Red Clover (trifolium pratense)

A member of the pea family, red clover is native to Europe, Western Asia, and Northwest Africa, but it grows throughout North America. The herb bears pink flower heads on upright hairy stems; the flowers are highly attractive to bees and are an important source of wildflower honey.

Clover’s leaves grow in groups of three oval leaflets with pale crescent markings: The genus name Trifolium means “three leaves.” To the ancient Druids, these three leaves symbolized earth, heaven, and ocean. And of course mutations of this plant that have four leaves are considered to bring good luck.

Red Clover

Plant profile

Common Name: Red Clover

Description: Fast-growing, up to 24 inches tall; three oval leaflets with pale, crescent-shaped markings; mauve-pink flowers on upright stems

Hardiness: To Zone 3

Family: Fabaceae

Flowering: Late spring to midsummer

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, and sprouts

Range/Habitat: Native to Europe, western Asia, and northwest Africa; grows widely throughout North America

Culinary use

Red clover is abundant in vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, E, and K. Add red clover sprouts, flowers, and leaves to salads. The flowers can also be added to soup stocks or steeped to make tea.

Medicinal use

The round, flowering tops of red clover contain estrogenlike compounds known as isoflavones, making the herb useful for treating menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Red clover contains the compounds daidzein and genistein (also found in soy), which may help prevent cancer. Considered an expectorant, the herb is a traditional treatment for coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion; a soothing tea can be made by steeping the dried flowers in hot water for 10 minutes.

Red clover has diuretic and liver-cleansing properties, and it can help rid your body of toxins. Herbalists recommend it to purify blood. A small-scale human trial has shown that ingesting red clover increases elasticity of the arteries, as compared to a placebo, and could reduce your risk of heart disease, although much more work is needed to confirm this. Externally, the herb has traditionally been applied as a poultice to cancerous growths and to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, especially in children.

How to grow it

Red clover grows in moist, well-drained, neutral soil in sunny areas such as meadows and along paths. It can tolerate shady habitats. The herb is easy to grow from seeds planted in spring, summer, or fall. Harvest leaves for salads before the plant blooms; harvest flowers just as they come into bloom. Dry the flowers in a warm, airy location.