What Is Foxtail Millet?


Foxtail millet, which is known botanically as Setaria italica, is an annual grass. It is also commonly known as Italian millet and German millet. Foxtail millet has been cultivated in China for more than four millenniums, and was introduced to the United States by Europeans in 1849. It is a warm-weather crop, and its seeds are used as bird feed. Foxtail millet is used as pasture, hay and green fodder.


In ideal conditions, foxtail millet can grow up to 5 feet in height. It is leafy, vertical and has slender stems. Its seed head is a hairy, dense and thick panicle that can grow to be between 2 and 12 inches in length. Foxtail millet has tiny seeds that are less than 2 mm in diameter.

Ornamental Uses

Foxtail millet is becoming more common as an ornamental grass in residential gardens. This is partially due to the fact that it is simple to cultivate. Foxtail millet seed heads that do not mature can be used for dried flower arrangements. This can be done by cutting the stems off from the base when the seed heads are still green. A group of stems can be hung upside down in a warm space until they become fully dry. Make sure to keep the stems away from direct sunlight during this time. The stems should be cut to be the same length as the vase.

Diseases and Pests

Some of the diseases that can affect foxtail millet include head blast and leaf diseases that result from Magnaporthe grisea (fungus), green ear resulting from Sclerospora graminicola (plant pathogen), and smut disease due to Ustilago crameri (kernel smut). When foxtail millet is unharvested, it can be prone to being attacked by rodents and birds.


Foxtail millet is cultivated for cereal grains. The grains are round and tiny, and have a nutty and slightly sweet flavoring. They are often used to produce gluten-free foods, since foxtail millet does not contain gluten. It has an abundance of manganese, iron, B vitamins, tryptophan and phosphorus. However, in the United States it is still grown primarily for birdseed, silage and hay.


Foxtail millet is generally planted toward the end of the spring, as it is a warm-season crop. When harvested for silage or for hay, it can be done in between 65 and 70 days. For harvesting grain, it can be done in approximately 75 to 90 days. Foxtail millet matures quickly and makes good use of water that is available, making it ideal for cultivation in dry climates.

Keywords: foxtail millet, foxtail millet grass, Italian millet

About this Author

Isabel Prontes is a freelance writer and traveler residing in Manhattan, NY. She has traveled to five continents and counting. Her work has appeared on a number of websites, such as Travels, eHow.com and "Happy Living Magazine." Prontes has a professional background in public relations; she received a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Pace University.