Photo showing the trefoil (three-leave) and seed pods, both of which were a part of ancient Roman chicken feed.

According to Columella (1st c. AD), the Romans fed their hens “bruised barley” seasoned with the leaves and seeds of a plant they called “cytisus“.  A little research led me to learn that the plant he was referring to is common in North America and is known by any of the following names:

  • Ptelea Trifoliata
  • shrubby trefoil
  • Wafer Ash
  • Hop Tree

From Columella:

“The best victuals given to hens are bruised barley and tares when the low price of grain permits it but where grain is dearer the small sifting and refuse of wheat are very convenient food for them for it does not turn to any advantage to give them that grain by itself even in those places where it is cheapest because it is hurtful to the fowls.  The leaves and feeds also of the cytisus shrub trefoil are very much approved and very acceptable to this kind of fowl nor is there any country where there may not be even the greatest plenty of this little tree.”

The quantity of the barley fed was 2 cyathi per bird, which is equal to 1/4 cup.

In addition to the “seasoned” grain feed, they let the birds out in a yard to “run up and down” and provided fresh water in covered troughs.


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