Herb Profile: Red Clover

Botanical Name: Trifolium pratense  (Pea Family, Fabaceae) P1000685

Common Names: Red Clover, Trefoil, Purple Clover

Identification: A perennial and abundant weed, growing up to 60cm tall with distinctive ‘trifoliate’ (three-leaved) leaflets. Its flowers are in globe-shaped heads, and are red/pink/purple in colour. It is loved by bees.

Growing: Not really necessary, as it is so prolific. It can grow in any type of soil, even nutritionally poor soil, and has the ability to fix nitrogen from the earth through a symbiotic relationship with certain root-residing bacteria. It doesn’t like to grow in the shade, and prefers moist soil. It can tolerate strong winds, and even manages to dodge a lawnmower or two.

Parts Used: Flowers

Medicinal Actions & Uses: Alterative, Anti-Cancer, Expectorant, Nourishing Tonic, Oestrogenic

  • Red Clover is most often used an alterative herb for gentle detoxification. This makes it useful for chronic skin problems including eczema, psoriasis, boils, cysts and acne. It has often been used in combination with other purifying herbs like Burdock (Arctium lappa), and Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus).
  • It also has traditional applications for coughs and chest complaints, as an expectorant herb for bronchitis and sinusitis, and for spasmodic coughs like whooping cough.
  • Red Clover was also used in folk remedies to treat breast cancer and other breast-related problems like mastitis. It can either be applied topically as a poultice or compress, or taken internally as medicine.
  • Dorothy Hall, famous Australian herbalist recommends it as a specific herb for encysted glands, single boils and ovarian cysts.
  • Poultices of Red Clover can be used in local applications to cancerous growths.

Qualities: Sweet, nourishing, honey-like herb


Active Constituents: Phyto-oestrogenic isoflavones, flavonoids, volatile oils, coumarins

Modern scientific research: Pharmacology has discovered certain ‘phyto-oestrogenic’ compounds in Red Clover. Phyto-oestrogens are simply oestrogen like compounds in plants, that are able to interact with the body in a way to mimic a mild oestrogenic effect. This has led to its use for the relief of menopausal symptoms, though this is not a traditional indication of the herb.

Contra-indications: It is currently not advised to take Red Clover alongside oestrogen antagonist pharmaceutical drugs like Tamoxifen, until more research has been done on phyto-oestrogen rich herbs. If you are in doubt, ask your medical herbalist.


Chevallier, A. (1996) The encyclopedia of medicinal plants. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Hall, D. (1995) Herbal Medicine. Port Melbourne, Australia: Lothian.

Williamson, E.M. (2003) Potter’s herbal cyclopaedia the authoritative reference work on plants with a known medical use. 2 rev edition. Saffron Walden: C. W. Daniel.

Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal [online]  www.botanical.com

Plants for a Future  www.pfaf.org

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