Red Clover
Trifolium pratense L.
Family: Fabaceae, Pea
Genus: Trifolium
Other names: meadow trefoil
Nomenclature: pratense = in meadows
Nativity / Invasiveness: introduced plant
Edible plant
Medicinal plant

General: plant height: 20-60 cm tall. Growth habit: short-lived perennial from woody taproot. Stems: several, erect or creeping, widely branched, sparsely soft-hairy.

Leaves: alternate, with 3 ovate leaflets, 2-6 cm long, sparsely soft-hairy, with very small teeth, long-stalked near base to stalkless near top. Stipules ovate to lance-shaped, 1-3 cm long, conspicuously greenish-veined.

Flowers: pink to deep red, 13-20 mm long, spreading to erect, 50- to 200 in terminal heads. Heads round, 25-35 mm broad, without involucres, very short-stalked above the 2 leaves below. Calyx 1/2-2/3 as long as the corolla, short-hairy, the teeth needle-shaped, with longer, straight hairs. The 2 upper teeth about equal to the tube, the lower 3 nearly twice as long. June-October.

Fruits: small pods, mostly 2-seeded.


Mostly on disturbed or cultivated ground, plains to montane zone, in most parts of MT except the eastern. A European species, now widely introduced throughout much of w. U.S.
Edible Uses

Leaves and young flowering heads of red clover are edible, raw or cooked. The young leaves are harvested before the plant comes into flower, and are used in salads, soups etc. On their own they can be used as a vegetable, cooked like spinach. The leaves are best cooked. They can be dried, powdered and sprinkled on foods such as boiled rice. The seed can be sprouted and used in salads. A crisp texture and more robust flavor than alfalfa (Medicago sativa). The seeds are reported as containing trypsin inhibitors. These can interfere with certain enzymes that help in the digestion of proteins, but are normally destroyed if the seed is sprouted first. Flowers and seed pods has been dried, ground into a powder and used as a flour. The young flowers can also be eaten raw in salads. The root can be eaten if cooked. A delicate sweet herb tea is made from the fresh or dried flowers. The dried leaves impart a vanilla flavor to cakes etc.
The plant should not be used excessively since long-term ingesting have caused bloat, congenital joint laxity and dwarfism in animals. Isoflavones, which are glycosides, can occur in red clover. These chemicals are plant estrogens that can cause infertility problems in livestock.

Medicinal Uses

Red clover is a safe and effective herb with a long history of medicinal usage. It is commonly used to treat skin conditions, normally in combination with other purifying herbs such as Arctium lappa and Rumex crispus. It is a folk remedy for cancer of the breast, a concentrated decoction being applied to the site of the tumor in order to encourage it to grow outwards and clear the body. The Thompson Indians of British Columbia used a tea of red clover heads taken for stomach cancer. Flavonoids in the flowers and leaves are oestrogenic and may be of benefit in the treatment of menopausal complaints.
The flowering heads have substances that gradually restore health, counteract scrofula, are antispasmodic, cause gentle bowel movement, cleanse boils, sores, wounds, etc., induce urination, induce the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs, and are sedative and tonic. It has also shown anticancer activity, poultices of the herb have been used as local applications to cancerous growths. Internally, the plant is used in the treatment of skin complaints (especially eczema and psoriasis), cancers of the breast, ovaries and lymphatic system, chronic degenerative diseases, gout, whooping cough and dry coughs. The plant is normally harvested for use as it comes into flower, and some reports say that only the flowers are used. The toxic indolizidine alkaloid 'slaframine' is often found in diseased clover (even if the clover shows no external symptoms of disease). This alkaloid is being studied for its antidiabetic and anti-AIDS activity.

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