Is Clover Edible? Nutrients, Benefits, and Downsides

Clovers (Trifolium) are members of the legume family. They’re rich in antioxidants and have been…

Clovers (Trifolium) are members of the legume family. They’re rich in antioxidants and have been used by many cultures in traditional medicine to treat inflammation of the joints and as a cough remedy (1, 2, 3).

Today, they’re important forage crops, used in many agricultural systems as food for grazing animals or processed into animal feed, known as fodder (4, 5).

Most types are also edible for humans, although only a few have been studied for their safety and benefits.

This article identifies the various species of clovers, their nutrients, potential health benefits and downsides to humans, and how to enjoy them.

There are approximately 250 species of clovers found throughout the Mediterranean basin, Africa, North and South America, New Zealand, and Australia. Of these, 25 species are a significant source of feed for ruminant animals (4, 5).

Clovers fix nitrogen into the soil, improving its quality and reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers. When planted with grass, this leads to the increased production of fresh grass for forage animals (4, 5, 6).

That’s why the plant is economically important in some agricultural systems (5, 6).

According to the New Zealand germ bank, however, the lineage of only six species of clover has been well-researched and documented in the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre (5).

To date, few species have been scientifically investigated for human consumption (3).

Red clover

Red clover (T. pratense) is the most researched species for human use and is popular in traditional medicine.

It’s been investigated for its health benefits. In particular, it has a potential therapeutic role in treating certain menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes (3, 7).

White clover

White clover (T. repens) is gaining popularity within both human and environmental research.

Research in mice has demonstrated that topical ointments made with white clover may speed up wound healing, while test-tube research has shown that white clover extracts stopped the growth of leukemia cancer cells (8, 9).

Although these findings hold promise that white clover extracts can be used as therapeutic treatments, more human research is still needed.

In addition, white clover may also benefit the environment. For example, it’s been shown to absorb heavy metals like lead and cadmium from the soil (10, 11).

Heavy metals prevent the growth of some plants. In humans, high exposure can harm the nervous system and fertility and increase the risk of cancer (10, 12).

Zigzag clover

Native to Europe, the zigzag clover (T. medium) is closely related to red clover (5, 6).

It is more tolerant to harsh environmental conditions than the red clover.

Plus, it’s being studied for its potential antioxidant and anti-microbial benefits, although research is only just emerging (6).

Interspecific hybrids (ISH)

Documented clover breeding studies began in the 1950s, with the aim of enhancing desirable traits such as drought tolerance (5).

White clover has been used as the parent clover for many breeding programs, though genomes of other clovers such as the zigzag clover may also serve as the base for breeding (5, 6).

The suckling clover (T. dubium) is an example of an ISH clover. It’s speculated that white clover is one of the earliest hybrid clovers (5, 13).

Other types

The rabbitfoot clover (T. arvense) is an annual clover that thrives in sandy lands with little water. Similarly, the Kura clover (T. ambiguum) is adapted to harsh environmental conditions and is used to increase legume yield (5).

The subterranean clover (T. subterraneum) also thrives in poor soil quality and drought regions. It contributes the most to global livestock feed production (5).

Summary

There are approximately 250 species of clover. Of these, 25 species contribute to animal feed. Only a few are well-defined and researched for their potential health benefits, including the red, white, and zigzag clover.

Clovers are a rich source of phytochemicals, predominantly the types called isoflavones and polysaccharides.

These are anti-inflammatory plant compounds that have potential health benefits in humans. For example, they may minimize hot flushes during menopause and mediate cancer-induced inflammation and cell damage (4, 14, 15).

Particularly, red clover isoflavones have been extensively researched. Meanwhile, the therapeutic properties of other clovers have limited evidence (3, 15).

Older studies have also identified quercetin and soyasaponin as other phytochemicals in Trifolium species with potential health benefits for humans (1).

Per 1 cup (85 grams), clover sprouts contain (16):

  • Calories: 25
  • Carbohydrates: 3 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fats: 0.5 grams
  • Vitamin C: 10% of the daily value (DV)
  • Iron: 4% of the DV
  • Fiber: 8% of the DV

Summary

Clovers are rich in health-promoting isoflavones and polysaccharides, and they are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and iron.

Several health benefits of clovers have been explored.

Reduce menopausal hot flushes

A review demonstrated that daily administration of 80 mg of red clover isoflavones for 3 months safely reduced menopausal hot flushes (7).

These findings were also observed in another review, where menopausal hot flushes were reduced for up to 4 months. However, these benefits were not evident at 12 months into treatment (15).

This means that red clover extracts or supplements may provide temporary but not long-term relief from menopause-caused hot flushes.

Clover sprouts — seeds that have germinated into young plants — provide estrogen-like compounds that were also shown to reduce menopausal symptoms (17).

Lower cholesterol

Studies in over 1,200 postmenopausal and perimenopausal women revealed that supplementing with red clover isoflavones lowered total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels (18).

Furthermore, over the study duration of 4 weeks to 18 months, HDL (good) cholesterol was significantly improved (18).

Another study demonstrated that red clover use — when combined with lifestyle changes — reduced menopause-like symptoms in premenopausal women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer (19).

However, these improvements could not be attributed to clover use alone, but rather the combination with lifestyle changes (19).

Other health benefits

Test-tube studies have shown that isoflavones from white clover can reduce the growth and spread of leukemia cell lines without harming healthy cells. This demonstrates that white clover has potential as a natural adjuvant cancer treatment (20).

Besides potential adjuvant cancer treatment, animal research has demonstrated that a white clover extract ointment enhanced wound healing. This could be due to increased blood vessel production known as angiogenesis (21).

Still, more research, particularly in humans, is needed to determine how clovers could benefit cancer treatment and wound healing.

Summary

Red clovers have been shown to improve menopausal hot flashes and improve cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, white clover isoflavones may enhance wound healing and be a natural adjunct cancer therapy. Still, more research is needed.

Generally, studies have indicated that red clover and white clover extracts may be safe. However, due to limited research, it’s unclear whether other Trifolium species are equally safe.

It’s worth keeping in mind that isoflavones, also referred to as phytoestrogens, are structurally similar to estrogen in humans. They may enhance or mitigate the hormonal effects of estrogen in the body (22).

There continue to be controversial findings on the impact of isoflavones on health, particularly when it comes to soy isoflavones. Some studies indicate that they may reduce the risk of breast cancer, while others suggest that they may be hormone disruptors (22, 23).

Ultimately, the effects of clover isoflavones require further investigation.

More rigorous human research is needed to figure out the dosages, safety limits, and instructional uses of clover extracts. And we still have much to learn about which species may be more beneficial to human health.

Summary

Clovers are likely safe. Still, their main type of phytochemical, isoflavones, has controversial findings for human health, and more human research is needed.

All parts of the clover plant appear to be edible, although not all parts are ideal for human consumption.

Clover blossoms

Red clover teas can be purchased in stores or online.

Alternatively, you can make red clover tea at home by steeping dried red clover blossoms in hot water for about 15 minutes. Strain, drink, and enjoy.

Clover blossoms are also used to make jams and jellies.

Clover sprouts

Clover sprouts may be used in a similar way to broccoli sprouts — in salads, sandwiches, smoothies, or cold-pressed juices. Avoid heating them to preserve the nutrient content.

They have also been investigated as a potential replacement for eggs in mayonnaise, where they act as an emulsifier to prevent the oil and water from separating (24).

Other uses:

The leaves of the clover can be sautéed, added to stir-fries, or eaten raw in fresh salads and sandwiches.

Meanwhile, there appear to be no common culinary uses of clover seed pods, as these parts of the plant are largely reserved for animal feed production.

Summary

All parts of the clover plant appear to be edible, although the seed pods are generally reserved for animal feed. Clover blossoms are used to make teas and jellies, while the leaves can be eaten cooked or raw.

Clovers (Trifolium) are important forage crops that have long been used in traditional medicine.

Although 250 species of clovers have been identified, only about 25 are important sources of food for ruminant animals. Less than 6 have been well-studied for human health.

Red clover extracts have been shown to improve menopausal hot flashes and cholesterol levels, while white clover isoflavones may enhance wound healing and support potential adjuvant cancer treatment, according to animal studies.

Still, more research is required to learn more about these potential benefits.

All parts of the clover plant appear to be edible. Clover blossoms are used to make teas and jellies, while the leaves can be eaten cooked or raw. The seed pods may be reserved for animal feed production.

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-clover-edible