Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Melilot, Melilotus officinalis (syn. Melilotus arvensis), is also called common melilot, hart’s tree, hay flowers, king’s clover, ribbed melilot, sweet clover, sweet lucerne, wild laburnum, yellow melilot and yellow sweet clover (there is also a white sweet clover, M. albus, which is very similar in appearance but with white flowers). In some parts of the world it is considered invasive, though as it is annual/biennial, this should not be too much of a problem with proper cultivation.
It is not closely related to red clover and other clovers or to alfalfa (sometimes called lucerne), although it is in the same family, Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae). All the members of this family have the ability to fix nitrogen with their roots, and are used both as green manures and cattle fodder.
Melilot is quite a tall plant, a native of Europe and East Asia, reaching around 4 feet (1.2m) in height. It will grow in any soil, so long as it is well drained, even heavy clay, and tolerates drought. It will not grow in full shade.
The root, shoots, leaves and seedpods are all edible, and the dried leaves were once used as a vanilla-like flavoring, but this is inadvisable because of the high coumarin content if dried incorrectly, though the fresh herb is quite safe. Use it immediately it has been gathered, as the chemical reaction which makes the coumarin starts when it begins to spoil. Coumarin is used in rat poison, and is best left for that purpose.
Do not dry your own melilot for use medicinally. If you must use it dried, buy supplies from a registered herbalist. Melilot is not suitable for anyone on anti-coagulants or with poor blood clotting. Caution: do not take more than the stated dose. Overdosing may cause vomiting/other symptoms of poisoning.
Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of the whole fresh herb to 500ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Leave to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours then strain off and discard the herb.
To make a poultice, wrap a quantity of the fresh herb in a bandage and soak in very hot water. Wring out and apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the water (which needs to be kept hot) whenever it grows cold.
Internally, a standard infusion is used to treat COPD, colic, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), hemorrhoids (“piles“), insomnia, intestinal disorders, painful congestive menstruation, nervous tension, neuralgia, palpitations, varicose veins and stomach problems. Externally it can be used as an astringent, an eyewash for inflammation, and a wash for wounds, to treat boils, erysipelas (inflammation of the skin and mucous membranes), rheumatic pains, severe bruising and swollen joints. An infusion made from flowering tops is effective against conjunctivitis. Finally, a poultice can be used to treat boils and similar skin eruptions, headaches, milk knots and rheumatic/arthritic pain.
As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, melilot must be grown organically to ensure the purity of the active constituents. To find out more about growing organic melilot visit the Gardenzone.