White Clover (Trifolium repens)

It’s at this time of year when the lawn is in constant need of cutting I notice how many plants, other than grass make up most green spaces. White Clover is abundant in our garden and even more so on the surrounding playing fields. I have to say aesthetically I prefer its relative Red Clover, however White Clover has merits other than beauty. Some of the old country names of Bee – Bread, Honey – Suckle and Honeystalks allude to its long association with honey and bees. Bees do adore it and greedily feed on its nectar; consequently Bee keepers favour the herb as they know it will add a lovely flavour to their honey.

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The herb is surprisingly nutritious containing protein, vitamins C and B1 along with calcium and potassium. The leaves and flowers are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked; this recipe from Vicomte de Mauduits ‘They Cant Ration These’ gives an idea of how to prepare them.

CLOVER PUREE
Gather a quantity of clover, remove the stalks, wash and dry the leaves. Bring to the boil in a little water and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well, then fry lightly in butter a small chopped onion, put in the clover, salt, pepper and a gill of brown stock. Cook for 5 minutes stirring well; pass through a hair sieve and serve hot, garnished with pieces of fried bread...

A sweet refreshing tea can be made from the herb, and the dried flower heads and seeds can be ground and made into flour. At one time the flowers were a popular ingredient of country wine as this recipe from The Magic of Herbs, by David Conway illustrates…

WINES FROM FRESH FLOWERS

CLOVER WINE
3 quarts clover heads
1.oz yeast
3 lb. sugar
1 gal. water
Juice of two lemons

As only the petals are used, pull these away and place them in a suitable container. Pour two quarts of boiling water and leave the mixture to infuse, cover over for ten to twelve hours. Melt 1 ½ pounds of sugar in a quart of boiling water, and, when cold, add this syrup to the original infusion. Afterwards add the yeast and lemon juice, and allow seven days for the first stage of fermentation. At the end of that period, boil the remainder of the sugar in a quart of water and, when cool, add it to the now fermenting mixture. (By adding the sugar in two stages like this, fermentation is prolonged and the maximum alcoholic content thus obtained.) After one day strain the liquid and allow the fermentation to continue. This wine is deliciously refreshing on a hot summer’s day…

Apparently the dried leaves impart a mild vanilla essence and in centuries past this was used to flavour puddings. Whether a similar savour is transferred to the wine I have yet to find out.

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Medicinally White Clover is highly prized by Native American tribes, who utilise it for a range of ailments. A tea made from the herb is a popular cold and flu treatment especially where there is a high temperature. It is believed equally able to cure gout, cleanse the blood and to heal wounds. Some tribes are also known to use the plat as a treatment for Brights disease, a chronic inflammation of the kidneys.

In Europe the clover has a long association with the church. St Patrick was said to have used a leaf to explain the holy trinity to the Irish. Even before this the clover had a magical reputation with the Druids venerating the ‘Trefoil’ as a symbol of the earth, the seas and the heavens. These days, the ‘Shamrock’ is renowned for its luckiness, which stems from the many optimistic folktales connected with the plant. In some parts of Britain it was said that finding a four leaved clover would enable a person to see fairies, similarly four grains of wheat wrapped in a clover leaf would attract elves and goblins. Other legends told of how a four leafed clover bestowed the finder with the power to recognise witches and spot evil spirits, whilst earlier folk stories thought the herb able to impart the power of second sight. White Clover was also a traditional ingredient in love potions and used in protective spells.

Medicinally it is perhaps less potent than Red Clover but it contains identical chemicals which mimic oestrogen, making it just as useful for a raft of ‘women’s problems’. Despite being milder it is a helpful menopause herb, balancing the hormones which create hot flushes and mood swings. Likewise a tea made from the flowers can alleviate the symptoms of PMS. The oestrogen-like component of the herb is excellent for balancing female hormones in general, particularly low oestrogen levels. In days gone by White Clover was a country cure for heavy periods and a wash made from the plant was applied to treat thrush and other internal infections.

Although now rarely prescribed, the herb was once used in herbal medicine as a wash for a wide range of eye infections. The plant is known to possess a form of natural anti-biotic which is maybe why it formerly found favour as a cure for scrofula (lymphatic T.B). In addition, as a natural tonic and purifier it was a popular treatment for rheumatic ailments.

So while this specimen of the clover family may not be as powerful or as showy as its Red and Purple siblings it has some talents of its own, especially if you are seeking fairies, goblins and elves….

Happy Hunting
Claire Fleetneedle

Cautions:
• A chemical present in White Clover causes toxicity in animals, however no side effects on humans are known.

These are some of my personal experiences using White Clover combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is always best to consult a herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.

LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.

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