Edible and Abundant White Clover

Some of the most edible and medicinal plants available to us are right at our feet.

by Dawn Combs

I often voice my opinion about the problems I see our society’s long-standing lawn culture. This weekend during a weed walk at a local herb festival, I got another chance to get on my soapbox. I haven’t stepped down yet, so I thought I’d share a few more tidbits with you.

I had planned to take everyone down a creek where there was more “nature,” but at the last minute did something more unexpected. Instead, I headed into the alleyways between businesses. Everyone can be self-sufficient no matter where they live or work, and I was intent on proving that. As we walked, I pointed out all the medicine and food tucked along the sides of buildings and in the cracks of sidewalks. We eventually found our way into a large yard behind a bakery. The grass was filled with a variety of useful plants but nothing I could allow my group to taste—all but the grass had a yellow tinge and was horribly contorted and mutated as if in agony. As I stood there, I became angry all over again.

Lawns For Food

We hear so often that we must continue with conventional agriculture and foods produced in laboratories in order to feed the growing human population. This is said while lawns that could feed and provide healthy supplements to half a dozen families are destroyed in favor of a monoculture of useless green grass. Invariably, when I do these walks, people are shocked to learn about all the plants right at their feet that they’ve been taking for granted. This particular lawn once held plantain, dandelion, violet, chickweed, ajuga and white clover. Now it will feed no one, provide no help for common ailments, and won’t support pollinators or city wildlife. What a waste.

Meet White Clover

One of the plants destroyed in this particular lawn is ironically sold in bulk as a lawn alternative. White clover (Trifolium repens) is a great example of a plant that we take for granted. It doesn’t grow tall or have a strong scent. On our farm, we don’t walk on it carelessly as others tend to. With over a million bees flying around our property, walking barefoot across a lawn filled with white clover puts you at risk for stings.

White clover is the reason we have clover honey. Just like the honeybee, this plant was imported from Europe a long time ago. It’s so common these days, we don’t really “see” it—it’s just part of the weed landscape.

White clover’s cousin, red clover (Trifolium pratense), is much showier. It’s large and fragrant and has a more noticeable color. Perhaps this is the reason that between the two clovers, it is the star in herbal medicine. I learned the properties of red clover before I learned most of the other herbs in my yard. This weekend, I discovered that I have been missing out on a wonderful plant because I had just assumed it was only good for the bees.

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This year, I’ll be collecting white clover blossoms and leaves. They’re both edible and delicious. White clover is an alterative like it’s cousin the red clover, meaning it improves the condition of our blood. It’s helpful both internally and externally in cases of gout. It appears to be beneficial for the lymphatic system, as well. Many texts refer to its abilities with Bright’s disease, an old reference to a kidney disorder that leads to water retention kidney stones. It has even been made into a tea to use as an eyewash. Basically, all of its traditional uses point to a plant that is helpful at cleaning up all the waterways in the body.

My white clover isn’t blooming yet, but I’d guess that as soon as the other gentle blood cleansers in my yard have been destroyed by summer’s increasing temperatures, I will start to see this hardy perennial. No matter how long I work with plants, I’m constantly reminded that we take so much for granted. This spring, take a closer look at the ground you walk on. There are surprises there if you come at it from a different perspective.

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