Friday, June 29, 2012

Foraging: Red Clover's A' Blooming

What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough. – Bertolt Brecht

A real, honest-to-goodness Nova Scotia red clover blossom.
Photo: meddygarnet, Flickr ccl
I must have been a misery to my parents as a child. It seems like everything wants to go in my mouth – still – even as an adult.

I dropped my car off at the garage a couple days ago and as I walked to work chanced upon a stand of red clover in full bloom in a fallow lot. The bees were very busy around them.

I quickly bent down to pick a blossom and then in my mouth it went… Mmmmmm….

I remember eating the flower blossoms when I was a child. Like the bees, the sweet honey taste of the nectar was a real attractant to me. Chewing on the flower also made me think about how common it is as a forage item.

Red clover tea. Photo: Carly & Art, Flickr ccl
About red clover
Trifolium pratense is a species of clover, native to Europe, Western Asia and northwest Africa, but planted and naturalized in many other regions, including North America. In fact, it’s so naturalized I always thought of it as a wild flower, which technically it now is in Nova Scotia..

Red clover is an herbaceous perennial growing from 1-2 feet tall. The leaves are trifoliate (three leaflets), each leaflet being green with a characteristic pale crescent in the outer half. 

The flowers are dark pink with a paler base and grow in an inflorescence (that means in a bunch). What we think of as a clover flower is actually an assemblage of many small tubes that make up the characteristic flower shape.

In the medicine cabinet
Red clover is a wild plant of the legume family that is quite common on grazing land. It has also been used medicinally to treat a number of conditions. Traditional uses included cancer, whooping cough, respiratory problems, and skin inflammations, such as psoriasis and eczema.

Jelly!!! Photo: ohthecuteness, Flickr ccl
Scientific studies show that red clover contains isoflavones, plant based chemicals that cause estrogen-like effects to the body. In lab studies, isoflavones have shown potential in the treatment of menopausal hot flashes, cardiovascular concerns, and osteoporosis although the actual evidence isn’t completely conclusive.

The estrogen-like effect of red clover isoflavones  may have a direct effect by preventing the breakdown of existing bone in both men and women..

In the kitchen
The leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots of clovers are all edible. Red clover is a source of calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. So that’s a good start for thinking about eating the stuff.

Young leaves, before flowering, can be eaten raw in salads. The dried leaves supposedly add a vanilla-like flavor to baked goods.
The flowers and seeds are of greatest interest to foragers. The flowers are popular for making teas, wines, jellies and jams. I have been thinking myself about strawberry clover jam. If I can make up a recipe you may see it posted.

Both the flowers and seeds can be dried and ground into flour.

Red clover has so many, many uses in the kitchen so it was a bit difficult to narrow down what I wanted to show you. Here’s a summertime themed one. I hop you like it.

Photo:, Flickr ccl
Red Clover Lemonade
You could “spike” this with booze if you wanted… just sayin’
3 cups fresh blossoms (no green), plus some for decoration
8 cups water
1-1/2 cups white sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Place the cleaned blossoms, water and sugar in a pot and simmer for 10-12 minutes. 

Cover and let the mixture steep for at least 8 hours (overnight is good). Strain the mixture and then add the lemon juice. This is your base lemonade. What you add to it after this is up to your own devices…

Serve over ice. 

Fresh blossoms or individual flowers can be added to drinks for that oh-so-over-the-top look!.

For “bonus” clover recipes, including an interesting sounding Rose and Clover Jelly, look here:


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