After a late afternoon walk in the local meadow, friend and naturalist Merridy Cox announced that she’d collected some red clover to make some tea. This had sprung, no doubt from our previous adventure in the swamp forest of the Trent Nature Sanctuary, where we had been “wildcrafting” to collect some cedar leaves to make a delightful cedar tea.
We are both writers and editors and we love our tea! While both of us drink coffee (though, of late, I’ve sworn right off it), tea is our preferred beverage. I enjoy its play on my taste buds, and how it opens up my senses with a rich and complex pungency that I’ve come to relish. I don’t miss coffee; I used to crave and whine over flat whites. John Grams at Mana Organics provides an entertaining list of reasons why tea is better than coffee, including its lower carbon footprint, its anti-cancer and stress-reducing properties, its ability to hydrate and improve cognitive performance, and the fact that Patrick Stewart drinks it. A major reason for me is the diverse and many sources for tea in the environment around me and in the wild. It gives me great pleasure that I can find its ingredients in the forest or meadow near my house.
Red Clover (Trifolium pretense)
Red clover is a fairly common perennial in temperate climates that span from the tundra of the Arctic Circle to the meadows of Central Asia. Red clover belongs to the legume family and flowers in bunches with a soft, brush-like ball of pink blossoms. Like other legumes, clover fixes nitrogen from the air and adds it to the soil. Farmers have for millennia cultivated it for this property. They sowed it for their cattle and used it as a cover crop in fallow fields to enrich them.
Greeks and Romans associated this three-leaved plant with the triad goddesses. The clover reminded Celtic priests of their three-lobed symbol of the sun and Druids believed the blossoms could ward off nasty spells and evil spirits. Early Christians connected the three-leafed plant to the Christian trinity; the less common four-leafed clover was associated with the four points of the cross. According to Geoffrey Grigson in The Englishman’s Flora, “In the north of England, leaves of red clover were also employed as a charm against witches and evil.”
Red clover was traditionally used in herbal medicine for its “blood cleansing or blood purifying” properties, helping to flush out toxins. Lavalheureuse tells us that red clover is rich in the flavonoids daidzein and Genistein, which have phyto-oestrogenic properties (making it good against menopausal hot flashes).
Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible writes that this plant was used as a tonic taken in the spring to promote good health and peace of mind. Red clover contains small amounts of silica, choline, calcium, and lecithin—all essential for normal body function, says Mindell. Health benefits include dealing with menopause, reducing bone loss, fighting cancer (particularly prostate cancer) and heart disease. Red clover also has blood-thinning abilities (given it contains coumarin), reduces (bad) cholesterol and triglycerids, and its isoflavones help reduce high blood pressure.
In the 1940s, red clover was included by herbal healer Harry Hoxsey in his anti-cancer formula to the censure of the American Medical Association. Hoxsey was later vindicated, given that many of the components—including clover—were found to have anti-tumor properties. According to Herbalgram, “isoflavone extracts of this phytoestrogenic herb significantly increase bone mineral density, as well as raise the HDL (good) cholesterol level.” Extracts from red clover can also help reduce skin inflammations, and help relax the body.
Kate on Delishably provides a list of 25 edible flowers and describes red clover tasting sweet and slightly anise-like. It is high in Vitimin C, B-complex, phosphorus, potassium and calcium.
Making Red Clover Tea
To make a tea, VeryWellHealth suggest using one to three teaspoons of dried red clover flowers for every cup of simmering (not boiling) water, then steeping for 15 minutes. That’s not what we did. Merridy had collected fresh clover flowers and leaves for our tea. Upon returning to Merridy’s place, she brought out her English Denby china and we boiled some water. Merridy dropped a handful of leaves and blossoms into the teapot then poured the boiled water over them.
We let the tea steep for about 7 minutes for our first cup.
The tea poured a yellow-green colour. I brought the cup to my face and breathed in a delicate floral scent with something familiar that I couldn’t place immediately.
Then we took our first sips.
Merridy described it as “warming” then laughed at her obvious description and added, “comforting.” I agreed. The tea had a soothing quality to it. Then I identified the scent: peas. This made sense, given that red clover is a legume like peas and beans, which also fix nitrogen from the air. The second larger sip yielded a lovely combination of wild and familiar—like white tea mixed with green peas. Refreshing and soothing like a summer garden.
After five minutes, Merridy poured us a second cup. The longer steep provided a richer taste with deeper character and added astringent. Again, not unlike a Lungo vs Ristretto espresso coffee, the longer steep had drawn out a more complex symphony, leaving the delicate airy notes behind. I was glad I had tried both steeping lengths.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.