Red Clover In Your Garden & Pantry

This common plant, often thought of as a weed, brings extreme value, both to your soil and to your health.

by Dawn Combs
PHOTO: Suzanne Cadwell/Flickr

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is one of the first plants I tried to grow on our farm. I had encountered its benefits while visiting Zack Woods Herb Farm in Vermont. My notes from that day suggest that I plant red clover and oats together, using oats as a nurse crop for the understory of red clover. For a few years, I struggled with getting this valuable crop started until I realized it was happily starting itself in some of the recovering areas of the farm. Now I practice a system of “no mow” in a few areas of the yard—our orchard is chief among these—to harvest the purple blossoms throughout the late spring and early summer.

A Soil Booster

Red clover is one of the best known plants for fixing atmospheric nitrogen—140 pounds per acre to be exact—into a usable form for plants in the soil. This happens at the roots because of a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizae in the soil. In red clover’s presence, the soil is filled with these networks of fungal threads that move both macro and micro nutrients to where plant roots need them. Letting red clover grow will bring about the same result as buying inoculant, ultimately improving the nitrogen content in the surrounding soil for the benefit of neighboring plants. Of course, as I found out here at Mockingbird Meadows, if you turn over a new plot in an area of grass that has been fertilized with chemicals, it is important to add the inoculant for the red clover itself.

A Blood Booster

Red clover is a classic alterative, favorably improving the condition of our blood just as it improves the condition of our soils. The flowers and the top pair of leaves are picked for their high vitamin and mineral content, namely calcium, chromium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, tin, and vitamins B and C. The plant is also an important blood thinner and cleanser.

Red clover is found in tonic teas that support the health of the respiratory tract, especially among those who suffer from allergies and asthma. It is even reported to be a topical remedy used by the Native Americans for the reduction of tumors. It was this reputation that landed the plant in the famed Hoxsey formula, an herbal medical treatment touted as a cure for cancer.

A Life Booster

For years before I recognized red clover for all it brings my garden and cupboard, I saw it as a nuisance. Now I look forward to the vivid purple blooms and my time with them each morning while the dew soaks my pants cuffs and I fill my gathering baskets with their heady smell. While not a classic cut flower, they now make up the center attraction at many of my dinner parties. Beyond their color and scent, red clover tends to support us with calm and clear thinking in times that can lead to mass hysteria and societal upheaval, according to those who specialize in flower essence therapy.

Whether you gather their flowers for tea, flower essence, bouquet or merely let them grow to improve your soil, red clover is definitely worth a second look as a member of your garden.

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