Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Foraging for Clover Lemonade

A friend is like a four leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have. – Unknown
Photo: fritish, Flickr CCL

Up early today: 5am. I've gotten slothful sleeping until 7am here in the country. I have a trip to the "big city" ahead of me today. I have two meetings, a garage appointment and lunch with a friend. I have to admit I am neither bright eyed nor bussy tailed right now. Maybe after my coffee...

It's always fun when I research my topic for the day. Without exception I always learn something new or odd. This is no less true with today’s topic, the ubiquitous red clover. 

Photo: eLaSeA, Flickr CCL
Clover is common in the Northern hemisphere and comes in many varieties. As with many other common plants, they have not only found their way into our kitchens but also our medicine cabinets. I'll restrict my blather to red clover. You know – the one you used to pick as a child.

What is red clover?
From Wikipedia...
Trifolium pratense (red clover) is a species of clover, native to Europe, Western Asia and northwest Africa, but planted and naturalized in many other regions.

It is an herbaceous, short-lived perennial plant, variable in size, growing to 20–80 cm tall. The leaves are alternate, trifoliate (with three leaflets), each leaflet 15–30 mm long and 8–15 mm broad, green with a characteristic pale crescent in the outer half of the leaf; the petiole is 1–4 cm long, with two basal stipules. The flowers are dark pink with a paler base, 12–15 mm long, produced in a dense inflorescence.

What is in it?
The main chemical components of red clover are phenolic glycosides (salicylic acid), essential oil (methyl salicylate), sitosterol, genistiene, flavonoids, salicylates, coumarins, cyanogenic glycosides, silica, choline, and lecithin. 

Red clover also contains vitamin A, vitamin C, B-complex, calcium, chromium, iron, and magnesium.

Medicinal uses
Traditionally, red clover has been used to treat cancer, whooping cough, respiratory problems, and skin inflammations, such as psoriasis and eczema. 

Red clover steeped as a tea. Photo: Carly & Art, Flickr CCL
Red clover contains isoflavones, plant-based chemicals that produce estrogen-like effects in the body. Isoflavones have shown potential in the management of menopause, effecting hot flashes, cardiovascular health, and osteoporosis. 

However, as researchers have learned more about the side effects of taking estrogen, there is also some concern about the safety of isoflavones. And the evidence that red clover helps reduce any menopausal symptoms – like hot flashes – is mixed.

Side effects of using red clover extracts are generally mild and thankfully rare. but they do include breast tenderness, menstruation changes and weight gain. Although there is no evidence for concern, it is advised that red clover extracts should be avoided in women with a history of breast cancer. Pregnant and breast feeding women should not take red clover either.

Cooking with clover
To gain any of the benefits (or worrisome effects) of red clover you would have to ingest an awful lot of it. All the medical information pertains to extracts or concentrations, so you’re safe using them to cook. For example, clover honey is sold in grocery stores and there’s no health warnings blasted on the side of it. 

Now if you sat down and ate a gallon of clover honey you would probably have more to worry about than what is written above…

Clover blossoms can be brewed as tea, made into ice cream, tossed into salads, added to pancake batter, biscuits or rice, as well as boiled into syrup that can be used as a sweetener. The seeds can also be sprouted and used much as alfalfa sprouts. These are only a few options. There are many more if you but look. 

Today's offering is a good one for on the back deck in the hot summer sun. Feel free to add a "kick" to it in any manner you desire.

Red Clover Lemonade
3 cups fresh red clover blossoms
8 cups  water
1 cup white sugar, or clover honey
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
optional: 1 or 2 drops of red food colouring (to make it pinkish)

Simmer the clover blossoms in the water for 10 minutes. Then add the sugar (or honey)and  stir it until the sugar is dissolved. Cover the pot and let it steep for several hours or overnight. Steeping makes the “tea” stronger.

Lastly, add the lemon juice and red food colouring. If your tea is too brown you may want to omit the food colouring. It's up to you. Chill before use.

Lemonade is a fantastic refresher on a hot summer day and herbal lemonades are no exception.

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