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A few weeks ago I enrolled on an old fashioned year long correspondence course with the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine. It is to become a home herbalist - so basically to gain the knowledge needed to treat (& not kill) myself, but not to treat anyone else. I wanted to do it because I found myself getting irritated by the slight wooliness of the herbal advice I kept seeing, the same cut and pasted mistakes, the lack of any advice about who shouldn't be taking things.
I found myself irritated at the way herbs - which I believe are incredibly powerful - were not being taken seriously.
One of the modules of the course is to study an area of ground and the plants that grow there over a full year. I have chosen a patch of about a mile between Croftamie and Gartness Road. I am going to be talking a bit more about this on Instagram and Facebook but here on the blog I am going to talk about the plants I am studying each month instead.
This month is Red Clover - Trifolium pratense (the Trifolium means three leaved, the pratense means meadow - so "three leaved meadow plant") - which grows in the verges alongside the path. It is a typical meadow plant, interesting in that its leaves low down look pretty much as we imaging clover leaves to be, but as the plant grows upwards - climbing through other plants up to 4 feet - the leaves elongate and aren't really recognisable as clover at all. It is a useful cover crop for farmers - fixing nitrogen in the soil - so is common throughout the UK and many other parts of the farmed world.
Red Clover doesn't really appear in many old herbal books. Where it does, it has the kind of listing where it cures absolutely everything from leprosy to UTIs, which pretty much guarantees that it cures nothing.
However - at some point in the last 20 years it was discovered that clover is one of the few plants with water soluble isoflavones - a kind of phytoestrogen - so potentially helpful for peri-menopausal women as their oestrogen levels dip.
To be honest - and this is the case with a lot of herbal medicine - there hasn't been great success with trials, though a couple were interesting enough for money to be put into research. There is also the issue that the research was done where large amounts of the active ingredients were distilled out of the plants in a way that would be inconvenient, maybe impossible, for the home forager.
However it was found that clover had significant levels of available calcium, which could be useful for peri menopausal and menopausal women to ward off osteoporosis. On the flip side - as a potential hormone replacement - red clover shouldn't be taken by women who are pregnant, or really by anyone whose oestrogen and calcium levels are tip top.
For the rest of us - here is a tea recipe - which is highly unlikely to completely turn around a depleting oestrogen supply, but which tastes nice, will do no harm, and which may help take the edge off those hot flushes.
Clover, Calendula and Nettle Tea
- 50 heads of red clover - picked when fully out but not browning
- 50 calendula flowers
- 50 nettle leaves
Dry all the flowers and leaves - you can simply lay them out on a metal rack or sheet and leave somewhere warm (a clean sheet over a spare bed works well), or, if you happen to have a dehydrator, that works well - 10 hours at 40 degrees.
Mix together and store in a jar. Add a large spoonful to a teapot, add just boiled water and leave to steep for 5 minutes.
You can add honey, but I find that the clover has a honeyed taste anyway.
The mixture will last for a year if kept in a cool dark place.