Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a member of the Legume family. It is related to beans and peanuts. In a recent article on white clover, I covered the use of white clover as an edible wild plant. In comments to that article, some people confused white clover with red clover. One person even strongly suggested that the two were identical, with red clover being identical to white clover. They stated that red clover was simply a pink version of the white clover covered in the article. However, these two plants, while being cousins, are very different in the amounts and types of naturally occurring chemical constituents they contain.
What Is Red Clover?
Red clover is a type of clover that produces red flowering tops on a tall, upright stem. It grows much taller than white clover and is frequently planted in cattle pastures for grazing. While both red and white clovers have leaves arranged in sets of 3 (thus the name Trifolium), have white chevrons, or Vs, on the leaves, and have been used by humans for thousands of years, they have very different effects. In fact, red clover is the more commonly used of the two in herbal medicine and for making dietary supplements.
Possible Benefits For Your Health
Before we get into the possible health benefits of using red clover I wanted to give you the main difference between red and white clover. Red clover contains a number of isoflavones. This is important because the body converts these into phytoestrogens. These are plant-based chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body. Although these phytoestrogens can be helpful in certain conditions, they can also be considered harmful in other conditions. If you plan to use red clover you should talk to your doctor or an experienced herbalist and discuss any medical conditions or prescription drugs you are taking. I’ll lay out some of those conditions and prescription medications later in the article.
If you suffer from excess fluid in your body red clover has been shown by recent research to have properties that allow it to work as a natural diuretic. By increasing urination it is believed to help to lower blood pressure, flush toxins from the body, and balance fluid levels. If you are currently taking prescription diuretics you should discuss this with your doctor before you begin using it as a dietary supplement.
Red Clover May Lower The Risk Of Certain Cancers
Red clover has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to help prevent cancer and as a “blood purifier”. In laboratory studies the isoflavones contained in red clover were seen to stop cancer cells from growing and multiplying. It showed some promise in causing cancer cells to self-destruct. This is called cell apoptosis. Much more research is needed to find out if they will work the same way in humans, but the research is promising.
It was also noted that since the isoflavones mimic estrogen certain types of cancer that are affected by estrogen are the most likely to be affected by using red clover. These include prostate, breast, and endometrial cancers. However, since it is not clear how estrogen affects breast cancer, those with a high risk for breast cancer should avoid using red clover.
May Increase Bone Density
A lack of estrogen is the main reason that women begin to lose bone mass as they age and go through menopause. The isoflavones may help to correct this imbalance and reduce the risk of osteoporosis in older women. Studies also indicate that women who are premenopausal and have low bone density may benefit as well.
A laboratory study on mice indicated that the phytoestrogens decreased bone loss in the mice compared to the control group.
May Improve Cardiovascular Health
Another problem women face as they age and have a decreased estrogen level is cardiovascular disease. Studies are mixed regarding whether phytoestrogens can affect cholesterol, but one study suggests that it may be able to decrease LDL (“Bad cholesterol”) while increasing HDL (“Good cholesterol”). Further human studies are needed to prove this effect.
Red Clover May Improve Respiratory Health
In traditional medicine, it has been used to treat a wide range of respiratory illnesses. Coughs, asthma, bronchitis, colds, and flu are some typical uses. Its use for asthma stems from its ability to act as effectively as manufactured bronchodilators to relax the airways of the lungs and relieve bronchospasms. It can help to flush mucus from the lungs and this effect is helpful in all the above respiratory illnesses. Its ability to soothe coughs may also help during a cold or the flu. This can help you get better rest to help your immune system to fight off the infection.
May Help With Symptoms Of Menopause
Studies are mixed on whether the phytoestrogens contained in red clover can help reduce hot flashes and night sweats. Another study found that after 90 days of use of phytoestrogens extracted from red clover there was a significant improvement in the health of women’s skin, hair, and scalp, including decreased thinning of the hair.
May Improve The Health Of Your Skin
This may be the most interesting use for the phytoestrogens from this abundant plant. There is a small body of evidence that it can improve the signs of aging when used on the skin. It can reduce inflammation and increase collagen production to help smooth and tone the skin. The anti-inflammatory effects can also be helpful for skin conditions such as eczema and acne, as well as itchy rashes. It also has been shown to be useful for treatment of wounds, even non-healing wounds, due to the stimulation of collagen production. It has also been used to stimulate and improve the health of the scalp and hair follicles, as noted earlier.
As noted above, there are a number of precautions to consider before you decide if using this clover is right for you. Those with estrogen-dependent cancers should not use this. Those with a history of breast cancer in the family should also avoid its use. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use any supplements containing estrogen without consulting their doctor. Women who are taking birth control should not use due to the possibility it may interfere with birth control. If they do decide to use it then a condom should be used during sex. Do not use this with children, as there are no long term studies on the effects of estrogen in children. Finally, those who take prescription drugs that are changed by the liver should avoid its use.
For more information about other wild medicinal plants and essential oils you can visit our list of articles.
Everything in this website is for informational purposes only and in no way intended as medical advice. Only your health care provider can give you medical advice based on your health history. If you decide to use one of the many commercial preparations be sure you are purchasing from a reliable source. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA and so there may be additional additives or contaminants you may not be aware of.