Red Clover

Red Clover, Trifolium pratense

Family: Fabaceae, the Pea Family

Description: Non-native herb 15-60cm tall. Magenta-purple flowers in globose heads. Leaves alternately arranged, with 3 leaflets that are finely toothed, and often marked with a light “V.”

Abundance: Common

Habitat: Fields, roadsides

Plant Parts Used: All

Food: Tea, fritters, salads

Medicine: Blood purifying, estrogenic—cancer, alterative, lymphatic congestion, coughs, demulcent

Other: Livestock and wildlife food, nitrogen-fixing

Clover flowers and buds can be eaten cooked or raw and dried for tea. They are high in calcium, potassium, niacin, and vegetable protein. Ray makes clover fritters by frying the flowers. He insists that “animals totally adore it;” humans are not the only ones who appreciate clover as a good edible. John said that clovers can be planted to attract more animals into the area, for hunting, for example. Terry-Anya and Patti add red clover flowers to salads, while Sue enjoys a tea of these flowers. Sue told me that she has heard people in northern Maine tell stories of how they used to make clover honey by cooking clover blossoms in a sugar syrup.

Sue mentioned that red clover’s estrogenic effects have been used in cancer preparations, adding that the phytoestrogens found in red clover should be studied. John told me about a man who helped his wife with cancer by using red clover and dandelion as a blood cleanser, which “turned her right around.” Deb also purported red clover’s addition to cancer formulas.

In addition to red clover’s edibility and cancer-fighting qualities, Deb said that red clover is an alterative, which means that it helps eliminate metabolic waste. She also said that red clover and calendula together help with lymphatic congestion, such as for sore or swollen breast tissue. A syrup or tea of red clover is soothing to the lungs and helps relieve irritated coughs. Making a glycerite instead of an alcohol tincture draws out the demulcent qualities of the plant and makes the medicine more appealing to children.

Moerman’s research shows that the most common Native American use of red clover is as a blood medicine and cancer treatment. The Shinnecock treated cancer with a tea of the powdered flower while the Nlaka’pamux took a tea of the flower heads to treat stomach cancer.

Caution: Clovers should be used in moderation, because they contain low concentrations of some toxic compounds.

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.


  • Brooks, John. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2010.
  • Chilton, Patti. Telephone interview. 31 Oct. 2010.
  • Hayes, Terry-Anya. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2010.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
  • Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.
  • Runyon, Linda. From Crabgrass Muffins to Pine Needle Tea: a National Wild Food Field Guide. Shiloh, NJ: Wild Food, 2002. Print.
  • Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.
  • Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.
  • Turner, Nancy J., and Patrick Von Aderkas. The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms. Portland: Timber, 2009. Print.