Pick Purple Clover For Its Many Health Benefits

Purple clover is great for soil and livestock, and we humans can forage and benefit from this healthy herb, too. Here's how to ID, forage and use purple clover.

by Melissa Calhoun
PHOTO: breakingthewalls/Adobe Stock

Purple clover’s summertime flowers just began blooming this month and will continue to bloom into September. So we can keep picking the choicest flowers and drying them until we have a nice store set up for daily teas through winter.

Trifolium pratense, commonly called red clover in herbals or purple clover by country folks, will be peeking their light-pink-to-pale-purple blooms up among the grasses of hayfields and forage lands, and any waysides nearby. The scientific name pratens is latin for “of a meadow,” and it came here with European settlers to benefit plants, humans and other animals.

Purple clover is employed to fix nitrogen in the soils and give grazing animals forage. It also carries added health benefits for us when ingested, aiding a variety of systems in our human bodies.

An Effective Flower

The flowers are considered to be helpful for “moving blood,” and this effect is achieved by consistent use of tea or tincture over many months. You can also eat flowers and leaves raw, as a salad herb, just as you could eat white clover (Trifolium repens).

As you chew purple clover, you can notice salivary glands start to activate as your mouth gets more spit. This fluid stimulation applies to other systems in the body, including bile in the digestion, respiratory coughs that could use some mucous, and even lymphatic and skin conditions.

You can tincture or dry the flowers and top leaves. Purple clover is frequently used to address uterine complaints, and any especially toxic situation.

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Identifying Purple Clover

Even though it is commonly called red clover in herbals, it doesn’t have nearly as much red as the bright hot fuchsia of crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum), whose deeper hues and more elongated flowers distinguish it from the plant we are discussing. Crimson clover seeds are more often used by permaculturalists and flower farmers, the latter of whom love the cut flowers for arrangements and the double duty of soil improvement in a diverse farming system.

Purple clover does all this, of course, as well as attracts far more diverse pollinators including honeybees. But it also gives us time-honored herbal benefits.

purple red clover
Melissa Calhoun

Harvesting Purple Clover

Go ahead and include the upper leaves around the base of the flowers when harvesting. Look for the single pale chevron in the leaves. The club shape of the leaf sets and the uniqueness of the common clover family flowers together will give you a simple guide to identification.

But as always, have someone knowledgeable with you to help you correctly identify your first harvest before you decide to ingest.

How to Prepare & Use Purple Clover

Purple clover is considered gentle but strong. It does slow work over time, so it’s great to try to create a routine for daily ingestion of small amounts.

A cup of tea or dropperful of tincture daily for several months will be the best strategy. That said, home drying may sometimes be slow unless running a dehydrator overnight. Slow drying of these flowers, such as in a paper sack in an air conditioned home, runs the risk of a slight fermentation of chemicals that can make them less desirable for those on blood thinning medication.

Thus it is often contraindicated in that case.

For the best preservation of desirable qualities in dried flowers, pick in the morning after the dew has dried. Pick flowers that have just opened their colorful pink petals. Each plant will have several flowers opening in succession in varying ages, so you’ll be able to tell with a few days of practice how fast the flowers bloom and fade.

Make sure you then dry quickly and store in an airtight container away from sunlight. We want to see the color fade only slightly, into a deep dark purple-red upon drying. We know the fully dried flowers are ready to put up when they are crunchy and the petals crumble off upon touch.

Herbal Benefits of Purple Clover

The idea of “blood cleansing” to aid many skin issues can be understood more deliberately if we think of our skin as an organ of detoxification. While our livers and intestines want to be first lines of defense, our blood may still be “clogged” with traffic after these organs have had a go at detoxing.

If that’s the case, we’ll need our skin to help secrete undesirables.

Stinky sweat, strange bumps, chronic dry or oily spots, and even glandular swellings (where the lymph is also clogged with waste) will also alert our brains to problems that we may have failed to notice in our livers and stomach tissues. A chronic itch or rash will generally indicate an internal problem, as well as get your attention!

While various topical treatments from a dermatologist may help soothe symptoms, red clover ingestion can go deeper to help internally balance a stressed system.

Its benefits in menopause have been capitalized recently, but be careful and always consult a doctor before trying over the counter supplements. A tea you have properly identified and collected with (or purchased from!) a trained herbalist will be safe and usable for the long term.

For serious conditions always enlist an experienced health practitioner to take your body chemistry and symptoms into account, and to teach you specifically about estrogenic compounds. Red clover is generally recognized as safe when used responsibly and subtly for average health complaints, even in children.

Besides, what is more enlivening than picking flowers for tea on a clear summer morning?

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