Red clover is valued in agriculture because it fixes nitrogen in the soil without the use of toxic fertilizers. It also prevents erosion, provides food for livestock and is hearty enough to survive in colder climates.1 But this versatile plant has other applications as well.
Natural healers have long attributed a myriad of health benefits to a potent tea that can be extracted from red clover flowers.2 In recent years, this tea has grown in popularity because of its ability to balance hormones and ease menopause symptoms.3
Red clover, which is a legume in the bean family, was brought to North America by European immigrants in the 1500s. It is a versatile biennial or short-lived perennial. Red clover can adapt to a wide variety of soils and climates.4 It is often used as a cover crop with corn because of its ability to thrive in shady environments.5
Red clover grows from crowns and has hollow, hairy stems and branches. The stems can reach 30 inches, and there are four to six branches per stem. Red clover is topped by a pink flower, which is composed of hundreds of smaller legume flowers.6
Red clover tea, which is made from the flowering top, has been of particular interest to researchers and natural healers.7 Despite being derived from a plant so common that it may be growing in your backyard, red clover tea has a vibrant and complex flavor.
Unlike traditional teas, red clover tea is extracted from the flower rather than the leaves. It is sold in ready-to-use tea bags from online retailers, but an herbal tea infuser allows you to steep the unprocessed blossoms. Red clover tea has a delicate, sweet flavor profile.8
Red clover has long been used in traditional medicine as a treatment for cancer, whooping cough, various skin conditions and as a detoxifying diuretic.9 Here are some ways that red clover tea can benefit your health:
• Promotes female reproductive health — Red clover is specifically rich in isoflavones, which are similar to the female hormone estrogen. Many women use red clover tea to address hot flashes, breast pain or tenderness and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).10
However, isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens, have been linked to fertility issues in men and breast cancer in women.11 Due to these concerns, I recommend that men avoid phytoestrogens, especially in the form of unfermented soy. It should be noted, though, that the phytoestrogens in red clover are not operating in isolation. Red clover has a complex micronutrient profile and the isoflavones are only one component.
• May reduce risk of breast cancer — In 2013, a systemic review published in PLOS One addressed longstanding concerns about red clover’s isoflavones and the potential impact these could have on breast cancer. The researchers found that lower levels of isoflavones were safe for breast cancer survivors. They also found evidence that an increased intake of isoflavones may provide protection against breast cancer, breast cancer recurrence and mortality.12
• May help improve bone-mass density and cognitive abilities — Red clover also appears to positively improve cholesterol levels and does so with few safety concerns.13 It also provides a modest protective effect against cardiovascular disease.14
• May help ease menopause symptoms — Red clover tea’s potential ability to regulate hormones has led to its popularity among women who are struggling through the hormonal imbalances associated with menopause. One groundbreaking study found that the isoflavones in red clover can significantly decrease the symptoms of menopause.15
• May also alleviate skin issues related to menopause and aging — A study found skin aging induced by estrogen deprivation could be effectively reduced by the isoflavones found in red clover.16
Red clover can be made into a tea, but it is not a member of the tea family. Camellia sinensis, an evergreen, is the source of green, yellow, oolong, white and black tea varieties. Tea camellia, as the plant is also known, originated in Asia and contains naturally occurring caffeine.17
Red clover is more closely related to peas, and is caffeine free.18 What red clover has in common with traditional teas is an impressive list of benefits. Isoflavones, salicylates and flavonoids can all be found in teas and extracts made from red clover.19
Flavonoids are well known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. They’re useful for detoxification and have been found to lower the risk of many chronic conditions.20 Red clover also contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, F and P (flavonoids). As far as minerals, the red clover plant contains iron, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, copper, selenium, molybdenum and tin.21
Red clover grows in the wild throughout much of the world. Originating in Eurasia and North Africa, it thrives in temperate regions across the globe.22 If you are lucky enough to live near a viable source of red clover, you have the unique opportunity to both harvest and brew your own tea.
But if you happen to find red clover in the wild, I recommend identifying any potential sources of contamination or pesticides. The sad reality is that wild edibles are rendered inedible by chemicals such as glyphosate.
The first step to harvesting red clover is to pick the blossoms. Select brightly colored blossoms and avoid browned flowers. Red clover is easier to handle when the stems are still in place. The best time to harvest red clover, and herbs in general, is after the dew has dried. It is worth noting that autumn blossoms generally aren’t as sweet.23 Processing red clover is straightforward. Follow the steps below:24,25
How to Dry and Make Red Clover Tea
- Red clover flowers
- Dehydration rack or wire rack
- Airtight jar
- Hot water
- Shake out the flowers in a colander to remove any insects. Afterward, clean any remaining dirt, bugs and contaminants from the blooms.
- Leave the blooms out on a dehydration tray or wire rack. Once the flowers have dried completely, seal them in an airtight jar.
- To brew the tea, follow this standard ratio: 1 tablespoon of blossoms per 8 ounces of hot water.
- Let the tea steep for 10 minutes and strain out the dried blossoms.
The benefits associated with red clover tea come from its isoflavone content. Here are some reminders:
- Male fertility issues have been associated with the phytoestrogenic properties of isoflavones.
- Teas and extracts made from red clover can potentially interfere with medications.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take red clover.26
If you intend to consume red clover tea, please consult with a health professional first.
Red clover tea has a wide range of natural health applications, but it is best known for its potential ability to address hormonal imbalances in middle-aged women, specifically those associated with aging and menopause.27
Red clover is a hardy plant that grows almost anywhere. Harvesting it is as simple as picking the flowers when they are in full bloom and drying them. Like all herbal teas, it can vary in potency and interact with prescription medications. Make sure you consult with a professional before using red clover tea for therapeutic purposes.28
Q: How can you harvest and dry red clover for tea?
A: Wild red clover is best picked within two weeks of blooming. Harvesting red clover is as simple as plucking the flower. Due to the pervasive use of pesticides, you will probably want to avoid any red clover found near sidewalks, lawns or at the side of the road. Once you have gathered enough red clover, place the blossoms in a dry, warm, dark and well-ventilated area. You can also use drying racks. It may take up to two weeks for your clover to dry.29
Q: Where can I buy red clover tea?
A: If you are unable to find red clover in the wild or do not have access to uncontaminated red clover, then you can purchase ready-to-use varieties instead. Red clover tea is available from online retailers and at establishments that specialize in herbal teas.
The blossoms may be sold as rough cut blossoms, as a loose tea or in easy to brew tea bags. Make sure you vet the source of your red clover tea. Look for organic or locally sourced and sustainable varieties that are free of pesticides.
Q: Do honey bees like red clover?
A: Clover species are a desirable source of nectar for bees. Due to the shape of its flower, only long tongued bees can pollinate red clover and access the nectar.30 Bumblebees are generally more effective than honey bees at pollinating red clover.
Shorter tongued bees are to known to “rob” red clover by biting their way through the flower petals. Apart from its disastrous impact on the crucial pollinating bee populations, Roundup will kill clover.31