Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Red clover, Trifolium pratense, is also called Chilean clover, cowgrass clover, mammoth red clover, medium red clover, peavine clover, purple clover and sometimes shamrock (although this name is mainly used for other clovers). It is a member of the same family as beans and peas.
Like most members of Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae), red clover is a useful green manure because it has the ability to “fix” nitrogen with its roots, adding fertility. Popular with bees and other wildlife, it is a good companion plant for apples, but shouldn’t be grown too close to gooseberries.
Red clover is a perennial herb which reaches a height and spread of 2′ (60cm). It requires some sun to survive, but is content with any type of soil, acid, neutral, or aklaline, even nutritionally poor soil, though it likes a well drained moist soil best. It will also put up with strong winds, but doesn’t appreciate maritime exposure.
Cultivation and harvest
Soak seed for 12 hours in warm water before sowing where you want it to grow in Spring. It can also be sown in modules under cover and planted out in Spring. The flowers are the part mostly used in medicine. Young leaves can be collected just before flowering, flowers, leaves, seeds/pods and roots can be harvested as required. All parts can be dried for later use.
The leaves can be used as a spinach substitute and the seeds sprouted for use in salads. Dried flowers and seed pods can be used as a flour substitute, young flowers and cooked roots can be eaten. Fresh or dried flowers make a herbal tea, and dried leaves can be used as a vanilla substitute for cakes etc.
To make a standard infusion, use 3 handfuls of fresh flowers or 15g dried to 500ml boiling water. Steep for up to 4 hours, then strain and discard the herb. It may be diluted and/or sweetened with honey if preferred. The dosage is one cup of full strength infusion a day, which may be split into 3 doses.
The standard infusion or tincture is used internally for coughs, gastric problems, headache, neuralgia, nausea, ulcers and to purify the skin. There is no evidence for the often-repeated assertion that it is helpful in treating cancer or conditions associated with the menopause.
Contra-indications and warnings
Red clover is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone with a history of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer, endometriosis, fibroids or other oestrogen-sensitive conditions. It is also not suitable for anyone taking blood thinning medication such as warfarin. If you are taking prescribed medication please consult your doctor before use, as red clover may interact with certain drugs.
Where to get it
I offer a number of red clover products in my online shop.
Red clover-infused oil is sometimes available. It is used to treat skin conditions.
As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, it’s important to follow organic growing methods to avoid unwanted chemicals (including pesticides) getting into your remedies. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.