Today's featured weed is clover: Red clover, Trifolium pratense, and white clover, Trifolium repens.
Clover is viewed by most lawn care “experts” as an undesirable weed so they can sell you more toxic chemicals to treat your yard (see White Clover, White Clover Let the Nightmare Be Over). I like it a lot and actually ordered seeds and specifically seeded my lawn with it. On hot summer days, my yard with be covered with pollinators gently humming their way from blossom to blossom (no pesticides or herbicides here).
Clover (both types) also add nitrogen to the soil, enriching it for other crops. White clover is handier to use around the garden for paths and as a cover crop, just because it is smaller and easier to keep in check and plow under. It should be planted in early fall and tilled under the following spring.
Like many “weeds”, clover has medicinal properties and very few side effects. The University of Maryland Medical Center gives and overview of clover's medicinal properties:
Medicinal Uses and Indications:Red clover is a source of many nutrients including calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. Red clover is a rich sources of isoflavones (chemicals that act like estrogens and are found in many plants).
TreatmentCardiovascular healthResearchers theorize that red clover might help protect against heart disease, but studies in humans have not found strong evidence. Red clover isoflavones have been associated with an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol in pre- and postmenopausal women, but other studies show conflicting evidence. One study found that menopausal women taking red clover supplements had more flexible and stronger arteries (called arterial compliance), which can help prevent heart disease. Red clover may also have blood-thinning properties, which keeps blood clots from forming. It appears to improve blood flow.MenopauseResearchers also think that isoflavones, like those found in red clover, might help reduce symptoms of menopause because of their estrogen-like effects. But so far studies have not been conclusive. Several studies of a proprietary extract of red clover isoflavones suggest that it may significantly reduce hot flashes in menopausal women. The largest study, however, showed no such effect.OsteoporosisAs estrogen levels drop during menopause, a woman's risk for developing osteoporosis (significant bone loss) goes up. A few studies suggest that a proprietary extract of red clover isoflavones may slow bone loss and even boost bone mineral density in pre- and perimenopausal women. But the evidence is preliminary, and more research is needed to say for sure.CancerBased on its traditional use for cancer, researchers have begun to study isoflavones from red clover. There is some preliminary evidence that they may stop cancer cells from growing or kill cancer cells in test tubes. It's been proposed that red clover may help prevent some forms of cancer, such as prostate and endometrial cancer. But because of the herb's estrogen-like effects, it might also contribute to the growth of some cancers, just as estrogen does. Until further research is done, red clover cannot be recommended to prevent cancer. Women with a history of breast cancer should not take red clover.Other usesTraditionally, red clover ointments have been applied to the skin to treat psoriasis, eczema, and other rashes. Red clover also has a history of use as a cough remedy for children.
Dosage and Administration:Red clover is available in a variety of preparations, including teas, tinctures, tablets, capsules, liquid extract, and extracts standardized to specific isoflavone contents. It can also be prepared as an ointment for topical (skin) application.
PediatricRed clover has been used traditionally as a short-term cough remedy for children. Products containing isolated red clover isoflavones are very different than the whole herb, however, and are not recommended for children. Do not give a child red clover without talking to your pediatrician first.
AdultDose may vary from person to person, but general guidelines are as follows:
- Dried herb (used for tea): 1 – 2 tsp dried flowers or flowering tops steeped in 8 oz. hot water for 1/2 hour; drink 2 – 3 cups daily
- Powdered herb (available in capsules): 40 – 160 mg per day, or 28 – 85 mg of red clover isoflavones
- Tincture (1:5, 30% alcohol): 60 – 100 drops (3 – 5 mL) three times per day; may add to hot water as a tea
- Fluid Extract (1:1): 1 mL three times per day; may add to hot water as a tea
- Standardized red clover isoflavone extracts: directions on product labels should be carefully followed
- Topical treatment (such as for psoriasis or eczema): an infusion, liquid extract, or ointment containing 10 – 15% flowerheads; apply as needed unless irritation develops. Do not apply to an open wound without a doctor's supervision.Although some red clover isoflavones are being studied for a variety of conditions, it is important to remember that extracts of red clover isoflavones are very different from the whole herb. In fact, they represent only a small, highly concentrated part of the entire herb.
Side EffectsNo serious side effects from red clover have been reported in people taking red clover for up to one year. General side effects can include headache, nausea, and rash. However, animals that graze on large amounts of red clover have become infertile.
Pregnancy and BreastfeedingPregnant or breastfeeding women should not take red clover.
Interactions and Depletions:Red clover may interfere with the body's ability to process some drugs that are broken down by liver enzymes. For that reason, you should check with your doctor before taking red clover.Estrogens, hormone replacement therapy, birth control pills — Red clover may increase the effects of estrogen.Tamoxifen — Red clover may interfere with tamoxifen.Anticoagulants (blood thinners) — Red clover may enhance the effect of these drugs, increasing the risk of bleeding. The same is true of herbs and supplements that have blood-thinning effects (such as ginkgo, ginger, garlic, and vitamin E).
I keep a stock of dried clover blossoms and other homegrown/wildcrafted medicinals in my pantry for regular use. You can also eat the young leaves and blossoms fresh in salad. One of my favorite summer garden nibblings to share with the boys is to take a fresh blossom, pull out a cluster of the blossom petals, and suck the nectar out of the base of the petals. It's a tiny treat, but sweet and delicious.