Red clover, Trifolium pretense, is native to Europe and Asia and belongs to the bean and pea family, Leguminosae. Red clover successfully migrated to the New World and quickly became a naturalized citizen, populating pastures, lawns, and garden paths as well as tilled fields.
Farmers and allotment gardeners refer to it as one of the best green manure crops, for the deep-rooted perennial extracts nitrogen from the air and stores it in little nodules attached to its roots. When these are dug into the soil, nitrogen is released, providing an excellent, cheap fertilizer for leafy green plants, such as spinach, and for brassicas, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
Red clover’s pink tufts sit like upturned shaving brushes upon three-leafed ground-covering stems.
Medicinal Properties of Red Clover
Red clover belongs to a group of herbs that contain compounds called isoflavones. These compounds function like the female hormone, estrogen, but they are phytoestrogens (plant-origin) versus endogenous (produced in the body).
The phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors in the body and fool the body into acting as if it had received more estrogen. When phytoestrogens were first observed in 1926, it was unknown whether they had any effect on human or animal metabolism, but in the 1940s, farmers began to notice that sheep grazing in fields of red clover was producing greater numbers of lambs.
Red clover has been used traditionally for the treatment of menopausal symptoms, and a good number of studies have been done to test its efficacy.
The Science behind Red Clover
A study reported that daily treatment with 80 mg red clover isoflavones (Promensil) resulted in a significant reduction in hot flashes from baseline, and there was a significant decrease in hot flashes between the active and placebo group, demonstrating the effectiveness of Promensil in the management of hot flashes.
Another study reported in Gynecological Endocrinology found that 80 mg of red clover isoflavones per day caused a significant reduction of hot flashes and night sweats compared to placebo.One more study found that 80 mg of red clover isoflavones per day caused a significant reduction of depression and anxiety compared to placebo in menopausal women.
Safety of Red Clover
The majority of the research seems to indicate that red clover is relatively safe from the standpoint of stimulating endometrial lining and breast tissue. There does not appear to be the same risk as taking hormone replacement therapy. At least forty-five studies of over 430,000 women exposed to preparations containing isoflavones seem to suggest that red clover either has cancer-preventive effects or does not have cancer-promoting effects (breast and endometrium) and that there is no increased cancer risk.
A meta-analysis showed that there was a 16 percent reduction in cancer or relative risk per each 10 mg of isoflavones/day.
The Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study followed 543 women after breast cancer therapy. At five years follow-up, they found exposure to isoflavones reduces mortality.
There is some evidence that red clover may decrease triglyceride and LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. One study seems to indicate that Red clover improves blood pressure and the lining of the uterus in menopausal patients with Type 2 diabetes.
How to make a red clover infusion:
- Collect a basket or bowl full of fresh red clover blossoms, and shake to remove any insects and debris.
- Soak the flowers in a cold, lightly salted water, and rinse.
- Weigh out approximately 1 ounce (25-30 grams) of the rinsed flowers into a large clean jar and pour boiling water making sure they are covered. (you may also use 15g dried blossoms)
- Put a lid on the jar and leave it to steep for at least 20 minutes or up to 4 hours.
- Strain the mixture using a fine sieve or jelly bag, and discard the used flower heads.
- Add a few teaspoons of honey or sugar to taste. May be taken internally either hot or cold.
Red clover products are usually standardized to contain 40 mg of total isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, biochanin A, and formononetin). It is generally recommended 80 mg of red clover to menopausal patients who are experiencing distressing symptoms. Some of the patients have found taking 80 mg of red clover per day helpful.
Note: It is important to take the herb for at least four weeks before any benefit can be assured.