Last Updated on February 5, 2023
You probably know there are loads of common plants like dandelions and wild violets that, though most people don’t eat them, are not only edible but also quite tasty. If you’ve ever wondered, “Can you eat clover?” you’ll be pleased to know that edible clover is indeed a thing, though it isn’t at the top of anyone’s list for most delicious foraged foods. (For those, check out elderberry, mulberry, or even the humble dandelion, which has numerous delicious uses.)
IS CLOVER EDIBLE?
So remember that ‘edible’ means you can eat something without getting violently ill or dying, not that it tastes awesome. While edible clover flowers can be pleasant to eat, the leaves aren’t especially yummy. Some people refer to clover leaves as “survival food,” meaning you’d only turn to them if you have to.
If you have a choice, there are plenty more tasty greens than edible clover to forage. (See aforementioned dandelions, violets, or consider wood sorrel or lambsquarters.)
Many foraging sources advise consuming edible clover in small quantities to avoid stomach upset.
All the above-ground (“aerial”) parts of white and red clover plants are edible: flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds. Clover flowers are the tastiest part of the plant, with a bit of sweetness to them. The flavor is reminiscent of fresh green beans or snap peas.
Clover contains many minerals, including selenium, which is considered important for immune function. In the pea family, edible clover is also considered a decent source of protein and vitamins.
The flowers and seeds of crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) are also reported to be edible.
Herbalists have long used red clover flowers for supporting waste elimination and hormonal health. You’ll find more details on the medicinal properties of clover in the “uses” section below.
EDIBLE CLOVER IDENTIFICATION
First, let’s be clear we’re talking about clover (Trifolium), not wood sorrel (aka sourgrass, botanical name Oxalis stricta), which many people mistake for clover. Wood sorrel has heart-shaped leaves (shown below) and different-shaped flowers, as well as a delightful lemony flavor. It’s very edible and has many medicinal uses. Find out more about wood sorrel here.
Clover, on the other hand, has rounded rather than heart-shaped leaves, with a noticeable white line running through them, creating a sort of V-shape on each leaf, as you can see in the photos below. The Latin name ‘Trifolium‘ refers to clover’s tendency to grow three leaves per stem, though of course, if you’re extra-lucky you’ll find 4, or even 5 leaves. In which case save your clover by pressing rather than eating clover leaves!
Two types of common clovers are typically foraged. In addition to the common white clover (Trifolium repens) you’ll often find growing in lawns, occasionally you’ll see red clover (Trifolium pratense), which is much-used by herbalists. Red clover is considerably taller and has dark pink rather than white flowers, though sometimes you’ll come across “white” clover flowers tinged with pink. Note that clover blossoms are actually composed of many tiny flowers.
One way to distinguish white clover from red clover even before flowering is the height of the plant. Red clover stems get large and rangy, reaching up to 2 feet, while white clover stays closer to the ground, rarely growing above 6 inches high, though in rich soil and full sun it may get taller.
FORAGING EDIBLE CLOVER
Clover flowers can actually be pretty tasty, among the more than 150 flowers you can eat. Red clover in particular has a sweetness to it and makes a lovely and nourishing tea.
Pick flowers without any brown for best flavor and potency. The Herbal Academy recommends harvesting clover blossoms before the dew dries in the morning to prevent browing. Young leaves picked before clover flowers will have the best flavor and texture.
You can likely find some edible clover growing in your yard or a neighbor’s. Wherever you find it, be sure the area hasn’t been sprayed with herbicides.
Clover is an excellent grass alternative, forming a pretty mat of green that never needs mowing. Because it fixes its own nitrogen, it also doesn’t need fertilizing. Plus, all those blossoms are food for your local pollinators. Here’s more about why to consider participating in the No Mow May movement to protect the pollinators this spring.
One of my neighbors replaced the grass growing on her boulevard with a “bee lawn,” a mix of plants providing food for pollinators, a much more environmentally-friendly choice than the typical turf lawn found in so many yards. She’s also planted her permeable driveway with clover and other low-growing plants, but that’s the subject of another post.
You might consider planting more clover to help make your yard more eco-friendly. Clover makes an excellent living mulch. It’s one of several elderberry companion plants to consider. Here are more tips for ecological landscaping and loads more ground cover herbs to consider.
If you want to gain confidence foraging a wide variety of edible wild plants, consider taking a class like the Herbal Academy’s online foraging course, which teaches plant identification and wildcrafting practices.
USING EDIBLE CLOVER
Young clover leaves picked before flowering will be more tender and palatable. You can use the tenderest leaves raw in salads. Edible clover may be cooked with other greens or added to soups and stews.
Clover flowers may be used fresh or dried to make tea, either on their own, or in herbal tea blends. Blossoms may also be added to baked goods like muffins or scones, or even turned into flour. Some people also sprout clover seeds and use them as you would alfalfa sprouts.
You can infuse vinegar with edible clover to use medicinally, or for enjoying in salad dressings. Red clover is also sometimes infused into oils used to make soothing skin salves.
HERBAL USES FOR CLOVER
Clover is considered a valuable medicinal plant. Native Americans have used many kinds of clover, including white clover and red clover, to address a number of issues, including colds and coughs.
Herbalists recommend red clover as a nutritive, alterative, lymphatic, and antispasmodic. Red clover is often used for addressing menopause symptoms, especially hot flashes. Some scientific research supports this use of red clover. In Making Plant Medicine, Rico Cech suggests using red clover for “maintenance of healthy bones, skin, and arteries” during menopause and suggests considering it for preventing and treating cancer under the supervision of an oncologist.
In The Green Pharmacy, James Duke recommends red clover for menstrual cramps preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors.
A traditional remedy for whooping cough, red clover’s antispasmodic properties make it one of many herbs for cough to add to your herbal apothecary.
In the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Stephen Foster and James Duke report that red clover may be used externally for sores and athletes’ foot. They note that white clover has been used in European folk medicine to address gout and rheumatism.
Red clover is also often recommended for addressing skin issues like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
Several Native American tribes made use of plants known as prairie clovers and sweet clover, which are in different genuses, Dalea and Melilotus indicus, respectively.
CAUTIONS USING CLOVER
I’ve seen several people advise that you should never ferment clover, though no sources were cited for this information. In Backyard Medicine, Julie Bruton-Seal notes that if clover ferments during the drying process, the coumarin in red clover can convert to dicoumarol, a blood-thinning compound.
Bruton-Seal says that fermentation won’t happen if clover is dried quickly in a dehydrator, but suggests avoiding clover “in quantity” for anyone taking blood-thinning medicines. For the same reason, it’s wise to avoid consuming clover in the two weeks before surgery.
Some research suggests that some clover plants growing in warm climates may produce cyanide, leading to some recommendations to avoid foraging clover in higher temperatures.
Because red clover contains plant-based estrogens called isoflavones, it’s typically suggested one avoid red clover during pregnancy or with estrogen-sensitive cancers, though some research suggests red clover actually has an anti-estrogenic effect when estrogen levels are high and may help inhibit breast cancer.
One case of probable toxicity was reported in someone taking red clover as well as high doses of a drug called methotrexate, used to treat psoriasis, arthritis, and cancer. Remember always to consult your physician about possible interactions between herbs and drugs.
If you love the idea of using easily foraged edible wild plants like edible clover, check out some of these other common plants that may be growing in your yard or neighborhood:
- Lambsquarters (aka wild spinach)
- Mulberry Tree Leaf
- Pine Needles
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Black Chokeberry
Have you ever tried edible clover? What are your favorite uses for it?
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Additional edible clover photo credit: dendoktoor
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.