Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense) is one of the few blood cleansing herbs one might drink for the taste alone. Fortunately, in addition to its subtle and delicious flavor, red clover is nutritious, soothing, can improve the look and feel of skin, helps coughs and acts as a blood cleanser. However, the news isn’t all good. There are counter-indications for red clover use, mostly to do with one’s age and certain nutritional constituents, which can serve as a double-edged sword, if one is not careful. I’ll start with the benefits of red clover herb.
Red clover nutrition
Red clover contains many essential nutrients, including chromium, niacin (vitamin B3), calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin C. If you’re not certain why these nutrients are indispensable for our continued good health, I’ll explain.
Chromium is an essential trace mineral required for proper protein, carbohydrate and fat metabolism. It also enhances insulin sensitivity, helping to prevent metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Clinical research has suggested that the vitamin Niacin reduces atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). “Niacin plays a crucial role in energy production, gene expression, and hormone synthesis.”1 So, obviously, niacin is essential to our survival.
As everyone knows by now, calcium and magnesium are important to bone health, among other things, but phosphorus is also necessary for the formation of bone and teeth. “New research shows calcium needs phosphorus to maximize its bone-strengthening benefits…”2
Thiamine is required for certain metabolic reactions. “Your body needs it to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which every cell of the body uses for energy.”3
Vitamin C is famous for its immune system boosting abilities, but recent studies have also shown that it benefits cardiovascular health as well. “Vitamin C is also used by your body for wound healing, repairing, and maintaining the health of your bones and teeth, and plays a role in helping your body absorb iron.”4
Red clover also contains isoflavones – chemicals that act like estrogens (more on that later). Scientists are currently studying the possibility that isoflavones can hinder prostate cancer and help menopausal women.
Red clover for inflammation
Red clover’s reputation for soothing irritation and fighting inflammation has led to scientific study of it’s anti-inflammatory abilities. One study, published in the journal Phytomedicine, proved the anecdotes accurate. Red clover was shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit angiogenesis. Angiogenesis, the development of new blood vessels, is a response to acute inflammation and is necessary for the proliferation and metastatic spread of cancer. It’s important to understand that while inflammation can induce angiogenesis, there’s no evidence that angiogenesis causes cancer. However, cancer would not make much progress (and would be much less deadly) without angiogenesis.
Red clover for better skin
Like Oregon grape root, red clover can also be used topically to treat psoriasis. And other irritating skin conditions, eczema and rashes, also benefit. Internally, it improves circulation, which helps to improve the look and health of skin. It also helps irritating skin conditions internally.
There’s a helpful post on Ascension Kitchen describing the internal use of red clover for psoriasis and other skin conditions, complete with recipes. If you’re suffering from an irritating skin condition, you may find the post useful.
Red clover for coughs
“Red clover has also been used as a cough remedy for children.”5 It acts as an expectorant, clearing the respiratory system of mucous, and helps lymph drainage.
… and blood cleansing
Of course, the health benefit that red clover is best known for is its blood cleansing ability. It purifies the blood by acting as a diuretic and helps cleanse the liver, making it a more efficient filter, and preventing its congestion from circulating toxins throughout the bloodstream.
Red clover warnings
Although red clover is generally safe and has been used traditionally as a short-term cough remedy for children, caution should be exercised when using “products containing isolated red clover isoflavones.”5 The individual isoflavones are very different from the whole herb, and aren’t recommended for children. You should consult a pediatrician before giving red clover, and any other herbal medicine, to a child.
“No serious side effects have been reported in people taking red clover for up to 1 year. General side effects may include headache, nausea, and rash. However, animals that graze on large amounts of red clover have become infertile. People who have been diagnosed with breast cancer should not use red clover without discussing it with their physician [because of its isoflavones content]. Red clover may increase the risk of bleeding, particularly in those people who are taking blood-thinning medications.”5 Red clover contains the anticoagulant and blood-thinning compound coumarin.
The phytoestrogenic properties of the isoflavones in red clover are why it is not recommended for use by women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, without first discussing it with their physician. It is also why red clover should not be used for more than brief periods of time by children, and not at all by pregnant and breast feeding women. “There is still debate about the possible benefit or risk to women with current or history of breast cancer. Red clover is best avoided by these women until further evidence is available.”6
According to Your Health, “No clinically significant interactions between red clover and conventional medications are documented in the literature to date, however there is some concern regarding potential interaction with hormonal drugs such as the oral contraceptive pill. Please discuss with your healthcare practitioner.”6 WebMD, on the other hand, has no problem warning against possible interactions that could result from red clover use, without evidence. They list the following possible interactions:
- birth control pills
- any medication that is changed and broken down by the liver
- antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs (and other drugs that slow blood clotting)
- Tamoxifen (Nolvadex)
Red clover makes a tasty and impressively health promoting and beautifying tea. But, as with all herbal medicines, caution should exercised to prevent any negative side-effects. One serving of red clover tea/infusion is one (measuring) teaspoon of herb per 8 ounces of boiling hot water. It’s important to start with one serving per day, at most, if you’ve never used red clover before, because there’s always a chance of an allergic reaction. Also, if you’re taking a prescription medication, even if it’s not mentioned above, speak with your health care provider before using red clover or any other herb. They may know something that you, I and WebMD do not.
1 William Davis, MD. “Using Niacin to improve Cardiovascular Health”. Life Extension Magazine, March 2007. Web. November 29, 2015
2 George Obikoya, MD. “The Benefits of Phosphorus”. Vitamins-Nutrition.org, 2010. Web. November 29, 2015
3 Ehrlich, Steven D. “Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)”. University of Maryland Medical Center, June 19, 2013. Web. November 29, 2015
4 Dr. Mercola. “Is Vitamin C as Good as Exercise for Your Heart?” Mercola, September 21, 2015. Web. November 30, 2015
5 Ehrlich, Steven D., NMD. “Red Clover”. University of Maryland Medical Center, March 24, 2015. Web. November 16, 2015
6 “Red Clover”. Your Health, n.d. Web. November 16, 2015
7 Krenn L, Paper DH. “Inhibition of angiogenesis and inflammation by an extract of red clover (Trifolium pratense L.)”. Phytomedicine, December 2009. Web. November 30, 2015
Megan Ware, RDN, LD. “What are the health benefits of chromium?” Medical News Today, January 26, 2015. Web. November 29, 2015
“Chapter 6 Angiogenesis”. Inflammation and the Microcirculation / Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences, 2010. Web. November 30, 2015
“Red Clover”. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Therapeutic Research Faculty, WebMD, 2009. Web. November 30, 2015