Herb: Red Clover

Latin name: Trifolium pratense

Family: Leguminosae

Medicinal use of Red Clover:

Red clover is safe and effective herb with a long history of medicinal usage. It is commonly used to treat skin conditions, normally in combination with other purifying herbs such as Arctium lappa and Rumex crispus. It is a folk remedy for cancer of the breast, a concentrated decoction being applied to the site of the tumour in order to encourage it to grow outwards and clear the body. Flavonoids in the flowers and leaves are oestrogenic and may be of benefit in the treatment of menopausal complaints. The flowering heads are alterative, antiscrofulous, antispasmodic, aperient, detergent, diuretic, expectorant, sedative and tonic. It has also shown anticancer activity, poultices of the herb have been used as local applications to cancerous growths. Internally, the plant is used in the treatment of skin complaints (especially eczema and psoriasis), cancers of the breast, ovaries and lymphatic system, chronic degenerative diseases, gout, whooping cough and dry coughs. The plant is normally harvested for use as it comes into flower and some reports say that only the flowers are used. The toxic indolizidine alkaloid "slaframine" is often found in diseased clover (even if the clover shows no external symptoms of disease). This alkaloid is being studied for its antidiabetic and anti-AIDS activity.

Description of the plant:


60 cm
(2 feet)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Meadows, pastures and other grassy places, especially on calcareous soils. Usually found on circumneutral soils.

Edible parts of Red Clover:

Leaves and young flowering heads - raw or cooked. The young leaves are harvested before the plant comes into flower, and are used in salads, soups etc. On their own they can be used as a vegetable, cooked like spinach.The leaves are best cooked. They can be dried, powdered and sprinkled on foods such as boiled rice. The leaves contain 81% water, 4% protein, 0.7% fat, 2.6% fibre and 2% ash. The seed can be sprouted and used in salads. A crisp texture and more robust flavour than alfalfa (Medicago sativa). The seeds are reported as containing trypsin inhibitors. These can interfere with certain enzymes that help in the digestion of proteins, but are normally destroyed if the seed is sprouted first. Flowers and seed pods - dried, ground into a powder and used as a flour. The young flowers can also be eaten raw in salads. Root - cooked. A delicate sweet herb tea is made from the fresh or dried flowers. The dried leaves impart a vanilla flavour to cakes etc.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the flowers. The plant makes a good green manure, it is useful for over-wintering, especially in a mixture with Lolium perenne. Deep rooting, it produces a good bulk. It is a host to "clover rot" however, so should not be used too frequently. It can be undersown with cereals though it may be too vigorous. It is also grown with grass mixtures for land reclamation, it has good nitrogen fixing properties.

Propagation of Red Clover:

Pre-soak the seed for 12 hours in warm water and then sow in spring in situ. If the seed is in short supply it might be better to sow it in pots in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in late spring. Division in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Meadows, pastures and other grassy places, especially on calcareous soils. Usually found on circumneutral soils.

Known hazards of Trifolium pratense:

Diseased clover, even if no symptoms of disease are visible, can contain toxic alkaloids.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.