Red Clover: An Ancient Legume

Red clover is a legume that has been cultivated as animal fodder since ancient times and is considered one of the world’s oldest crops. Beans and peas belong to the same family as red clover. Red clover is native to Europe and Asia but has been naturalized all over the world. 

Red clover was valued in Ancient Greece and Rome due to its importance in the earliest forms of agriculture. As a valuable animal feed, it was important in cattle farming as well as for feeding war horses. 

The importance of red clover’s role can be seen in what the plant has been used to symbolize throughout history. During the Middle Ages, Europeans considered red clover to be a symbol of wealth and health. Red clover is said to have been the model for the club symbol on playing cards. It may also have been source of Ireland’s association with the shamrock. At around the same time, red clover was being used in the East as well. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have long used red clover as a remedy for whooping cough. 

Red clover came to the North American continent via European immigrants in the 16th century. It arrived in America shortly after being introduced to England and showed itself to be adaptable to various soil types and climates. Red clover was used as a food by Native Americans and as a medicine by people in the Ozarks. The Pennsylvania Dutch embraced it for its medicinal value and used it to treat croup; its application there is similar to how the Ancient Chinese used it. 

In Victorian England, red clover was said to be a symbol of industry. 

In 1895, red clover was made the state of Vermont’s state flower. 

Red clover flavor profile

Red clover’s flavor can be described as being complex with both sweet and bean-like elements. 

Health benefits of red clover

Red clover has a long history of use by folk healers who have implemented it for treating illnesses that include whooping cough, tuberculosis and athlete’s foot. In the modern era, it has been found to contain a number of compounds that make it beneficial for health. Among those compounds are: 

  • Phytoestrogens: Research conducted on the red clover plant shows that it contains phytoestrogens with numerous health benefits. 
  • Vitamins: Red clover is a good source of B vitamins like niacin and thiamine as well as vitamin C. 
  • Minerals: The minerals found in red clover include potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. 

Use red clover to treat or prevent the following health problems: 

  • Symptoms of menopause: The phytoestrogens in red clover can help to treat menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and osteoporosis. 
  • Cancer: Red clover may be effective at blocking certain enzymes that researchers believe cause prostate cancer. 
  • Prostate enlargement: Red clover has been proven effective for providing relief from the noncancerous enlargement of the prostate that affects many older men. 

Common uses

Red clover is mainly used to feed animals but when consumed by humans, it is usually in the form of tea. The flower is the part of the plant used to make the tea rather than the leaves. A more obscure application of red clover leaves is as a raw salad green. The flowers are edible as well but are not easy to digest in large quantities.