Red Clover

Trifolium pratense

Common Names
Wild clover, meadow trefoil, bee bread, trefoil, cow grass, purple clover, and three-leafed grass


Parts Used
Flowers


Herbal Actions

Alterative, lymphatic, nutritive, expectorant, mild antispasmodic, mild diuretic, phytoestrogenic, antioxidant, antiturmoral, anti-inflammatory and vulnerary.

Energetics
Sweet, cooling.

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Red Clover ~ the great purifier

Beloved by bees and herbalists since the dawn of their existence Red clover is one of our most famous herbs used in the treatment of cancers, skin conditions, respiratory infections, lymph swellings, and reproductive disorders due to its alterative action. An alterative is an herb that detoxifies the system by "purifying the blood." Blood purifiers are the old term for herbs that help with the cleanup of metabolic and extra cellular waste. This deep level housekeeping shows itself most often in the quality of the skin. Whether or not the body is able to efficiently move metabolic waste through the normal channels of elimination (liver, kidneys, intestines), will be reflected in the health of the skin. 

Red Clover gets its botanical name from its appearance and location where it grows. "Tri-folium" means "three leaves" and "pratense" is Latin for "of a meadow." Red Clover can be found in meadows, fallow fields, grassy areas, and pastures. It also has an affinity for disturbed soils and degraded lands. As part of the legume family, it is a nitrogen-fixer, meaning it traps nitrogen in the soil along its roots, and makes it more bioavailable in the soil for other plants to benefit from.
 Over time, red clover can restore fertility and soil health to these types of areas. This characteristic is just the beginning to understanding the deeply restorative and cleansing abilities of this amazing plant ally. 
 

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"Bad Blood" & Blood Purifiers

Red clover is a ‘blood purifier’ and ‘blood builder.’ Western herbalism folk remedy books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries make frequent references to foods and herbs that “purify the blood.” This concept was also important in conventional and alternative medicine during that time, and survives in folk medicine today. The “blood” in the traditional concept of bad blood was not really the blood at all, but the extracellular fluid that bathes the cells. The blood itself only comprises about five percent of the fluids in the body, while the extracellular fluid makes up about twenty percent. The rest of the body’s water lies within the cells. The extracellular fluid accumulates the metabolic wastes of all the cells, the waste byproducts of infection and inflammation, and toxic byproducts of poor digestion. When an infection spreads, it does so through the extra cellular fluid. With an overload of toxic substances in the extracellular fluid, any number of diseases can arise. The extracellular fluid then resembles a polluted Lake Erie more than it does the pristine lake in your favorite wilderness area. This polluted state of the extracellular fluid is the best modern definition of the traditional concept of “bad blood.” 

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The extracellular fluid is normally drained and purified by the lymph, and the main mover of lymph is exercise. Sedentary habits and lack of exercise promotes "bad blood” and a host of health issues such as abscesses, arthritis, boils, cancer, chronic infection, chronic inflammation, cysts, eczema, fever, gangrene, malignant tumors, mental disturbances, psoriasis, septicemia, skin ulcers, swollen glands, and general weakness. 

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Medicinal Use

Red clover tea is one of the most often-prescribed remedies for skin conditions in professional medical herbalism in North America today. Many remedies for skin conditions also fall into the traditional category of “blood purifiers.” Red clover was used both internally and externally for skin conditions by the Eclectic physicians at the turn of the century. Harvey Felter, M.D., says in his 1898 Kings American Dispensatory that red clover, when applied externally, soothes inflamed skin, disinfects it, and promotes the growth of healthy tissue. The skin receives all its nutrients from the blood. Likewise, toxins, allergens, or irritants in the blood can cause symptoms to manifest on the skin.

Red clover has a high mineral content: an ounce of the flowering tops contains half the minimum daily requirement of calcium, a fourth of the requirement of magnesium, and a third of the requirement of potassium. Because it is so mineral rich, it is nourishing for the bones, blood, and tissues. There is evidence that red clover may thin the blood through the actions of its coumarin constituents. It should not be used simultaneously with pharmaceutical blood-thinning medications, including aspirin. Red clover promotes circulation and lymphatic movement, and it is used as an adjunct in many cancers and chronic illnesses. The phytoestrogens in red clover are helpful for many menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, vaginal dryness and fatigue. These constituents in combination with its "blood cleaning" ability have been shown to help with breast and uterine cancers, especially where there are cysts and lumps. Red clover can calm inflammation of the respiratory tract. It has helped with chronic rheumatic inflammation and pain. It helps soothe and clear up itchy skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Just as the red clover plant grows deep into the ground to restore nutrients and fertility to the soil, so does red clover reach deep into our bodies to help it to function better and improve our overall health. 

Preparation & Dosage

A simple infusion of red clover is one of the best ways to take it. It can also be made into tincture, and used as a poultice and infused oil for lumps & bumps. 

Infusion
Add an ounce of red clover tops to a quart of water. Simmer on the lowest possible heat until one third of the water is gone. Cool and strain. Drink the liquid in three doses during the day.

 

Tincture

Add 1 dropperful 2 ounces of water, 2 to 4 times per day.

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Poultice

Add just enough water to cover the whole blossoms, simmer until tender. Strain, press the plants into a thick mass, and sprinkle with white flour. (The flour helps add consistency to the poultice). Place the floured poultice directly on the irritated skin. Leave on for about a half hour. You can use the red clover poultice several times a day. Poultices can last several days if kept in the refrigerator between applications.


Infused Oil
This can be made using fresh or dried blossoms. Extra care needs to be made when making fresh plant oil infusions as they can mold easily. For simplicity we are only including the recipe for dried blossoms since they are still effective and you won't have to risk any spoilage. 
1 part dried red clover blossoms
2 parts olive oil
Combine ingredients in a saucepan and gently warm on low heat for 2-3 hours, make sure to set a timer. Be careful not to let it bubble or boil. Stir occasionally. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Strain the herbs from the oil using a metal mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Squeeze the herbs soaked in oil with your hands to extract the last bit of oil. Allow the oil to cool completely before pouring into an amber bottle. This oil can be massaged onto the skin where there is a lump or cyst. For best results also drink Red clover infusions. 

 

Contraindications

Red clover may thin the blood through the actions of its coumarin constituents, and it should not be used simultaneously with pharmaceutical blood-thinning medications, including aspirin. Red clover should not be used in cases of estrogen receptor-positive tumors. Not recommended during pregnancy and lactation. 

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References

  • Bennett, Robin Rose. The Gift of Healing Herbs. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2014.

  • Bergner, Paul. Folk Remedies Database. Boulder: Bergner Communications, 2001.

  • Felter M.D., Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd, Phr.M., Ph.D. King’s American Dispensatory. 1898.

  • Skenderi, Gazmend. Herbal Vade Mecum. Rutherford: Herbacy Press, 2003.

  • Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1997.