Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is spreading like wild fire through fertility communities everywhere! So what has given this plant such popularity recently? This is the question I ask myself. As an herbalist, Red Clover has always been a favorite plant of mine, and I know other herbalists will agree. Traditionally it is one of the best anti-cancer herbs. It is also a nourishing blood purifying herb. Because it is so high in nutrition it is often used in herbal infusions during pregnancy preparation, pregnancy and lactation when directed by a natural physician or herbalist.
Fertility Benefits of Using Whole Plant Red Clover
Red Clover is a nourishing food herb. It is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. It is one of the best blood purifying herbs. This blood purifying action is wonderful for pregnancy preparation, aiding in detoxification of environmental pollutants prior to conception. This function also may be helpful for women with cyclic acne. The action of Red Clover is one of the best known for acne and other skin conditions.
Red clover aids in improved circulatory function, this is very important for all functions of the body, but it is important to have good circulation to the genitals for reproductive function. Red Clover has been shown to increase cervical mucous, aiding vaginal dryness.
Red Clover is high in both calcium and magnesium. These are essential to proper bone formation as well as smooth muscle function. Both calcium and magnesium consumed regularly in foods like Red Clover help to reduce menstrual cramps.
Red Clover has been used for hundreds of years to improve liver function, which is essential to hormonal balance. This plant also aids in digestion and is known to help increase appetite. For women suffering from poor digestive issues, or those with poor appetite, this herb may help. This may be extremely beneficial for women who are trying to gain weight to increase fertility. This herb is also supportive of kidney function.
According to Susun Weed [one of the most well known Western herbalists] Red Clover is one of the best pregnancy preparation tonics. She has used Red Clover for years to treat infertility in women with blocked fallopian tubes, irregular menstruation and unexplained infertility. She uses a preparation of 1 ounce in weight of dried Red Clover blossoms placed in a quart mason jar. She then covers with boiling water, caps tightly and lets steep for at least 4 hours. 4 hours later, strain and drink 1-3 cups a day! Because Red Clover is a nourishing herb it can take many months of use to be effective. It is a daily tonic. Red Clover is best used for 3-6 months in preparation for pregnancy.
It is my experience as an herbalist using Red Clover that are the richest and most real for me. I have used Red Clover as a nourishing herb for years, with no negative side effects. I have used it for pregnancy preparation, through the last trimester of pregnancy, and during breastfeeding both of my children. I never used concentrated amounts long term. I always use this herb as I would a nourishing food. Red Clover blends well in an infusion with other nourishing herbs like nettles and red raspberry leaf. Because it is detoxifying for the liver and kidneys, I have used it in the childbearing year, and after to aid my body in recovery postpartum. It is extremely hard on the liver, heart and kidneys to develop another human life inside of the female body. Using Red Clover infusion from time-to-time aids the body in proper function of the liver, heart and kidneys which is essential to a healthy pregnancy. Nourishing these organs prior to conception is best.
Red Clover Herbal Recipes
Red Clover Nourishing Fertility Tonic
3 parts dried Red Clover Blossoms and leaves
1 dried part Red Raspberry Leaf
1/2 part dried Peppermint
Place herbs in a quart mason jar. Fill mason jar, cover herbs with boiling water. Cap tightly. Steep for 4 hours. Strain and refrigerate. Drink 1-3 cups daily in preparation for pregnancy.
Red Clover, Lavender, Lemon Relaxing Sun Infusion
3 parts dried Red Clover Blossoms and leaves
1/2 part dried Lavender flowers
Fresh Lemon Slices
Place all ingredients in a quart mason jar. Fill with warm filtered water. Cap tightly. Set in the sun for 3-4 hours. Strain and chill. Add a touch of agave for taste. This is a great infusion if you are feeling stress or anxiety, or just wanting to chill out after a long day!!! Best enjoyed out doors watching a sunset!!!
Red Clover Controversy: The Isolation of Isoflavones from Red Clover
I think we owe Red Clover’s new found popularity to science. When scientists want to see if an herb has an effect on part of the body, they usually use concentrated isolates of the plant. This is not how an herbalist would use the plant. Herbalists typically use a whole part of a plant. Herbalists are not scientists, nor have the tools to isolate a chemical compounds from a plant. Herbs have more benefits than one isolated chemical compound. These multiple benefits work together for whole body benefits.
All of the scientific research, findings and conclusions can make for some confusing tests and explanations. For example there was a study performed by the Department of Clinical and Experimental Endocrinology at the University of Göttingen in Germany, and the Department of Immunology, Medical University of Gdansk in Poland on an isolate of Red Clover (Formononetin equol). This isolate is an isoflavone. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens in plants. The isoflavones in plants may mimic human estrogens.
The study used rats that had their ovaries removed. Using the isolated isoflavone Formononetin from Red Clover, the study showed after 3 months of feeding the rats both a high dose, and low dose chow containing isoflavone, that the high dose chow fed rat’s uterine weight, cell proliferation, and thickness increased. The rats fed low doses of isoflavone containing chow did not shown any effects on the uterus. The use of the equol isoflavone was compared against two doses of estradiol-3 benzoate (E2B). The conclusion of the study is that women should not use uncontrolled and unlimited doses of Red Clover.
Because of studies like this one, doctors are advising women with a history of uterine hyperplasia, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, uterine fibroids, or other estrogen-sensitive conditions to avoid Red Clover.
Making Sense of the Scientific Research
To me this test shows a lack of understanding of how Red Clover as a whole plant works in the body. Isolating a chemical compound from a plant in some cases has benefits, and may be necessary, but in the case with Red Clover this plant is far more beneficial as a whole herb infusion, rather than in an isolate based cream or pill. Isolating isoflavones and giving a rat a high dose of this isolate showed an increase in thickness, and weight of the uterus in rats that no longer were producing natural fertility hormones, because their ovaries were removed. The purpose was to determine if the Red Clover isolate is safe for menopausal women or for those who have a risk of uterine cancers. It is unfortunate that Red Clover has over time gotten a bad reputation as an herb that may fuel estrogen-sensitive fertility issues including uterine Cancer growth in some women. In reality, Red Clover is the best known anti-cancer herb in Western Herbalism. Nourishing food herbs like Red Clover have been used for thousands of years with no indication the plant contributed to estrogen dominant conditions, or estrogen-sensitive cancers.
It is important that we be clear on the research. There is no contraindication to using Red Clover in it’s whole plant form as an infusion (tea), tincture (liquid extract), or capsule as daily nourishment and as a tonic. Yes, there may be some concerns when used in high doses over time, but herbalists would not use this plant this way. We cannot base our fears that Red Clover will increase our estrogen levels because of testing using isolated isoflavone from Red Clover. Phytoestrogens are in many plant foods we eat. There is no real evidence that phytoestrongens in Red Clover increase estrogens in human body, except when the isoflavones are isolated, and concentrated into a supplement.
3) Wise Woman Herbal for The Childbearing Year, Susun Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, 1986
4) Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Tori Hudson, ND, McGraw Hill, 2008
5) The Herb Book, John Lust, Bantam Books, 1974
6) Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Aviva Romm, Churchill Livingstone, 2010