Welcome to Learn with the Seasons:
Your guide to Foraging for and Using Edible & Therapeutic Herbs.
This lesson is about harvesting the seeds from Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and sprouting them in to nutritious bean sprouts.
This lesson contains:
- An identification video to help you to recognise red clover in autumn and harvest the seed.
- An herbal data sheet containing details of how to use red clover sprouts as a wild edible food.
- Photographs of red clover.
- A video showing how to save red clover seeds.
- A step-by-step photo lesson showing you how to sprout the seeds of red clover in to bean sprouts.
You can read the recipes and plant information on-screen or print off the pdfs documents.
Click the tabs on the left to view the videos and photos to identify the plant
Red Clover flower & seed ID
Video identifying red clover
Close-up of red clover growing amongst daisies in a field in early summer. Usually fresh red clover flowers are available to harvest from May-Sept depending on where you live and how the land is managed there (e.g. it is available to harvest for longer in areas where fields are cut a few times by farmers).
Detail of red clover flower
PLANT DATA SHEET
(info & guidelines about using this plant as a wild food and/or herbal medicine)
Latin Name: Trifolium pratense
English Name: Red Clover Irish Name: Seamair Dhearg German Name: Wiesenklee
French Name: Triolet Spanish Name: Trébol Italian Name: Moscino
What kind of plant is this? : This is a very common small wild flower that grows in fields, gardens, hedgerows etc. Organic gardeners plant it as a companion plant because it helps to fix nitrogen in the soil. They often plant it as green manure too. The sweet smell of this flower is very distinctive. Harvesting red clover flowers is a joyful experience. Often children pick them and ‘suck the honey out of them’.
Parts used: The flower heads. Some people use the upper leaves too but the flowers are so beautiful that I recommend that you just use them. The seeds can also be used for sprouting.
How and when to harvest red clover: Red clover usually starts to appear in May. Harvest once the flowers are fully open. It usually continues to flower into early autumn. Pick it if the flowers look lovely and fresh; don’t pick it if the petals have begun to turn brown.
Safety: Red clover a very safe herb to consume either as a food or a remedy. If you are pregnant or have under-lying health issues then do pay attention to the Precautions listed below.
- If you are taking blood-thinning medication (e.g. warfarin) then do not consume red clover regularly. Red clover contains coumarins. These can be blood-thinning so don’t take red clover if you are on blood-thinning medicine because this could become dangerous.
- Surgery: Because of its possible blood-thinning actions, don’t take red clover for 3 weeks prior to undergoing surgery.
- Pregnancy: do not take medicinal doses of red clover in pregnancy unless advised to do so by qualified herbalist or medical professional.
- Fertility Tonic: Red clover has a reputation as being quite a fertility tonic (see Therapeutic Properties below). You may or may not want to consume something that might increase your fertility! You have been warned!
What are the benefits to me of consuming red clover? : Red clover is a very nourishing plant. Regular consumption of red clover can really improve energy. It is also a lymphatic herb so can help to ease lymphatic congestion and aid detoxification.
Using Red Clover as a Food
Nutritional Content: Red clover is in the legume family (i.e. pea and lentil family) so it is rich in protein. It is also very rich in minerals e.g. magnesium, calcium, potassium etc. and they are present in an easily absorbable form.
Suitable for juicing?: I haven’t known anyone to juice red clover flowers. I do not recommend that you juice them.
Bean sprouts: The seeds of red clover can be sprouted to make bean sprouts.
Quantities: Red clover is very safe and the flowers can be added into salads. It is hard to eat large quantities of red clover because of the texture. It isn’t recommended for cooking. Please stick to the quantities that I give in the recipes.
Fresh Red Clover Infusion (tea)
Pick a generous handful or two of fresh red clover flowers. Wash them. Add them to an herb cafetiere, pot or pan. Pour on boiled water. Allow to infuse for 5-10 mins. Strain. Drink freely. Because it is safe to use red clover in large quantities then you can really vary this infusion to achieve your preferred strength. It is safe to use up to 1 ounce/ 28g of fresh red clover to 1 pint/500ml of water and leave them to infuse for up to 8 hours! This makes for a very strong-tasting tea. I recommend that you begin with much less than this. Remember that you are better to make a much weaker red clover tea that you like the flavour of than a very strong infusion that you can’t bear the taste of and will give up drinking very quickly! Use up your infusion within 24 hours. If you haven’t drunk it all within this time then you can pour any left-over tea over your hair (it is an excellent rinse to improve the health of the scalp and hair), onto your plants (it is an excellent fertiliser) or into your compost.
Red Clover in Salad
Red clover flowers look very pretty and they are a lovely addition to a salad. You can add in the flower-heads whole or break them up into petals and sprinkle them through the salad. They have such a sweet, floral flavour that your salad will often taste like it has a dressing on it, even if it hasn’t. Try livening up shop-bought salad with some freshly harvested red clover flowers, or add them to a wild salad mix of foraged leaves such as sorrel, hawthorn leaves, dandelion flowers, wild roses etc.
Red Clover Vinegar
See the photogragh lesson below. Like alcohol, vinegar is a useful solvent and is effective at extracting and preserving the goodness from herbs. Herbal vinegars can be used to extend your culinary range e.g. new flavours to be added to salad dressings or they can be used as mineral-rich therapeutic extracts by taking 1 tbsp in a little water before meals. Vinegars are excellent to stimulate the appetite and help digestion.
To make red clover vinegar, take a clean, dry jam jar. Fill it with fresh red clover flowers. Cover it with cider vinegar or wine vinegar. Place a piece of waxed/greaseproof paper on top, then screw on the lid (this is to prevent the vinegar from eroding the metal lid of the jar). Store it out of direct light and leave it to infuse for 6 weeks. Strain off the herbs and store the vinegar in a dark bottle. Every time you use this herbal vinegar you will be nourishing yourself with the minerals from red clover. Yum! This herbal vinegar would also make an excellent natural conditioner for the hair. See the Cosmetic Uses section for more details.
Red Clover Seed Sprouts
The seeds can be used to sprout into bean sprouts. I recently saw red clover seeds for sale in a local Irish health food shop. The seeds for sale in the shop were from Canada yet the fields around my house are full of red clover flowers! When the seeds are ripe it is possible to harvest them and dry them. To make bean sprouts they are then soaked in water and rinsed daily. See the video & photo lessons below.
It is also possible to make: clover wine, clover syrup etc.
Use your left-over red clover tea as a rinse for your hair. The minerals in red clover should help to strengthen the hair (drinking the tea will do this too!). Some people find that using red clover as a hair rinse helps to relieve an itchy scalp and to improve the general condition of the hair.
To use an herbal tea as a hair rinse: wash your hair with shampoo, apply conditioner if you want to. Rinse your hair with warm water. Then rinse your hair with the herbal tea. Leave the tea on your hair (don’t rinse it off). If you want to apply the herbal tea daily, then just dampen your hair with water and pour on the herbal tea: you don’t need to wash it with shampoo every time. That would dry it out.
Using red clover vinegar as a hair tonic: Cider vinegar is a good tonic to improve the health of the scalp. It is also an effective conditioner for the hair when it is used 2-3 times a week (any more than this tends to be too drying for certain hair types). People are often loathed to try this because of the smell of vinegar. If vinegar didn’t smell of vinegar then it would be a lot more popular as a cosmetic! As soon as your hair dries the vinegar smell disappears so you won’t be going around smelling like a chip-shop. Cider vinegar helps to soften and condition the hair and makes it shinier. Why is this? One of the reasons that hair becomes dull is because of a build-up of residue from shampoos and conditioners which are alkaline. Vinegar is a mild acid and so it dissolves this alkaline residue. This brings out the shine of the hair and softens it. If you have an herbal vinegar and want to use it for your hair then an easy way to do this is to put it in a spray bottle, spray it on and comb it through your hair. Red clover vinegar is a particularly good vinegar to use because the minerals in it help to improve the health of the hair and scalp too. And it can sometimes ease itchy rashes when applied externally so it may help to improve an itchy scalp.
Using Red Clover as a Remedy: Therapeutic Properties
Traditionally in herbal medicine Red Clover have been used for the following:
- To reduce swollen glands e.g. tonsillitis: Red clover is one of a group of herbs that herbalists refer to as a ‘lymphatic’. This is because it is believed to stimulate the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a major part of the immune system; lymph nodes and glands such as the tonsils are the nuts and bolts of this system. Drinking and/or gargling red clover tea can help to ease the pressure on the lymphatic system and to drain swollen glands.
- For its ‘detoxifying’ actions: ‘Detox’ is a word that gets banded about a lot nowadays with all sorts of products claiming to be ‘detoxifying’. However, red clover aids detoxification by supporting the lymphatic system. Part of the function of the lymph is to help to remove metabolic waste products and to clean them up so that the waste products don’t continue to circulate around the body. So a healthily functioning lymphatic system should prevent a build-up of waste products in the body. To have this action, red clover has to be taken regularly and consistently for 6-12 weeks.
- Some skin conditionsg. spots, some types of eczema, psoriasis etc. can improve when taking red clover regularly because red clover supports the elimination of waste. To have this action, red clover has to be taken regularly and consistently for 6-12 weeks. Red clover is gentle enough to be given to young children and it is often recommended to ease childhood eczema (although lots of different things can cause eczema, so it is important to determine the cause and to treat that).
- To ease coughs: Red clover is used to ease some types of coughs, especially old coughs that have been lingering for a while. Red clover is expectorant (it helps to clear and soothe the lungs) and anti-spasmodic (it helps to relieve the spasms of coughing). Old herbal books recommend red clover infusion (1oz herb to 1 pint water) to treat whooping cough and bronchial coughs.
- To enhance fertility: Red clover has a reputation as being quite a fertility enhancer for women. Some fertility issues are resolved by taking nutritional supplements or improving the diet to ensure that sufficient nutrients are consumed. Red clover is very rich in minerals and protein so perhaps this is party how it can increase fertility levels. Red clover also contains ‘phyto-oestrogens’. These are chemicals that occur naturally in many plants. The body uses these chemicals as the building blocks to form natural oestrogen. Again, by increasing the levels of this hormone this may be another way in which red clover can enhance fertility and chances of conception.
- A nourishing tonic for nursing mothers: Red clover infusion is a useful tonic for a breast-feeding mother because it is so nourishing. This can help to counter the exhaustion experienced by new mothers as well as providing the extra nourishment required by the baby and for the mother too. Try combining it in a breast-feeding tea with herbs such as nettle and/or raspberry leaf (these herbs help to increase milk production in nursing mothers) or with fennel (to reduce colic).
- In menopause: Because red clover contains ‘phyto-oestrogens’ this can help to ease the symptoms of menopause that are caused by oestrogen levels declining e.g. hot flushes, night sweats etc. It is also an excellent tonic to take in menopause because it is so rich in easily absorbable calcium and magnesium: minerals essential to build strong, healthy bones and to help to prevent osteoporosis.
- Red Clover ointment or cream: Some herbalists recommend applying red clover ointment or cream to ease itchy rashes. I haven’t ever seen these produced commercially so if you want to try it then you’ll have to make it yourself. They grow so abundantly that it is a joy to experiment with these flowers and recipes. Make an infused oil from the flowers, then apply the oil or melt it with some beeswax to make an ointment. I made a cream from red clover years ago and it smelt beautiful and was lovely and soft on the skin. I think that it makes a beautiful ingredient in cosmetics.
Red Clover and Breast Cancer
There is a lot of conflicting information about consuming red clover and other plants that are rich in phyto-oestrogens if you have breast cancer, are recovering from breast cancer or have a family history of breast cancer. This can be over-whelming and very confusing for people in these situations. I want to clearly and simply state what is suggested from history, what is suggested by dietary habits, what is suggested by modern research and some current theories on these matters. Please read this info and make up your own mind. I am committed to helping to empower people who are worried about cancer to make decisions that they are at ease with and that improve their quality of life. And please always be extremely wary of people or websites claiming any cures or expensive natural treatments for cancer.
- Historically red clover was used to try to treat some types of cancer, especially breast cancers: Several old sources mention the use of red clover in folk medicine when trying to treat breast cancers. Strong extracts were drunk internally and ointments or poultices of red clover applied externally. As we know red clover is believed to work on lymphatic tissue and the breast and lymph nodes contain large amounts of lymphatic tissue. These treatments were often controversial and I do not make any claims for them and do not have any experience of using red clover in this way.
- People who have breast cancer are usually advised to stay away from phyto-oestrogens because breast cancer feeds on oestrogen: This is often the standard advice that is given in oncology. Yet some modern scientific studies on humans have found that women with high levels of phyto-oestrogens in their bodies are less susceptible to cancer. Cancer rates are also very low in Asian women, who eat high-fibre, phyto-oestrogen-rich diets.
- Phyto-oestrogen chemicals are in hundreds of foods that humans have eaten for thousands of years: People tend to think of phyto-oestrogens as soya supplements but many are commonly consumed foods such as some fruits, vegetables, lentils, nuts and seeds as well as traditionally-produced soya foods are rich in phyto-oestrogens. They have been safely consumed by humans for thousands of years.
- How can phyto-oestrogens plants contain oestrogen but be linked to lower levels of breast cancer?: Simply put the current theory to explain this is that on the cells in the body there are receptors (a bit like cups) that hold oestrogen. If someone consumes phyto-oestrogens then these cups become full of phyto-oestrogens and this means that they do not have room to hold other more damaging forms of oestrogen e.g. xeno-oestrogens. Xeno-oestrogens are artificial substances that mimic naturally occurring oestrogen and are found in some plastics, polystyrene, hormonal medicines (e.g. the contraceptive pill and HRT), recycled water (because of the residue of HRT and the contraceptive pill excreted in urine), pesticides (e.g. DDT), some preservatives etc. Phyto-oestrogens are also thought to be weaker than oestrogens produced by the body so again they seem to offer protection from more aggressive forms of oestrogen.
- Remember: Very high rates of cancer cases appear to be a modern phenomenon. Cancer used to be a much rarer disease than it is now and usually it mostly occurred in the elderly. There certainly isn’t any evidence that cancer is common in people with diets high in phyto-oestrogens. In fact, the evidence shows the opposite.
- Red clover is a safe wild edible food and therapeutic plant: It grows freely and abundantly. It is so safe that qualified herbalists give it to children, babies and nursing mothers. The least that will happen if you consume red clover regularly is that you’ll probably become a lot better nourished and may feel healthier too.
Infusion: See the instructions above in the Recipe section. Drink 3 cups daily or 1 pint daily.
Tincture: Take 5 ml 3 times daily.
Dosages for Children
Red clover is a safe herb and is often given to children. The dosage will vary depending on the health and age of your child and the reason that you are giving the child this herb. They can drink weak red clover infusion from 1 year onwards e.g. add 1 tsp red clover to 1 cup of boiled water. Infuse for 5 -10 mins. Strain. Try to get the child to drink this cup of tea over the course of the day. Breast-fed babies get the benefits of red clover when their mother regularly drinks it.
For more general medicinal information about red clover see Hedgerow Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
For further reading about using red clover as a fertility enhancer, in menopause or to learn more about its possible use for maintaining healthy breast tissue then I recommend the following books by Susun Weed: The Childbearing Year; New Menopausal Years; Breast Cancer? Breast Health! All published by Ash Tree Publishing and available from www.ashtreepublishing.com
For more information about the role of phyto-oestrogens and breast cancer prevention see the work of Dr Margaret Ritchie at St. Andrews University
RECIPE & EXTRACT VIDEOS & PHOTO LESSONS
Click the tabs on the left to view video and/or photo lessons
Red Clover Seed Saving
Red Clover Bean Sprouts
Red clover sprouts make a nutritious snack that can be eaten on their own or added in to salads.
Step 1: Take some red clover seeds (you can buy sometimes them from health food shops if you haven’t had the time or patience to harvest your own seed).
Step 2: Get a clean sprouting jar. The lid contains little holes. You can often buy sprouting jars from health shops. If you can’t get one then you can re-use a jam jar and make holes in the lid. The holes are for draining out the water when you rinse the seeds.
Step 3: Put the red clover seeds in to the jar.
Step 4: Rinse the seeds twice daily (morning and night time are best), making sure to carefully drain away the water (turn the jar upside down and let the water drain away through the holes in the lid).
Step 5: Place the jar on a sunny windowledge.
Step 6: Every morning and evening, repeat the rinsing and draining process, and then put the jar back on to the sunny windowledge.
Step 7: Red clover seeds are quite slow to sprout when compared to other bean sprouts e.g. mung beans. My experience is that it takes about 7 days to get decent sized bean sprouts from red clover. But eventually, here they are! They are quite delicate and less bulky than other bean sprouts.