Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a member of the legume family. It is a wonderful nitrogen-fixer for your gardens or fields, as it improves soil nutrition and fertility. In our bodies, red clover is also highly nutritious, supplying us with minerals, including calcium. It is simultaneously nourishing and detoxifying, its detoxifying properties being due to its action on the lymphatic system.
Lymphatics are herbs that aid the flow of lymph. The coumarin content in red clover helps to pull fluid from the interstitial spaces and into the lymphatic vessels, helping to thin the lymph and allowing it to flow more easily. This is helpful for swelling, bruising, edema and signs of lymphatic congestion including fibrocystic breasts and swollen lymph glands. You may also need lymphatic support following an acute illness such as measles, mumps, or even the flu or a coronavirus. Supporting the lymph will help to clear the “debris” of an immune battle and help to ensure that the bug is fully cleared from your body.
Red clover is also an expectorant, meaning that it can be useful for relaxing spasmodic coughs. The Algonquin people used it to treat whooping cough. It can also be supportive for bronchitis. As an alterative, red clover can be used to support the pathways of elimination, promoting detoxification and “purifying” and alkalinizing the blood. This is helpful when dealing with diseases of “excess” including rheumatoid arthritis and chronic skin conditions, which can be, in part, due to toxins accumulating and triggering an overactive immune response.
Red clover also a reputation for treating cancer. It has been traditionally used by dozens of cultures around the world as a remedy for cancer, and modern studies have found 4 antitumor compounds, including genistein, which has shown to inhibit growth and metastasis. I wouldn’t rely on red clover alone for this, but I would include it in a larger herbal protocol for cancer support/prevention, especially estrogen-dependent cancers like breast cancer.
You see, like its cousin soy, red clover contains phytoestrogens (though not as much as soy). These smaller plant estrogens bind with estrogen receptor sites, but have a much weaker effect than larger endogenous estrogens or xenoestrogens, so they displace the stronger molecules that can promote excess growth. These same phytoestrogens can help lessen the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and night sweats because they help to provide an estrogenic effect when our endogenous estrogen becomes deficient. And, since decreasing estrogen levels can also be a factor in osteoporosis, mineral-rich red clover can help with that as well when used consistently as an overnight infusion or an infused vinegar.
The blossoms will be appearing very soon here in the mid-Atlantic, and have probably already started to bloom further south of us. Now that you know about how many uses they have to offer, maybe you will be inspired seed some in your garden as a cover crop, and to harvest a few blossoms every day to dry for year-round use. Make sure that you harvest them on a dry, sunny day when they are not wet with rain or dew, and space them out on your drying screen to promote air flow and prevent mold (see contraindications section below to learn why this is so important).
Parts used: flowers
Constituents: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, chromium, manganese, Vitamin B complex, Vitamin C, amino acids, vitamin E, phenolic glycosides, flavonoids, saponins, salicylates, coumarins, cyanogenic glycosides.
Actions: nutritive tonic, lymphatic, alterative, expectorant, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antioxidant
Indications: osteoporosis, eczema, psoriasis, acne, edema, lymphatic congestion, swollen lymph glands, tonsilitis, cystic breast disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hot flashes, night sweats, irritable coughs, spasmodic coughs, cancer
Preparations: dried flowers and top leaves make a wonderful nourishing infusion (best steeped overnight to extract all of the minerals). Infusing red clover into vinegar is another way to get the nutritional benefits. You can also get the lymphatic benefit from a tincture of the fresh flower. Topically, red clover infused into an oil makes a great lymphatic massage oil for the breasts
Dosage: as an on overnight infusion, using 1 ounce of the dried blossoms to one quart of water, you can drink 2-3 cups per day. As a tincture, take 60-100 drops (3-5ml) four times a day. But please remember that dosing can and should change depending on the person and the reason for using it.
Contraindications: you will likely read about red clover having blood-thinning properties and being contraindicated for people using prescription blood thinners. My understanding is that this is a theoretical concern and that coumarin by itself has no effect on bleeding times. It is the oxidation of coumarin, caused by mold, that turns it into dicoumarol. Dicoumarol is a potent blood thinner. So, as long as your red clover blossoms are not moldy, this is not an issue. Be sure that your red clover blossoms are bright and vibrant, not brown or grey or powdery.
- The Herbal Handbook by David Hoffman
- Herbal Therapeutics by David Winston
- Opening our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs by Gail Faith Edwards
- Body Into Balance by Maria Noel Groves
- Herb & Drug Interactions lecture by Mimi Hernandez
*this article is for informational purposes only. The information presented here has not been reviewed by the FDA and is not intended to prevent, treat, or cure any disease*