Botanical Name: Trifolium pratense

Common Names: Trefoil, Purple Clover, Field Claver, Suckles, Meadow Trefoil

Family:  Fabaceae  (Pea Family)

Parts Used: Aerial parts  

Botany & Identification: A perennial and abundant weed, growing up to 60cm tall with distinctive ‘trifoliate’ (three-leaved) leaflets. The leaflets often have a whitish crescent shaped spot across them and triangular bristly stipules with purple veins. Its flowers are in globe-shaped heads, and are red/pink/purple in colour.  Very common in the British Isles in meadows, roadsides and hedgebanks. It flowers from May to September and is loved by bees.

Growing & Harvesting: Red Clover is easy to grow, and can prosper in any type of soil, even ones that are nutritionally poor. It prefers sun and a moist soil, can tolerate wind, and even dodge a lawnmower or two. As a member of the Pea family (Fabaceae) it is able to fix nitrogen from the soil through a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia bacteria that live in their root nodules. When harvesting Red Clover it is especially important to collect only disease free blossoms. This is because constituents in fermented or damaged blossoms can be broken down into types of coumarins which cause an anti-coagulant effect.

Edibility & Nutrition: Red Clover is sweet tasting and very nutritious.  It contains many vitamins and minerals and can easily be added to salads, vinegars or drank frequently as a nourishing herbal infusion. You can gently suck on the flowers to get small mouthfuls of their sweet nectar.

Constituents: Phyto-oestrogenic isoflavones, flavonoids, volatile oils, coumarins

Energetics & Qualities: Cooling, Moistening, Restorative, Softening

Tastes: Sweet, Salty

Medicinal Actions:  Alterative, Anti-Spasmodic, Aperient, Nutritive, Mild Lymphatic, Phyto-oestrogenic, Tonic

Uses:  A pleasant tasting, cooling & moistening nutritive tonic applicable to chronic and degenerative conditions.

Alterative for Gentle Detoxification

  • Traditionally considered an alterative herb and mild lymphatic herb for skin health, and relieving chronic conditions like eczema, boils, psoriasis, cysts and acne.
  • Energetically, it generates fluids & moistens dryness while having a systemically detoxicant, heat-clearing activity.
  • It is often combined with other alteratives like Burdock, Yellow Dock, Dandelion, Nettles, and Cleavers.

Respiratory Relaxant

  • It also has traditional applications for coughs and chest complaints, as an expectorant herb for bronchitis and sinusitis, and for spasmodic coughs like whooping cough.

Nutritive Tonic

  • It contains many vitamins and minerals and can easily be added to salads and vinegars. It is best taken consistently over many months. Wise Woman herbalist Susun Weed recommends drinking it daily as a nourishing herbal infusion to increase fertility

Resolving Growths in the Body

  • Red Clover was used in folk remedies to treat breast cancer and other breast-related problems like mastitis. It can either be applied topically as a poultice or compress, or taken internally as medicine.
  • Dorothy Hall, famous Australian herbalist recommends it as a specific herb for encysted glands, single boils and ovarian cysts.
  • Poultices of Red Clover can be used in local applications to cancerous growths.

Phyto-oestrogenic Tonic

  • Modern research has found Red Clover to contain isoflavones which are plant-based oestrogenic compounds (phyto-oestrogens). Phyto-oestrogens are able to weakly bond to oestrogen receptors meaning that where the body is producing excess oestrogen, Red Clover will lower the overall amount, and where the body is producing low levels of oestrogen Red Clover will raise the overall amount. This balancing action is useful in the menopausal transition to alleviate hot flashes, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis.

History & Folklore:

  • Red Clover was significant to Druids and Christians alike. For Druids it represents the three branches of learning: Bard, Ovate & Druid. St Patrick was said to use a clover to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. Both traditions thought it was protective against dark forces.
  • The plant is associated with the festival of Beltaine on 1st May. In France & Germany folk would rise at dawn to bathe in the Clover dew. It is also associated with Spring Equinox, where it is connected again to St Patrick whose saint day is 17th March.
  • In Medieval times the Clover influenced architecture with the Gothic three-lobed arch
  • From the 14th Century Clover was the symbol of the card suit ‘Clubs’

Preparations & Dosages: Red Clover can be prepared in a myriad of ways: eaten fresh, added to salads and infused vinegars, drunk as a nourishing herbal infusion,  made into syrups & tinctures. Topically it can be added to creams and ointments or used as a compress.

Tea: up to 1oz infusion daily

Tincture: 1:5 30% 3-5ml up to three times a day

Cautions & Contraindications: Generally thought to be a very safe herb, suitable for long term use. There is a theoretical contraindication in oestrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, though this is also potentially the result of misunderstandings of the actions of phyto-oestrogenic herbs. Diseased or fermented clover (from improper drying techniques) can be toxic. Obtain only from good sources or if harvesting & drying yourself do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Discard if in doubt.



Thomas Bartram (1998) Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine

Julian Barker (2001) The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwest Europe

Anne McIntyre (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor

Matthew Wood (2008) The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants

Chevallier, A. (1996) The encyclopedia of medicinal plants. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Hall, D. (1995) Herbal Medicine. Port Melbourne, Australia: Lothian.

Williamson, E.M. (2003) Potter’s herbal cyclopaedia

Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal [online]

Plants for a Future

Rosalee De La Foret

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