Red Clover



Trifolium pratense

This common herb is just about everywhere. Although it is native to Europe, it has become naturalized in North America and can be found throughout central and northern Asia, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Circle. It is also known as cow clover, meadow clover, purple clover, wild clover and trifolium.

The flowering top of red clover has been popular in European folk medicine for centuries. It contains copious amounts of important nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, as well as having impressive health promoting activities.

Red clover has many benefits for digestion and is commonly used for constipation and sluggish appetite. Red clover tea stimulates liver and gall bladder activity to aid in digestion.

It is widely used as an antitussive for treating inflammation and other conditions in the lungs, including asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Gargling with the tea is helpful for sore throats, swellings and infections.

Red clover is an excellent blood purifier and is considered an alterative, which helps tone the entire system. It may be helpful for chronic degenerative diseases due to its blood thinning coumarins. Several tests indicate it has antibiotic effects against several bacteria including those of tuberculosis. An estrogenic compound, genistein, in the flower, may block off estrogen receptors, thwarting tumor development. This estrogen blocking ability may be significant in its usage in alternative cancer treatments.

Externally, red clover is useful for many conditions. A fomentation or compress of red clover has been used for rheumatic pains. Extracts of red clover can be used topically for persistent sores. Other skin problems, including athlete’s foot and burns may do well with a poultice of red clover. Taking red clover internally also helps with skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

Red clover has been instrumental in restoring health throughout the ages and all over the world. If you look out your own back door, you may see an abundance of it. This seemingly innocent-looking, small flower holds a multitude of healing properties in its delicate petals.

The Many Petals of Health

The beauty of a field of red clover in bloom is one of the heralds of spring. The lovely pink flowers and the deep green of the foliage create an intricate tapestry in meadows and farmlands around the world. Red clover is also a highly-prized medicinal herb that has a long history of usage in many systems of herbalism world-wide.

Red clover is an amazingly versatile plant that is frequently classified as a tonic in Western herbalism because it rebalances and strengthens so many organ systems. Traditional herbalists have employed red clover for centuries as both a nutritive and cleansing remedy because of its blood and lymph detoxifying properties. This has led to traditional, folk-herbalism applications for anemia, fatigue, arthritis, fevers, chronic inflammatory respiratory complaints and tumors. Folk herbalism suggests it also has secondary diuretic properties for chronic urinary inflammation, reduces swelling, promotes tissue healing, relieves dry skin, eyes and hair complaints as well as constipation due to dryness. Additionally, traditional herbalists use red clover to relax the nervous system, reduce muscle spasms and relieve mild pain.

Red clover has also been the focus of scientific research over the last 40 years. Early research found the leaf is high in chlorophyll, one of the best detoxifying and blood-building molecules known. The chlorophyll molecule closely resembles hemoglobin, the pigment in red blood cells, except it contains magnesium where hemoglobin contains iron. Thus, it is an easy chemical slight of hand for the body to substitute iron for magnesium to build stronger blood. Fortunately, red clover tops contain iron, so the necessary ingredients are already provided in the whole plant. Chlorophyll also supplies natural deodorant and antioxidant properties.

Minerals

Red clover tops are also high in many other minerals. these include chromium, which is valuable for balancing blood sugar, as well as magnesium, copper, phosphorus and calcium, suggesting applications for the support of healthy bones and joints. Additionally, it contains molybdenum, which is used in detoxification regimens by orthomolecular physicians and nutritionists for chronic illnesses involving excessive toxicity levels, as in allergies, arthritis, environmental illness, to chelate heavy metals and other environmental toxins.

Source of Isoflavones

Other research on Red Clover has found it contains many isoflavone compounds with biochanin A, genistein, daidzein and formononetin being the most active. Genistein and daidzein are also found in Soy, and have been researched preliminarily as possible protective agents against the risk of cancer and heart disease. However, there is a considerable amount of clinical research needed to confirm these leads before clinical applications can proceed with surety. Red clover also contains coumarin and coumesterol, which research has found to have similar activities.

Some of this protection comes from antioxidant properties and the regulation of sterol metabolism, which includes the synthesis, breakdown and excretion of cholesterol and sexual hormones in the liver and bowels. Additionally, these isoflavones promote healthy intestinal flora populations, which are needed for the assimilation of nutrients from our food, the synthesis of other nutrients like vitamin K and the breakdown and excretion of sterol compounds. When the body has inadequate helpful flora in the intestinal tract, the sterol metabolism is thrown off, leading to an accumulation of sexual hormones and cholesterol, risk factors for both heart disease and cancer.

Phytoestrogens

All of the isoflavones found in Red Clover are classified as phytoestrogens. Those are plant-derived, hormonally active compounds that can beneficially alter the hormone metabolism in the body. Phytoestrogens can exhibit mild estrogenic effects when the body’s own secretion of estrogen is insufficient to ensure balanced functioning. This is particularly appropriate, for instance, during menopause, when estrogen levels decline, often too precipitously to maintain balance for a smooth, symptom-less, mid-life transition. It is important to remember, that unlike synthetic hormone replacements, these isoflavones produce phytoestrogenic effects only if the tissues need them. So there is a natural check-and-balance mechanism at work that synthetics do not offer.

In tissues exposed to excessively high levels of estrogen, phytoestrogens provide a protective effect by binding inertly without hormonal effects to estrogen receptors, thereby preventing more powerful and dangerous estrogenic substances from binding there. Because they can’t bind and thus elevate blood estrogen levels, these dangerous estrogens are removed from the blood stream for breakdown and excretion. This is particularly important as a protective mechanism against the potent and dangerous estrogen forms that the body makes, both male and female, that the liver is supposed to breakdown. The same protection helps against xenoestrogens, or estrogenic substances originating outside the body from PCBs, industrial pollutants, household cleaners, solvents, synthetic cosmetic ingredients, synthetic hormone medications and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

This type of anti-estrogenic response is currently at the forefront of research on cancer risk reduction as well as a modality for promoting healthy prostate function in older men. As men age, the body’s estrogen secretion increases, while testosterone levels decline. Excessive estrogen levels in older men have been correlated with increased risk for benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) or prostate enlargement.

In menopausal women, hot flashes and other common symptoms are not only a result of declining estrogen levels, but also of the widening ratios of estrogen to progesterone and other female hormones. In this situation, phytoestrogens help to narrow that ratio by providing the anti-estrogenic effects to lower estrogen levels through inert binding so that more estrogen is broken down and excreted. This makes the estrogen to progesterone ratio, as well as levels of luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, more balanced, and thus relieves menopausal symptoms.

These same hormone ratios are often involved in PMS complaints, fibrocystic breast disease and problematic withdrawals from synthetic hormonal birth control methods. It’s important to fully understand that the ratio of these hormones is as important in relieving symptoms as the blood level of estrogen is and in many cases, more important. So the anti-estrogenic effects of Red Clover’s isoflavones are important tools for supporting the reproductive health of both men and women.

Many plants contain the phytoestrogens, genistein and daidzein, including the legume, to which Red Clover and Soy belong. Red Clover provides excellent phytoestrogen activity because it has many phytoestrogenic isoflavones in it. These isoflavones give a wide array of biochemically activity. This makes Red Clover an excellent choice for older men and women wishing to promote reproductive health in the climacteric years when menopausal problems or prostate complaints typically arise.

To ensure the greatest activity, purity and safety, look for a standardized Red Clover supplement extracted without harmful solvents, such as acetone, and which is free of fillers, binders or excipients. Whether you are in mid-life or not, Red Clover provides a wide array of nutritional support, cleansing, detoxifying and tissue protective mechanisms that many of us can use to combat the stresses and toxins that abound in daily life in modern cultures. It can be used regularly for reducing the risk of degenerative diseases, to support healthy reproductive function and mid-life transitions for both men and women, or to promote bone, joint and skin health. It can be used occasionally as a spot remedy for lymphatic congestion with colds and flu, as a seasonal cleanser for the blood and lymph, or to lighten the load of toxins that interfere with smooth daily immune and liver functioning putting us at risk for degenerative disease. As you can see, Red Clover deserves a regular place in the medicinal herb cabinet in every home.

References:

  • Grieve M. A Modern Herbal Vol. II. Dover Publications, 1982.
  • Lust, J. The Herb Book, Bantam Books, 1974.
  • Leung, A. & Foster, S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used In Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. Wiley-Interscience Publication, 1996.
  • Santillo, H. Natural Healing With Herbs. Hohm Press, 1990.
  • Tierra,M. Planetary Herbology. Lotus Press, 1992.