Herbal Tea Profile: Red Clover

Monarch Butterfly taking nectar from Red CloverRed Clover, Trifolium pratense, has been one of my favorite herbal tea ingredients for about 30 years. Whether I drink it alone or in a blend with other herbs as a tea I have always enjoyed the reddish-purple flower buds of this unassuming plant.

Red clover is a low growing perennial, native to northwest Africa, Asia, and Europe. It has since been naturalized and cultivated in many parts of the world, including North America.

Red clover is an herbaceous plant that can grow as an annual or a short-lived perennial. It  grows 1-2 feet in height from a central crown. The flowers are grouped together in a dense head (inflorescence) and are mostly visited by honey bees, and native bumblebees and butterflies.

The leaves have three parts (trifoliate) and have a lightly colored crescent or chevron on each leaflet.

The newly opened flower heads are collected in full bloom, during the summer months. They can be used fresh or as a dried herb flower. Tip: do not harvest the faded and browning flower heads as that indicates they have indeed passed their prime.

If you don’t have red clover in your garden or in a nearby location to pick you can purchase red clover flowers, red clover powder, or red clover seeds for sprouting at Starwest Botanicals.

As a member of the pea family red clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, it’s roots can break up heavy clay soils, and provide organic biomass when plowed in to improve the soil. If you’re a gardener, you may want to consider growing a rotating row of red clover in your garden and harvesting the flowers for drying before digging or tilling the plant back into the soil as a green manure. To plant red clover in your garden you would direct seed, simply spread the seeds on the ground, rather than transplant from seedlings since red clover does not like to be transplanted.

Druids believed that it could ward off evil spells and witches, while Medieval Christians believed that the three lobbed leaves were associated with the trinity and the four lobbed leaves as a symbol of the cross.

Folk herbalists have regularly recommend red clover for many hormonal imbalances for women.

Red clover is also commonly used as an alterative herb to support skin health, both through internal and external use, and is also considered a mild lymphatic.

The flowers however make a wonderful and nutritious ingredient in herbal tea, adding a light, sweet flavor along with its abundant medicinal properties.

Red clover flowers may also be integrated into a salve or balm and is traditionally used to support healthy skin. Herbalists use it for a variety of skin ailments.

Red clover has been historically used for scrofula, which is a disease of lymphatic swellings related to a form of tuberculosis.

Red clover is commonly combined in herbal formulas with four of my other favorite alterative herbs: dandelion, burdock, chickweed, and stinging nettles.

In some clinical trials, red clover has shown to support a healthy menopause by reducing symptoms. However, these results are disputed by similar clinical trials. As such, more research is necessary in order to completely understand the efficacy of the herb. Some studies have also shown that red clover may help to support cardiovascular health in women to a modest degree. Take note though that the studies performed are of isolated ingredients in red clover, it would be of great benefit if instead of isolated ingredients they studied red clovers compounds as a whole as there is likely a big difference in the benefits this lovely plant provides.

Herbal sources of isoflavones include red clover (Trifolium pratense, Fabaceae) and alfalfa (Medicago sativa, Fabaceae).

Coumestrol is a phytoestrogen found in high concentrations in sprouted soy and red clover seeds and to a lesser extent in non-sprouted beans and peas.

We don not have historic or clinical evidence of the other clovers (Trifolium spp.), such as white clover, as being used in similar ways as red clover. There have been a couple of studies showing there is a significant difference in the individual chemical constituents of various clovers, meaning that other types of clover probably are not substitutes for the actions of red clover.

Further Reading: Herbal Books and Studies on the Medicinal Benefits of Red Clover

Winston & Kuhn’s Herbal Therapy and Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach by Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008.

Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann pg. 590

The effect of red clover isoflavones on menopausal symptoms, lipids and vaginal cytology in menopausal women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

Isoflavones from red clover (Promensil) significantly reduce menopausal hot flush symptoms compared with placebo.

Effect of Trifolium pratense-derived isoflavones on the lipid profile of postmenopausal women with increased body mass index.

Precautions

There are no known precautions. In general, it is recommended that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.

In recent years, there has been some concern that red clover may increase cancer recurrence in estrogen-receptor positive cancer. This has not been shown to be true or false. The conservative recommendation is to avoid red clover in cases of estrogen-receptor positive cancer though to be on the safe side. According to the AHP Monograph on Red Clover, “There is no in vivo evidence to suggest that red clover specifically, or phytoestrogen supplementation generally, increases cancer risk in humans. In contrast, there is a plethora of data demonstrating cancer-preventive effects of phytoestrogens overall.”

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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