Red clover

Common name: Red clover
Other names: Wild clover, trefoil, purple clover, meadow clover, honeysuckle clover, cleaver grass, marl grass, cow grass
Latin name: Trifolium pratense
Affinities: Immune system, respiratory system, integumentary system, digestive system, nervous system, lymphatic system
Actions: Alterative, expectorant, antispasmodic, sedative, nutritive
Specific indications: Dry scaly skin, dry tear ducts or salivary glands, insomnia in children, lymphatic congestion, children with skin problems
Diseases: Childhood eczema(3), psoriasis(3), bronchitis(3), whooping cough(3), cancer(2)
Parts used: Flowerheads
Energetics: Cooling, moistening


Characteristics: Red clover is a member of the legume family and is native to central Asia (Wood, 2011). It is a low-growing perennial with trifoliate leaves and purplish flowers (Kuhn and Winston, 2000).

History: Red clover has a long history of use as a religious symbol, the ancient Greeks, the Romans, and the Celts of pre-Christian Ireland all revered it (Castleman, 2001). During the middle ages, red clover was considered a charm against witchcraft. Traditional Chinese doctors have used red clover in expectorant blends since ancient times. Russian folk healers are said to have used red clover for asthma. The Eclectic physicians in the 19th and early 20th centuries used red clover, as Harvey Felter wrote in a 1922 Eclectic text, ‘Trifolium is alterative and antispasmodic. It relieves irritability of the respiratory tract, alleviating dry irritable and spasmodic cough…. Its alterative powers are underrated’ (Felter, 1922). Felter did not view red clover as curative for cancer, but thought it slowed its growth. Red clover was one of the herbs in the ex-coal miner Harry Hoxsey’s alternative treatment for cancer (Castleman, 2001).

Current applications: David Hoffman, in Holistic Herbal mentions, that red clover is one of the most useful remedies for children with skin problems (Hoffman, 1988). He states it may have value in childhood eczema, but also psoriasis, coughs and bronchitis, and whooping cough. For skin problems, it combines well with yellow dock and nettles. Matthew Wood describes red clover as a nutritive tonic, and that it is soothing to dry, irritable tissues. He mentions it has affinity for glands in the body such as for swollen parotids, salivary gland congestion or excess secretion, lymphatic congestion, and other swollen, puffed up problems with glands. (Wood, 2011). Red clover may have value in treating insomnia in children.

Science: Red clover is rich in isoflavones, these are biologically active compounds that are naturally present in plant based foods (Atkinson et al., 2004). They have potential for cancer preventive and cardioprotective properties, reducing menopausal symptoms, and bone protective effects. There is good evidence in humans red clover helps with menopause symptoms (Hidalgo et al., 2005). There is preliminary evidence in humans that red clover isoflavones could be used to help the conventional treatment of prostate cancer as increased apoptosis of prostate cancer cells was seen in the treatment group (Jarred, 2002). This experiment, however, was not blinded or placebo/ alternative medication controlled. A well-controlled study observed a protective effect on the lumbar spine in women through attenuation of bone loss (Atkinson et al., 2004).

Safety: High. However, avoid use of the standardised isoflavone products during pregnancy (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). Use cautiously in individuals with bleeding disorders.

Dosage: 5-60 drops of tincture 2-3 times daily.

Scientific Summary

Research on humans

Prostate cancer: One study (N=36, non-randomised, non-blinded, no placebo) found in men with prostate cancer who had just undergone a radical prostatectomy in the group that consumed 160 mg/day of red clover-derived dietary isoflavones, there was significantly higher apoptosis compared with the control group (Jarred, 2002).

Menopausal symptoms: A study (N=60, double blind placebo controlled) of postmenopausal women found red clover isoflavone treatment significantly decreased menopausal symptoms and had a positive effect on vaginal cytology (Hidalgo et al., 2005). Mean total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol and triglyceride levels also decreased; only the decrease in triglycerides was significant compared with the placebo.

Bone density: One study (N=177, double blind placebo controlled) found that through attenuation of bone loss, red clover derived isoflavones appear to have protective effect on the lumbar spine in women (Atkinson et al., 2004).


Atkinson, Charlotte, et al. “Red clover-derived isoflavones and mammographic breast density: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial [ISRCTN42940165].” Breast Cancer Research 6.3 (2004): R170.

Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.

Felter, Harvey. The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1922.

Hidalgo, Luis A., et al. “The effect of red clover isoflavones on menopausal symptoms, lipids and vaginal cytology in menopausal women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Gynecological Endocrinology 21.5 (2005): 257-264.

Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.

Jarred, Renea A., et al. “Induction of apoptosis in low to moderate-grade human prostate carcinoma by red clover-derived dietary isoflavones.” Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers 11.12 (2002): 1689-1696.

Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books, 2011.