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Red Clover

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Red Clover - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: hong che zhou cao
Japanese: natsushirogiku
Korean: hwalan gughwa
Sanskrit: gaus / vana-methika
Hindi: lala tipatiya ghasa
Arabic: bersim ahmar / nafal
Turkish: krimizi yonca
French: midel des pres / trefle des pres / trefle poupre / trefle rouge
Spanish: trebol / trebol rojo
Italian: trifolio rosso
English: beebread / trefoil / cow clover / purple clover / wild clover / cleaver grass / cow grass
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Trifolium pratense

Background and History

The red clover, also known as cow grass, is a beautiful flowering perennial plant commonly thought to be a native of Europe, Africa, and Western Asia. Characterised by its often gaudy inflorescence, this shrub-like plant grows in relatively moist, fertile environments and can range from between twenty to eighty centrimetres in length upon maturity. It is noted for the distinct clover-feature - a trifoliate (threeleafed) 'head' which springs from a delicate yet hardy stem, replete with broad dark-green leaves (typically some fifteen to thirty millimetres in length, and eight to five millimetres broad) that possess a distinctive pale crescent colouration on the outer half of each leaf. It's most telling feature are its flowers, generally pink or dark-pink in hue with a pale ivory or carnation-pink base which grows into a sort of knob comprised of a number of tiny, densely packed flowerettes which, when taken as a whole, comprises its flower-head. [1]

Red clover is typically found growing wild on fields and pastures, or otherwise artificially introduced into an area as it is valuable for nitrogen fixation, as well as for being an excellent fodder for various types of livestock. The employment of red clover for medicinal purposes is relatively antiquated in the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine, although its use as a medicinal plant in Europe and the rest of the Western world is at best a relatively modern innovation that came about sometime during the early 1920s.

Common / Popular Uses

Being a relatively common plant in various parts of the Western world and selected parts of Asia, the red clover has also been naturalised in areas where its presence was originally virtually unknown, either through natural means or via human intervention. It was (and still continues to be) commonly employed as a means to naturally fertilise pasture grounds, where it doubled as fodder for free-range livestock. It may have also been harvested by early shepherding cultures and integrated into the general constituents of their animal fodder, and today, some cultivars have even been expressly bred for just such a purpose. [2]

Nowadays, the most common employment of red clover is as a food supplement and alternative medicine, often billed as an organic remedy for cancer. While the usage of red clover as animal fodder and as an early (albeit relatively weak) type of herbal medicine may be traced back to Ancient China (where it was typically drunk as a cooling tisane and an emmenagogue), its modern applications are most probably modern amendments to older properties, with very little to almost no backing in the world of true traditional herbalism, unlike most other known medicinal herbs and spices.

The earliest usage of red clover flowers typically involved employing infusing fresh or dried flowers of the plant into a mild, sweet-tasting tisane which was drunk as a remedy for irregular menses. The practice was commonplace in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and early Western herbalism. The Chinese also prescribed infusions of red clover leaf as a remedy for mild to moderately severe coughing, asthma, and hoarseness of voice. Generally thought of as a blood purifier, it was also a mild diaphoretic, antipyretic, and astringent, drunk during the onset of a fever or flu to help bolster the body's immune system to better counteract the disease. [3] Moderate concentrations of red clover tisane were also given as a diuretic beverage believed by both early Chinese and Western herbalists to treat a wide range of urinary and gastro-intestinal problems due to its carminative and diuretic properties. Said to be able to cool the body and relieve toxins, it was drunk as a casual summertime beverage, and was given to young adults (and sometimes even children in minute dosages of a very weak type) in order to combat colds. Due to its emmenagogue properties, it was believed (perhaps erroneously) to promote fertility and was even prescribed to women who wished to conceive, with what may be counterproductive effects. Stronger infusions of the drink were given to elderly individuals as a remedy for gout, and, if employed topically was used as a healing and restorative rinse that helped to hasten the healing of scars and minor wounds, as well as remedy sores, burns, rashes, and a variety of skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. [4] Outside of the traditional medicinal applications, red clover was even employed as a flavouring for beverages, or as an additive (if not a primary ingredient) in both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Dried red clover petals have even been integrated into herbal cigarettes in the belief that it (along with a combination of other 'weaning' herbs) would eventually encourage a smoker to kick the habit. [5]

The modern applications associated with red clover arose sometime in the early 1920s, with the peak of its popularity lasting until well into the latter part of the 1960s. It was (at the time) prescribed as an alternative cure and preventive supplement for cancer, diabetes, and HIV; an idea that came about from one Rene Caisse, a Canadian nurse who claimed to have learnt of its anti-carcinogenic properties, antidiabetic, and immuno-supportive properties from an Ojibwa Medicine Man. She purported that red clover (along with a 'secret combination' of some six to eight other types of herbs and spices) had very powerful therapeutic properties so potent that they could facilitate the regression of tumors as well as boost the overall health of the body. She later attempted to market the purportedly 'shamanic' remedy under the name of 'Essiac' (her surname spelled backwards), but with very little success due to lack of supportive scientific evidence regarding its efficacy. It was later found out that some herbs which were part of the recipe actually increased the risk for, and rate of cancer growth, which nearly spelled the end for her marketing ploy, until she later repealed its status as being no more than a dietary supplement, and not a tested and proven alternative herbal medicine. [6] Several scientific studies conducted in the early 1940s and '50s soon dispelled any illusions as to its anti-carcinogenic properties, although it remains a fixture (if not quite as popular) in some health food stores to this day. More recent studies have confirmed that red clover (by itself) does not possess any significant anti-diabetic property, but that it may have some degree of immune-boosting properties. Being relatively mild due to its being sourced solely from the flowers, it is often used as a topical rinse to help relieve the discomfort associated with some types of STDs such as herpes simplex, although so far, no significant studies have shown that it does indeed cure cancer, STDs, or diabetes as was vaunted by Caisse. Nowadays, red clover leaf is typically sold in both loose dried form and tea-bag form for use as a tisane, or otherwise encapsulated as a food supplement for lowering cholesterol, reducing hot flashes, regulating menses, and alleviating the discomforts associated with premenstrual syndrome or menopause.

While red clover has been proven to be ineffective for the treatment of cancer and other more 'malignant' diseases, studies support the possibility of its efficacy for the treatment of hot flashes and for its employment as a supplement for menopause due to the presence of isoflavones - estrogenic chemical compounds which may act as a sort of natural hormone-replacement medicine. Its reliability and overall safety however is still in question. The traditional applications for red clover however have been tried and tested for their efficiency, although the mild nature of the medicine typically curtails the need for higher dosages or the accompaniment of more potent herbs or spices in order to facilitate a fully curative remedy.

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

As with nearly all species of clover, the red clover is typically given lucky connotations by practitioners of the Kraft. Its trefoil appearance makes it an excellent protective charm or amulet when carried around one's person. [7] Its flowers have even been used as incense to drive away negativity, facilitate calmness, soothe nervousness, elicit desire and (contrary to is more notorious use as a fixing herb), encourage fidelity and loyalty between couples. Very strong decoctions of red clover have been employed in cleansing baths to help people attract money or otherwise break free from a tight financial situation. [8] It's most notorious use is in the creation of love philtres, as it often plays an integral role in fixing spells and conjure, due to its ability to incite lust. [9]

While the traditional applications and usage of red clover are deemed generally safe, prolonged intake of the herb, or continuous intake of very large and concentrated amounts are ill-advised as it may cause allergic skin reactions, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and spotting (when consumed by women). Due to its anti-coagulant properties, red clover may also encourage internal bleeding or the inability of blood to properly coagulate in the event of an injury, and thus put the person at risk for severe bleeding. Prolonged intake of red clover in dosages beyond small to moderate amounts may increase an individual's risk for blood clots. Studies have shown that livestock who were fed large amounts of red clover were rendered infertile, so long-term consumption of the herb for supplementary purposes is ill-advised. Furthermore, due to its well-known emmenagogue properties, pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive should avoid the consumption of red clover or products that may contain red clover.

The herb may interact with synthetic estrogen found in birth control pills or injectables (like the ones employed for hormone replacement therapy), so the consumption of even minute amounts of red clover must be ceased when under these kinds of medication. Likewise, individuals who partake of anticoagulant drugs for therapeutic purposes should also avoid the consumption of large amounts of red clover. It is always best to check with an expert herbalist and one's personal health care specialist prior to partaking of red clover in anything beyond the moderate amounts, especially if one intends to partake of it for a long period. At best, one should not consume red clover (as a therapeutic supplement) beyond a precautionary three to six month period without the proper guidance of an expert.

References:

[1 - 2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trifolium_pratense

[3] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-308-RED%20CLOVER.aspx?activeIngredientId=308&activeIngredientName=RED%20CLOVER

[4] http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/herbal-remedies/red-clover-herbal-remedies.htm

[5] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/red-clover

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essiac

[7] http://witchofforestgrove.com/2010/10/09/weeds-for-witches-clover/

[8] http://www.thegoddesstree.com/MotherNature/Clover.htm

[9] http://www.magickalproperties.com/storehouse/red-clover-2oz

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, Scientific Studies report by Dan Ablir. © herbs-info.com 2013

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