Trifolium pratense (Red Clover) is a species of clover, native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa, but planted and naturalised in many other regions.
It is an herbaceous perennial plant, variable in size, growing to 20-80 cm tall. The leaves are alternate, trifoliate (with three leaflets), each leaflet 15-30 mm long and 8-15 mm broad, green with a characteristic pale crescent in the outer half of the leaf; the petiole is 1-4 cm long, with two basal stipules. The flowers are dark pink with a paler base, 12-15 mm long, produced in a dense inflorescence 2-3 cm diameter.
The plant was named Trifolium pratense by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753. Pratense is Latin for "found in meadows".
There are seven varieties:
- Trifolium pratense var. pratense Widespread.
- Trifolium pratense var. americanum Southeastern Europe (despite the name).
- Trifolium pratense var. frigidum Mountains of central and southern Europe (Pyrenees, Alps, Balkans).
- Trifolium pratense var. maritimum Southern Baltic Sea coast.
- Trifolium pratense var. parviflorum Europe.
- Trifolium pratense var. sativum Mediterranean region. Robust-growing, with hairless or nearly hairless foliage.
- Trifolium pratense var. villosum Alps. Densely hairy foliage.
Uses and symbolism
It is widely grown as a fodder
crop, valued for its nitrogen fixation
which increases soil fertility. For these reasons it is used as a green manure
crop. Several Cultivar Groups
have been selected for agricultural use, mostly derived from var. sativum
. It has become naturalised
in many temperate areas, including the Americas
as an escape from cultivation.
The isoflavones and phytoestrogens from Red Clover have been used to treat the symptoms of menopause. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid ingesting Red Clover. It has also been reported that red clover can be used for therapeutic purposes for coughs, bronchitis, eczema, sores, scrofula and can be gargled for mouth ulcers and sore throats.
It is the national flower of Denmark and the state flower of Vermont.
It is also an ingredient in eight-herb essiac tea.