Red Clover’s Medicinal Benefits
Red clover, the common plant that covers farmers fields, pops up along city sidewalks, populates parks, and adorns roadsides, has long been treasured for its traditional medicinal uses. Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a sweet, salty, and cooling herb that belongs to the legume (or pea) family and is known as a nutritional powerhouse and gentle plant medicine aid. As a nutrituve, red clover is rich in minerals such as calcium and contains phytoestrogens that support healthy hormones, heart, and bones. In herbal medicine it’s revered for its cleansing properties. Red clover is known as an alterative, “blood-purifier,” and a good choice for helping the body detox. It is recommended for skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. It’s also recommended for treating menopausal symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis, swollen lymph glands, and autoimmune conditions.
In this article we’ll discuss how red clover is used medicinally, the science supporting the efficacy of red clover-based medicine, what real people say about the effectiveness of red clover, how you can use red clover at home, and who should avoid using red clover medicinally.
Traditional Medicinal Uses of Red Clover
Red clover has many medicinal benefits, most notably as an alterative, antispasmodic, and expectorant. Traditional medicinal uses red clover include treating:
- Menopausal symptoms
- Hot flashes
- High cholesterol/heart disease
- Weak and brittle bones
- Hair loss
- Whopping Cough
- Skin irritations including eczema and psoriasis
- Skin sores and inflammation
- Enlarged prostate
What Gives Red Clover Its Medicinal Power
Nutrients: Red clover is known as a nutritive herb as it contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Red clover contains several B vitamins, calcium, beta-carotene, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin C among other nutrients. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar calls red clover,
“one of nature’s best vitamin and mineral supplements.”Gladstar. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.
Phytoestrogens: Many of the medicinal properties of red clover are attributed to its phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are compounds in plants that are structurally similar to the female hormone estrogen. Their structural similarity allows them to bind to human oestrogen receptors producing an (anti)oestrogenic effect. Phytoestrogens are credited with numerous beneficial health effects included lowered risk of heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, menopausal symptoms including hot flushes and osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, brain disorders, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other cancers (Rietjens, 2017).
Isoflavones: Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen found in legumes, most notably soy and red clover. Isoflavones are the most researched of the phytoestrogens. In Asian society, the average person consumes 15-50 mg of isoflavones per day, while the average person in Western countries consumed just 2 mg per day. This difference is often cited to explain why people in Asian countries generally have lower rates of chronic diseases, breast cancer, and other cancer. In order for isoflavones to affect your health, a person would need to eat roughly 40-70 mg of isoflavones daily, or an average of 50 mg/day (Desmawati, 2019).
Scientific Studies Assess Red Clover’s Medicinal Power
Studies demonstrating the effectiveness of red clover are limited, as with most herbs. Most of the studies to date have focused on red clover’s ability to reduce symptoms of menopause and to improve cholesterol levels. Here’s what these studies have found:
Reducing Cholesterol: A meta-analysis of ten studies, including 910 women, that examined the effect of red clover extract on blood cholesterol levels found that red clover extract is effective in reducing concentrations of total cholesterol (Kanadys, 2020).
Healthy Aging: A 2006 meta-analysis of research on how red clover and soy supplements help the prevention and/or treatment of heart disease, hyperlipidemia, osteoporosis, and cognitive abilities found both soy and red clover have a positive health effect on plasma lipid concentrations, bone mass density, and cognitive abilities. The researchers concluded that including red clover in the diet of post-menopausal women, “may be beneficial” (Geller, 2006).
Heart Health: A 2018 meta-analysis of research examined the effects of red clover on peri-and postmenopausal women’s blood lipid profile. Twelve randomized controlled trials including 1,284 women who received red clover for 4 weeks-18 months found that those ingesting red clover had a significant decrease in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides. The researchers concluded that,
“The ingestion of red clover may have a beneficial effect on the lipid profile of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.”(Luis, 2018)
Cancer Fighting: In a 2012 study, formononetin, one of the primary active isoflavones (a phytoestrogen) of red clover plants, induced cancer cell death (apoptosis) in breast cancer cells (Chen, 2012).
Preventing Bone Loss: In 2004, 177 women (age 49-65) participated in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to test the effect of a red clover-derived isoflavone supplement on bone density. Their results suggest that red clover isoflavones may have a protective effect on the lumbar spine in women by preventing bone loss.
“Loss of lumbar spine bone mineral content and bone mineral density was significantly lower in the women taking the isoflavone supplement than in those taking the placebo.”(Atkinson, 2004)
Adding further evidence in support of red clover’s positive impact on skeletal health, a 2016 meta-analysis examined 23 randomized controlled trials that looked at the effects of phytoestrogens (from soy and/or red clover) on bone mineral density. The research included a total of 3,494 participants and most of the studies included were double-blind placebo controlled trials. They concluded that isoflavones likely have beneficial effects on bone health in post-menopausal women (Abdi, 2016).
Menopause Symptoms & Hot Flashes: A 2005 double-blind study of 53 post-menopausal women gave women either 80 mg/day of red clover isoflavone supplement or a placebo for 90 days. After a seven day wash-out period, the women switched protocols. After the 180 day study, researchers found that women taking the red clover supplement had a significant decrease in menopause symptoms. They concluded:
“Compared with placebo, red clover isoflavone supplementation in postmenopausal women significantly decreased menopausal symptoms and had a positive effect on vaginal cytology and triglyceride levels.”(Hildalgo, 2005)
Another meta-analysis searched the scientific literature for studies that examine effectiveness of red clover for symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and vaginal atrophy. The researchers concluded that menopausal symptoms could be effectively reduced using red clover, writing,
“Subjective (vaginal dryness) and objective (maturation value) symptoms of vaginal atrophy showed a significant improvement with 80-mg dose of red clover.”(Ghazanfarpour, 2015)
The research also indicated that red clover may decrease frequency of hot flashes, especially in women with severe hot flashes.
What Real People Say About Red Clover’s Effectiveness
Traditional usage and scientific studies provide layers of evidence supporting the medicinal uses red clover, but first hand testimony adds another layer of information. WebMD allows users to submit reviews for various medicines and most of the reviews for red clover are by women who have used it for treating hot flashes and menopausal symptoms. For treating hot flashes, 17 women gave red clover a 4.47/5 rating for effectiveness and 4.88/5 for ease of use. Here are what some women report after taking red clover supplements for hot flashes:
“Having upwards of 20 hot flashes 24/7. Tried sage and black kohosh with no effect. Tried red clover and they had completely stopped after 2 days. Had no side affects and am sleeping so much better.”-joparky2702, female, age 45-54 Female using red clover for 1 to 6 months (WebMD)
“Taking Red Clover completely stopped the hot flashes that were beginning to happen regularly. I complained to my friend who suggested Red Clover. The hot flashes stopped. It took about a week to build up in my system.”-55-64 year-old female, on treatment for 2 to less than 5 years (WebMD)
“I needed to stop the prescriptions I was taking for hot flashes. After stopping I had hot flashes 24/7. I was miserable. I started taking red clover and I only have a couple hot flashes a day. It really works for me.”– female age 65-74, on treatment for 1 to 6 months (WebMD)
“My hot flashes ended within a few days after I started taking red clover.”-Lifeisgood, 45-54 year-old female (WebMD)
“I was having over 10 hot flashes a day, and a few at night as well. After 2 weeks of this, I decided to try red clover. I honestly was very skeptical, having read the scientific studies which are at best inconclusive. But my hot flashes completely disappeared after about 3 or 4 days of taking 40mg a day. I haven’t had a single hot flash in weeks.”-hud, 55-64 year-old female on treatment for 1 to 6 months (WebMD)
“I have found that taking red clover has helped prevent hot flushes. When my supplier stopped stocking it & I went for a period without taking red clover, the hot flushes came back at night-time, so disrupting sleep and causing anxiety.”-HappyRCUser, 45-54 year-old female on treatment for 1 to less than 2 years (WebMD)
“I started having major hot flashes about 8 weeks ago, to the point where the at-least-hourly flashes of profuse heat and perspiring were bad enough, but the problems sleeping I had at night that this caused quickly made me desperate for help. I read about Red Clover, ordered some online (couldn’t find in any stores), and had very high hopes that it would work. It absolutely worked, I noticed within 2-3 days the obvious decrease in the severity of the hot flashes, and within 1-2 weeks they were barely noticeable. Now they are non-existant. I was prepared to go and beg my physician to put me on HRT even though they don’t like to do that these days, but I felt that the stress from lack of sleep was worse for my health than whatever might happen in the future. Red Clover completely deleted the problem for me.”-Gina, 45-54 year-old female on treatment for 1 to 6 months (WebMD)
“I have been taking Red Clover Leaf for four months now and they work. I still suffer from the odd flash at night, but absolutely nothing like I was experiencing before I took Red Clover. I would say give them a try, you will be so happy you did.”-cm, female, age 45-54, on treatment for 1 to 6 months (WebMD)
“I have been having hot flushes for months now and my doctor took no notice when I complained about having them almost every hour. It was crippling me emotionally. Then I decided to go to a health shop and they were so helpful. They advised Red Clover. I hurried home and took two with my dinner and… hey presto !!! they worked like a dream. I take 3 per day with main meals and I haven’t had a hot flush or a night sweat since. All I can say is… Thank goodness I found it.”-blossomqlxi, 65-74 yer-old female, on treatment for less than 1 month (WebMD)
“I have been using red clover blossom for approx 6 years. I take 750mg twice a day. I have not had to experience any perimenoausal symptom such as hot flashes.”-japsue, 45-54 year-old female, on treatment for 5 to less than 10 years (WebMD)
Red Clover Helps Its Plant Neighbors Too
While not directly related to human medicine, it’s worth noting that red clover also aids its plant neighbors wherever it grows. Clover is known as one of the very best cover crops for some very special reasons. Farmers far and wide sprinkle its seeds across their fields so it can nourish their livestock with its nutrient-rich foliage and flowers and so it can nourish the soil and other plants by the nitrogen it “fixes” and leaves behind. Clover is one of those special “nitrogen-fixing” plants, which means it has the ability to convert free nitrogen from the air into ammonia which it can use to grow and develop. The cool thing about this process is that it’s actually another organism, bacteria residing in the root hairs of the plant, that do the special conversion work that feeds the host plant (sound familiar?!). What’s even cooler is that red clover makes extra nitrogen that plants around can benefit from, so it and other nitrogen-fixing plants are known as living/organic fertilizers.
How to Use Red Clover Medicine At Home
Red clover is available in a variety of forms. You may choose to harvest the whole herb yourself, purchase from an herb supplier, or may prefer commercially-prepared capsules, liquid extract, tea, tincture, or extracts standardized to specific isoflavone content.
Using the whole herb: While the leaves are sometimes used in medicine, it’s the pinkish to crimson red clover blossoms that are most-often used. If you are harvesting the herb yourself, choose vibrant red or pink blossoms. If you are purchasing red clover from an herb supplier, the flowers should still have a nice pinkish color to them.
RED CLOVER TEA: To make a simple medicinal red clover tea, add ~4 g of dried red clover flower tops (1-2 tsp) to 1 cup of boiled water. Cover and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold, over ice, up to three times daily.
NUTRI-TEA: Combine red clover with other nutritious herbs to make Nutri-Tea, an herbal tonic tea. This tea can have many variations but includes a base of nutritive herbs, herbs known to be particular high in vitamins and minerals, along with some herbs for flavor and flowers for color, beauty, & their medicinal benefits. The photo below shows my Nutri-Tea mix before adding water. This Nutri-Tea includes: red clover, nettles, oat straw, mint, and calendula. To make this nourishing tea blend, pour boiled water over the herbs in the jar, let steep overnight, and added a little agave syrup to sweeten if you so desire. Making a large jar is a time-savor as you can have your tea prepared for the entire day. I enjoy drinking this throughout the day as a cold tea, but it’s delightful warm as well..
RED CLOVER TINCTURE: Fill a clean mason jar with red clover blossoms and cover with alcohol that is at least 80 proof. Seal jar with clean lid and place in dark place to marinate for about six weeks. Shake jar every 1-3 days and add more alcohol as needed to ensure clover blossoms remain covered. After 6 weeks strain liquid contents into another clean jar using a funnel and a cheesecloth, nut milk bag, or other strainer device. Transfer into small medicine bottles with droppers. Take 3-5 mL orally, 3 times a day.
Dosages of Red Clover:
There are many ways to consume red clover medicinally. Here are standard recommended dosages according to what form you choose to add red clover to your body.
- Flower Tops: Ingest 4 g three times daily;
- Tea: Drink 1 cup (1-2 tsp of dried flower tops steeped in 1 cup boiling water for 30 minutes) three times daily;
- Tincture (1:5, 30% alcohol): Ingest 60-100 drops (3 to 5 mL), three times daily (straight or add to hot water as a tea);
- Liquid Extract: Take 1.5-3 ml orally three times daily (take straight or add to hot water as a tea);
- Isoflavones extract ( for Hot Flashes): 40-160 mg/day orally;
- Extract (Promensil) (for Osteoporosis): 40 mg/day;
- Powdered herb (available in capsules): 40-160 mg daily (28 to 85 mg of red clover isoflavones);
- Topical treatment (for eczema or psoriasis): Apply infusion, liquid extract, or ointment (10 to 15% flower heads) as needed, unless irritation develops. Do not apply to an open wound.
!Caution!: Who Should Avoid Red Clover Medicine
Red clover is generally considered safe for most people when taken in normal amounts found in food. When used in medicinal amounts, red clover is considered “likely safe” for most people. Red clover is not recommended in medicinal amounts for those taking blood thinning medication, people with blood disorders, or for pregnant or nursing women. Because red clover contains phytoestrogens which can act like estrogen in the body, it may disrupt the hormone balance in pregnant and nursing women and thus should be avoided in high dose (medicinal amounts). For the same reason, red clover medicine should be avoided by anyone with hormone-sensitive conditions such as ovarian cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids. Because of its estrogen-like effects, red clover may interfere with the effectiveness of birth control or estrogen pills. Red clover should not be taken by anyone approaching surgery as it may interfere with blood clotting and increase post-surgery bleeding. If you are taking red clover medicinally, it’s recommended to stop taking it two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Red Clover, a Wonderful Medicinal “Weed”
Red clover, considered by many as a “weed,” is a pretty unassuming herb with numerous medicinal uses in traditional medicine that are now being justified by modern scientific research. As the science supporting the efficacy of red clover continues to grow, so does the clinical use of red clover to treat a variety of ailments. Thankfully, this is one natural plant medicine that is easy to find around us, easy to grow, easy to use, and widely available at an affordable price.
Red clover, red clover, you heal us all over; it’s good to know you and your medicine too.
REFERENCES: 1. Abdi,F. et. al. "Effects of phytoestrogens on bone mineral density during the menopause transition: a systematic review of randomized, controlled trials." Climacteric, Volume 19, 2016, Issue 6, Oct 6, 2016. 2. Atkinson, Charlotte A, et. al."The effects of phytoestrogen isoflavones on bone density in women: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 79, Issue 2, Pages 326–333. February 2004. doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/79.2.326 3. Chen J, Sun L. "Formononetin-induced apoptosis by activation of Ras/p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase in estrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer cells." Hormone and Metabolic Research, 4, 4(13) Pages 943-94. December 2012. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1321818. 4. Cunha, John, P. DO, FACOEP. "Red Clover: Side Effects, Dosages, Treatment, Interactions, Warning." RxList, RxList.com. Accessed April 25, 2021. 5. Desmawati, Desmawati, and Delmi Sulastri. “Phytoestrogens and Their Health Effect.” Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences vol. 7,3, Pages 495-499. February 2019. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2019.044 6. Geller SE, Studee L. "Soy and red clover for mid-life and aging." Climacteric; 9(4), Pages 245-63. August 2006 doi: 10.1080/13697130600736934. 7. Ghazanfarpour, M et al. “Red clover for treatment of hot flashes and menopausal symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology: The Journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology vol.36,3, Pages 301-11. 2016. doi:10.3109/01443615.2015.1049249 8. Gladstar. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. April 10, 2012. 9. Hidalgo LA, 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) Pages 257-64. November 2005. doi: 10.1080/09513590500361192. 10. Kanadys, Wieslaw et al. “Effects of red clover (Trifolium pratense) isoflavones on the lipid profile of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women-A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Maturitas vol. 132: Pages 7-16. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2019.11.001 11. Luís Â, Domingues F, Pereira L. "Effects of red clover on perimenopausal and postmenopausal women's blood lipid profile: A meta-analysis." Climacteric; 21(5): Pages 446-453. October 2018. doi: 10.1080/13697137.2018.1501673 12. Rietjens, Ivonne M C M et al. “The potential health effects of dietary phytoestrogens.” British Journal of Pharmacology vol. 174,11, Pages 1263-1280. 2017. doi:10.1111/bph.13622 13. WebMD, "Red Clover: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing, Reviews." WebMD.com. Accessed April 25, 2021.