Red clover is a dark pink herbaceous species of flowering plant that belongs to the same family as peas and beans. It’s regularly used in traditional medicine for a wide range of health conditions, and has a host of other useful benefits.
But, while most people are familiar with red clover and some of its key uses, there still remains a lot of information that is unknown about the wild flowering plant.
Below we’ll take an in-depth look at the red clover, exploring some of the benefits of the plant, as well as the ways in which it’s most commonly used.
We’ll also look at the history of the red clover, finding out where it came from and just how it’s become such a popular herb in traditional medicine.
Origin and History
It’s useful to start at the very beginning. Red clover is a flowering plant native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa.
Over time, it has been planted and naturalised in many other regions across the world, most notably North and South America.
In folk tradition, red clover was closely associated with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity due to the flower’s threefold leaflets. In many areas of England it was even worn as a lucky charm – a totem to protect against evil.
Another interesting piece of red clover’s history is that it’s seen as a sacred herb amongst ancient Celts and believed to be a herb of immortality. Much of the plant’s symbolism is based around life’s continuous evaluation and rebirth.
In traditional folk magic, it’s also used in ritual baths to attract money and prosperity.
The plant’s value as a medicinal remedy wasn’t discovered until the herb made its way over to North America. It was here that native American herbalists found a number of medicinal uses for the plant.
Following this discovery, red clover soon became commercially popular in the early-to-mid 20th century. A number of so-called “Trifolium Compounds” were marketed as blood purifiers to help rid the body of metabolic toxins.
Growth and Appearance
Red clover is a perennial herb, so while the leaves and stems die back during the winter months, the roots under the soil remain alive.
So come spring, fresh new shoots start growing, and by summer the entire flowering plant is full and healthy again.
The herb typically grows wild in meadows and fields, or along roadsides, and thrives in soil which is rich in calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Red clover grows to around 2 ft (61cm) in height from a short, woody rootstock.
In terms of appearance, the leaves of the plant are palmate and arranged alternately along the round, grooved stem. They are divided into three oval leaflets, a unique characteristic which gives the genus the “trifolium pratense” name.
The margins of the leaves are toothed and the dark green color of each leaflet is often accompanied with a splash of pale green or white.
The blossoms of the red clover are either red-purple or dark pink, and comprise numerous florets that combine to form a sphere-shaped flower on the end of the stalk.
The plant blooms most effectively throughout the summer.
It’s worth noting that the blossoms are edible and provide a sweet-flavored taste, with many describing the fragrance as honey-like. We’ll take a more detailed look at the edible nature of the red clover plant later in this piece.
Red clover is widely used as a traditional medicine to treat a range of health conditions.
It’s worth noting however, that many of these health benefits aren’t backed up by scientific evidence, so it’s maybe best to interpret them as *potential* health benefits.
Skin and Hair Health
Red clover extract has been used in several different medicines to promote skin and hair health.
Skin inflammations such as psoriasis and eczema are treated using the herb, while other skin problems like minor wounds and insect bites are similarly relieved and healed by the plant.
Hair loss is another condition that can be positively affected by red clover.
A study of 30 men revealed a 13% increase in the hair growth cycle and a 29% decrease in hair loss when a 5% red clover extract was applied to the scalp over a period of four months.
Although studies like this are certainly promising, further research still needs to be done before the benefits of red clover are considered conclusive for skin and hair health.
Red clover is used to treat osteoporosis, a condition which causes bones to become gradually weaker and exhibit low bone mineral density (BMD).
For example, women approaching menopause often experience a decrease in BMD as their reproductive hormones – mainly estrogen – decline in number.
Red clover contains isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen that can weakly mimic the role of estrogen in the body, so for some women the herb can be incredibly useful.
In fact, research has shown that isoflavone consumption can subsequently lead to a decreased risk of osteoporosis.
It’s worth noting however, that there are other studies which fail to find sufficient evidence linking red clover treatment to improved levels of BMD. With these conflicting results, it’s evident that further research is again required.
People with high levels of cholesterol often consider red clover as a potential remedy. This is because previous studies have indicated that red clover intake can reduce LDL cholesterol and boost HDL (the good form of cholesterol).
Despite promising results, uncertainty remains around the treatment due to the small sample sizes used in the studies.
Moreover, the majority of studies have been conducted on older, menopausal women so it’s unclear exactly whether the potential benefits would similarly apply to the general population.
The high isoflavone content in red clover is believed to take the edge off a number of menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. It’s also been studied as an alternative remedy for hot flashes in men following prostate cancer surgery.
Review studies have found a significant decrease in hot flashes for menopausal women after taking supplements containing a range of herbs, including red clover.
Needless to say, it can’t be certain that red clover played a leading role in these improvements due to the large number of ingredients, but many people seem to think so.
Red clover can also help to improve other menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness, anxiety, and depression, according to a recent study.
For optimal medicinal potency, the red clover needs to be picked and prepared correctly.
The medicinal part of the herb are the blossoms, so it’s best to pick these in flowering season, preferably on a sunny day after the morning dew has evaporated.
After you’ve picked your blossoms, spread them evenly on a paper-lined tray to dry in a bright and airy room away from the direct glare of the sun.
A temperature between 21-25℃ is ideal for an effective drying room.
Once the blossoms are completely dry, store them in an air-tight dark glass container.
The dried herb will maintain its medicinal quality for around 12-18 months, so make sure you label the container with the date and where you harvested the blossoms from.
Besides medicinal purposes, there are a number of other valuable uses for red clover. One of these is to make floral tea from the freshly dried flower tops.
In order to successfully make red clover tea, you’ll need to add four grams of dried flower tops to a 250ml cup of boiling water and steep for 10 minutes.
You can also use red clover tea bags if you’ve got some on hand.
The flowering portion of red clover can similarly be used as an edible garnish or extract. You’ll be able to buy these in most health food stores or online, just make sure you follow the recommended dose.
The majority of red clover supplements are found in 40-80mg doses.
Red clover is also grown as a fodder crop due to its nitrogen fixation, providing nutritionally dense food for grazing livestock.
The plant helps to restore nitrogen into the soil, increasing soil fertility. Not only is this great for farmers, it’s equally useful for all types of garden.
To add further value, red clover also attracts beneficial insects like honey bees.
Finally, red clover can be extracted into essential oils, with the unique scent a popular choice in aromatherapy.
Drawbacks and Side Effects
Red clover is generally recognized as a safe and mild remedy. This is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as a host of other studies.
Nevertheless, it’s still important to be aware of some of its risks, side effects, and drug interactions.
Side effects are rare, but some of the potential issues include prolonged menstruation, vaginal spotting, skin irritation, headache, and nausea. Additionally, there have been a couple of reports of more dangerous side effects of the herb.
One report noted how a 53-year-old woman suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage after taking a supplement to treat hot flashes. This supplement contained 250 mg of red clover, as well as eight other herbs.
Although it can’t be said definitively that the hemorrhage was directly linked to red clover, it’s certainly something to worry about.
Another case example of a worrying side effect is a similarly-aged woman who suffered from severe stomach pain after taking a 430 mg dose of red clover for three days.
It’s said that the herb interfered with another medication, methotrexate, known for treating psoriasis. After stopping the red clover intake, the woman made a full recovery and stopped experiencing any stomach issues.
Red clover has minor estrogenic properties, so should therefore be avoided by people with hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Additionally, children of all ages and women who are either pregnant or breastfeeding should similarly avoid the herb due to a lack of safety data on red clover consumption for their demographic.
It’s also worth noting that people with bleeding disorders are at risk, with red clover slowing blood clotting.
As is the case with the majority of natural herbs, red clover can interact and interfere with the effectiveness of other medications.
Some of the most common ones include oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy medications, blood thinners such as aspirin, and many more.
Due to the wide range of potential drug interactions with red clover, and the limited data surrounding the subject, it’s always best to speak with a healthcare professional before starting any supplements including the herb.
The appropriate dose of red clover is dependent on a variety of factors such as the user’s age, health condition, and the reason behind their need for the herb.
At the moment however, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine an appropriate range of doses for red clover. Therefore, it’s extremely important to closely follow all directions for use on the product label.
It’s also a good idea to consult your pharmacist or speak with a healthcare professional before using the herb to make sure it’s the right decision.
All things considered, there are a vast number of potential benefits and valuable uses for red clover, making it a highly-useful herb. Just make sure you’re aware of some of the risks and keep your doctor informed before using it.
After all, there’s nothing more important than your health, so make sure you’re careful and follow all guidelines.