(Trifolium pratense L.)
Many years ago, red clover was primarily known as a fodder crop due to its high protein content. The English botanist J. Gerard referred to it as ‘meadow trefoil’ or ‘three-leaved grass’. The names were derived from its distinctive trifoliate leaves, which were associated by the medieval Christians with the Holy Trinity.
Red clover is native to Europe, to the Mediterranean basin and the Red Sea, but it was also brought to North America.
Red clover, also commonly known as meadow clover or cow clover, is a perennial plant belonging to the bean family (Fabaceae), growing up to 50 cm tall. In Poland, it is found in meadows, pastures and the edges of fields; it is also grown as a fodder crop.
It has trifoliate leaves of elliptical or oval shape. Its fruit is a pod that contains one single seed.Red clover flowers are bright purple or pink. It blooms from May to September.
What are the properties of red clover and when it can be used?
The most important compounds found in red clover include flavonoids, anthocyanins, phenolic glycosides and coumarins. Moreover, organic acids with a powerful body-conditioning effect and vitamin C, vitamin E and carotene are equally important.
Red clover is often referred to as a ‘women’s plant’ because it is a herb with special properties that can regulate the hormones and affect the control of the menstrual cycle. Isoflavones found in red clover have a structure that is similar to oestrogens, so they can attach to the oestrogen receptors and consequently alleviate the symptoms of menopause, for instance. Therefore, there are called ‘phytoestrogens’. Red clover is worthwhile using not only during menopause (although it should be noted that it reduces hot flushes and night sweats), but also in puberty and later during feminine adulthood. Why else? Since it contains isoflavones, it sustains adequate oestrogen levels in a safe way for women.
Red clover also has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and the digestive system.
With its high concentrations of flavonoids and anthocyanins, red clover supports the functioning of the cardiovascular system, improves elasticity and strengthens the walls of blood vessels and reduces blood pressure, decreasing thereby the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. Red clover-based preserves stimulate the liver and gall bladder functions, control the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract, have a spasmolytic effect and stimulate the appetite.
Red clover soothes and regenerates the skin.
The ageing process is mainly associated with a decline in hormone concentrations, such as oestrogen. Isoflavones found in red clover extract have a beneficial effect on the network of collagen and elastin fibres. They decrease the concentrations of free radicals, protect against the sun and stimulate collagen production, thereby reducing the signs of skin ageing. They also maintain the skin’s normal elasticity. Thanks to high flavonoid and anthocyanin concentrations, red clover also has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects.
Red clover has been widely used in folk medicine and also in cooking.
In North America, the Indians were one of the first people to use red clover flowers for treating skin diseases, such as psoriasis or eczema. In folk medicine, red clover was used mainly for infusions and tinctures, and externally in ointments, compresses or eye drops. Following thorough grinding, the fresh flowers were also applied to insect bites and burns to produce a soothing effect.
All parts of red clover are edible; however, today, they are much less used than in the past. Historically, red clover was eaten in periods of famine due to its high protein content. Fresh red clover inflorescences and leaves can be added to salads and cooked similarly to spinach. In addition, they can be fermented like cabbage and served with meat dishes.