Red Clover

Red Clover

Because of its stylized trifoliate leaf, the red clover was honored by
medieval Christians as a symbol of the Trinity, while folklore considered
the uncommon four-leaf clover as a sign of good luck. Medicinally, it is
an effective treatment for skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

This large genus of about 240 species of annuals, biennials, and perennials is found through northern temperate and subtropical regions of the northern hemisphere, and is naturalized in Australasia. Trifolium pratense (red clover) has been important as a deep-rooted forage crop in mainland Europe since the Middle Ages, and was introduced to the Britain from Flanders in the 17th century for this purpose. The roots fix nitrogen, enhancing the nutrient value of meadows. Red clover is also grown as a green manure crop in organic farming to enrich and protect the soil, and provide nitrogen-rich material for composting. Culpeper describes white clover (T. repens) as a remedy for "hard swellings and imposthumes" but this species is seldom used today, having been superseded by red clover. During the 1930s, red clover has a reputation for curing cancer; in the 1990s it became popular as an ingredient in herbal supplements for relieving menopausal symptoms. The leaves are rich in estrogenic substances. Trifolium if from the Latin tri, "three" and folium, "leaf", referring to the 3-lobed leaves which have long been regarded as symbols of the Holy Trinity. Apparently St. Patrick used a leaf of this kind to teach this aspect of Christian theology, giving rise tot he shamrock as emblem of Ireland. No one knows exactly which plant is the true shamrock; red clover is one of perhaps a dozen possibilities.

Erect to sprawling, short-lived perennial with long-stalked trifoliate leaves, divided into three obovate leaflets, to 3cm (1¼in) long. Purple-pink, sometimes cream, tubular flowers are borne in globose heads in late spring and summer.

Common Name:
Red Clover
Other Names:
Purple Clover
Botanical Name:
Trifolium pratense
United States, Europe (except extreme north and south).
Moist, well-drained, neutral soil in sun. 'Susan Smith' may be grown as a trailing plant in containers.
By seed sown in spring; by division in spring. Leaves may be affected by powdery mildew in dry conditions.
Flower heads with upper leaves are picked in summer as they open, and dried for infusions, liquid extracts, ointments, and tinctures.
20-60cm (8-24in)
60cm (24in)
Susan Smith
syn. Dolly North, Goldnet

Has yellow-veined leaves.
Height: 15cm (6in)
Width: 45cm (18in)
Plant Facts:
This short-lived herb grows to a height of 6-12 inches. The branched, hairy stem of red clover has three oval leaflets with white markings. The single flowers of this perennial contain sweet nectar; have a pleasant honey fragrace and a slightly bitter taste.
In the United States, red clover grows wild along roadsides. In Europe, however, it grows abundantly in meadows, pastures and fields and is cultivated as a protein-rich fodder for cattle. The herb is actually native to nearly every part of Europe and the Near East and was naturalized in North America.
Parts Used:
Only the whole flower heads of the red clover, fresh or dried, are used medicinally.
A sweet, cooling, alterative herb that relaxes spasms, and has diuretic and expectorant effects.
Vitamin Content:
Vitamin A, Thiamin
The flower is rich in tannins, which have an astringent and anti-inflammatory effect on the body's tissues. The flowers also contain traces of essential oil, various glycosides and phenol and flavonoid compounds.
Because of its tannin content, which tightens bodily tissues, red clover is quite helpful in treating inflammation of the intestinal mucous membranes and resulting diarrhea. It also soothes chronic skin diseases, such as eczema and psoriasis. In traditional medicine, it has been valued as a tonic for stimulating the appetite during convalescence after illness or surgery and for strengthening the blood. A tea made from red clover may control persistent coughs and is used for treating various forms of cancer.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for skin complaints (especially eczema and psoriasis), cancers of the breast, ovaries, and lymphatic system, chronic degenerative diseases, gout, whooping cough, and dry cough. Combined with Larrea divaricata in the background treatment of cancer, and with Rumex crispus (See, Curled Dock) for skin disease.
The closely related white clover is thought to have healing properties similar to those of red clover. But because of its high coumarin content, white clover shouldn't be used medicinally without a doctor's advice.
Methods of Administration:
  • Tea Infusion for Coughs:
    Pour 1 qt. of boiling water over ½ cup of dried flower blossoms (or 1 cup of fresh flower blossoms). Steep for 15 min.; strain. Drink 1 cup 2-3 times daily. Sweeten the taste with honey if desired.

  • Tonic to Strengthen Blood:
    This tea will serve as a tonic to nourish and strengthen the blood. Drink 2-3 cups of the freshly prepared tea every day over the course of 4-6 weeks.

  • Compresses for Wounds:
    To improve the healing of a wound, apply a compress soaked in red-clover tea several times daily. Red clover can also soothe insect bites and stings: Dab some tea on the affected area. Or crush a handful of fresh flowers and apply them directly to the bite.

  • A Bath for Relaxation:
    Pour 2 qt. of boiling water over 1 cup of dried flowers. Steep for 10 min.; strain. Use this water for washing, or soak in it for about 15 min. Herbal mixtures of equal parts lady's mantle, chamomile and clover are also beneficial and relaxing.

The Complete Guide to Natural Healing Copyright © 1999 International Masters Publishers AB™ Group 1 Card 41.
The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pp. 392-393