Notes from the Apothecary: Clover
Clover is also called trefoil, literally “three-leaves”, and grows in most places around the world. Although many clover plants look similar, there are around 300 species of Trifolium and they’re in the same plant family as peas. Both the round, joyful flowers and the iconic triplet of small, round leaves have a ton of folklore around them – and some surprising modern research, too.
The Kitchen Garden
Red and white clover are the most common where I live, and often pop up in lawns without any encouragement from gardeners. As well as being a fantastic food source for bees and other insects, clover is completely edible by humans, too. Pick young flowers, without any browning, and you can suck the nectar straight out of the blossoms – check for bugs first! The leaves and flowers themselves are also edible, but should be avoided if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, as some species of clover contain phytoestrogens which can be problematic – especially those of red clover.
The leaves of clover are not particularly tasty, although at a local pub I found some in my salad once – were they cost cutting by adding ingredients from the lawn? Who knows! It was a bit bitter and not great, but completely bearable if nothing else was available. Clover leaves are rich in micronutrients, which we’ll explore a bit more in the Apothecary section. However, if you live in a warm climate, you might want to avoid the leaves of white clover as they may produce small amounts of cyanide when damaged, according to Science Daily.
Clover seeds and seed pods are also edible and high in protein, and can be dried and ground up for storing.
Clover has some potentially excellent health benefits thanks to being high in:
- Beta carotene which we use to produce vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Much of this nutritional information comes from agricultural sources, as clover ends up mixed with hay for feeding livestock animals. Bear in mind that to enjoy the health benefits, you’d probably need to eat quite a lot of clover! You can add the leaves into salads (like my surprise pub salad) or cook them like greens, or add them into soups.
Mrs. Grieve’s Modern Herbal tells us that clover is an alternative, which means it supports general health and well-being, and an antispasmodic for calming muscle spasms or cramps. She also states that clover was used in a poultice for cancerous growths, but modern research has mixed reports, with red clover being indicated in the growth of cancer cells in some patients who already had with breast cancer or prostate cancer. People with should not take red clover, and you should not take any type of clover if you are taking blood thinners as some species produce small amounts of chemicals similar to warfarin.
Red clover may be indicated in the treatment of the symptoms of the menopause, thanks to its phytoestrogen content and the potential to reduce low-density lipoproteins, the type of cholesterol we’re all trying to reduce. However, research is currently inconclusive so always talk to a professional before using clover or any complementary medicine.
The Witch’s Kitchen
Clover has long been associated with luck, thanks to the rare four-leaf clover, a variation which occurs in about one of every 5000 standard clover leaves. It’s not a separate species, and presumably the luck is associated with the simple fact that’s it’s incredibly difficult to find one! If you’re looking for your own four-leaf clover, try your luck with white clover, or Trifolium Repens, as this species has some cultivars which are more likely to produce four (or more!) leaves.
As well as luck, this symbol could also be associated with deception or trickery. It was common, as children, to pick two standard clover leaves and overlap them to create the illusion of a four-leaf clover. Sometimes Oxalys tetraphylla is sold as four-leaf clover, but it’s a completely different plant, a type of wood sorrel from Mexico. Don’t be taken in by fakes or bad copies!
According to popular folklore site Folklore Thursday, there’s a Christian believe that Eve brought the four-leaf clover with her from Eden. The same article states that druids may have gathered these clovers for ritual use, but what those uses were eludes us.
Clover flowers can be used for simple colour magic requiring red or white, to match the flowers. My path is most influenced by Irish Celtic mythology, wherein white means something otherworldly and red often means a connection to sorcery or magic. They are also both colours associated with An Mórrígan. Red also links to blood, passion, love, and warnings. White may be associated with purity or innocence, truth, honesty, divination, or creatures from other planes.
Home and Hearth
Don’t cut your lawn until after the first crop of clover flowers has blossomed and faded. This helps bees replenish themselves as they carry out their work, and may bring energetic protection to your home and strengthen your boundaries. Pick a single blossom before it fades and press in in a flower press or blank pages of a journal. Don’t use a favourite book as the juices from the plant can stain it. Make a commitment to making your world a better place somehow. This could be to recycle more, to work within the community, or simply to update your blog more frequently! When you feel demotivated, take your clover flower out and focus on it to remind you of your commitment. Know that just like the clover comes back each spring and after being cut down, your motivation will return. Do a little work each time you take your clover blossom out, and you will see progress.
I Never Knew…
A 17th century reference to “Fower-leafed” clover states it was used to alleviate “The Purples”, what we now call purpura.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.