The first time I ate red clover was as a child at summer camp.
My counselor pointed it out, showed us how to pluck a single purple flower from the head, turn it over and suck at the white base. The tiniest drop of sweetness spread over my tongue, and ever since I’ve been able to taste clover in honey—its delicate floral note imbued in the thick golden sugar.
Each June, when red clover erupts over farm fields and pastures, I reach automatically for the flowers and bring them to my lips again, the taste whisking me back to the timelessness of childhood summers and the delight of sweet surprises.
So when the fields bloom purple, I leave the cultivated rows of vegetables and head out to pasture with basket in hand.
Benefits of Red Clover
I’m not the only one who loves red clover: clover is an important crop for native bumble bees and honey bees alike. A legume, clover’s deep roots also help grow the soil by adding nitrogen and increasing soil organic matter, which in turn increases the soil’s ability to absorb and hold moisture, and makes the soil more resilient in times of drought and flood.
Along with the benefits to pollinators and soil, clover offers health benefits to people.
Rosemary Gladstar, in her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, writes:
“One of the best detoxification herbs and respiratory tonics, red clover is especially useful for easing chronic chest complaints such as coughs, colds, and bronchitis. Red clover is rich in minerals, most notably calcium, nitrogen, and iron. It is used for all skin conditions, as it is an excellent detoxifier or blood purifier. It is commonly used in antitumor formulas.”
Gladstar does caution that red clover shouldn’t be used regularly by hemophiliacs, or people prone to heavy bleeding, as it can exacerbate the condition.
How To Harvest & Make Red Clover Tea
Harvest red clover by plucking off the flower head and top leaves.
If you’re planning on drying the clover, harvest in the early morning when there’s still some dew on the flowers, and be careful not to bruise the flowers. This will help keep the color after the blossoms dry.
Red clover can be infused in hot water to make a delicious herbal tea.
To make, pour hot water over 1-3 teaspoons of red clover, and let steep for 10-15 minutes. This tea has a natural light sweetness to it, but you can add honey if desired.
Because the flowers are edible, you can also use them to brighten up a salad. In her book Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung suggests cutting the fresh blossoms in half to add to a green leafy salad.
Principles of Wild Harvesting:
As a student in Wisdom of the Herbs, I learned to take only what I’d use, and to always leave enough for other animal and insect beings that rely on the plant, as well as enough to allow the plant to regenerate.
Along with these, here are some other important wild harvesting principles I learned:
How will you process the plant—drying, tincturing, freezing, or infusing into oil? However you choose to process, be sure you have the equipment and/or ingredients you need on hand.
Of people: harvest where you have permission from the landowner, and find out if you need a permit to harvest on state land.
In Vermont, commercial harvesting requires a permit, while some plants may be collected for personal use without a permit. Wild harvesting in National Forests may also require a permit.
Check in with your state’s State Park Services and/or the National Forest Ranger District Office in your area before harvesting in these areas.
Of the plant:
Before harvesting, ask the plant, “May I harvest you?” Tune into your gut-feeling, and be willing to hear yes or no. Plants have energy just as we do, and while talking to plants may sound strange at first, it gets easier the more you practice.
Now that you’ve asked for permission, you know how to communicate with the plant. When you’re done harvesting, say a simple thank you.
Get to know the plant:
I’m a hands-on learner. I like asking questions and seeing the plant in person as I learn about it. If you’re like me, seek out a course or workshop. If you’re in the Northeast, check out Wisdom of the Herbs and the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism (VCIH).
You can find more programs through the American Herbalists Guild, where you can search their directory of herbal education programs.
Do you want to learn more about wild medicinal herbs and flowers?
Join us on July 8 at Good Heart Farmstead for the summer session of the Bioregional Herbalism Series.
Kristin Henningsen, herbalist and teacher at VCIH, will introduce you to 3-4 local plants in their natural habitats, and will cover each plant’s field botany and materia medica, including energetics, properties, actions, and ethical harvesting techniques.
You’ll also learn how to process herbal preparations in the field, so you can continue to enjoy your personal exploration at home.
Learn more about the class and sign up here.