Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Sweet scent of summer: Sweet Clover (Melilotus spp)

As both an herbalist and a gardener, I could tell you many stories of weedy wonders that I have come to love, though many a fellow gardener would call them a nuisance, and fight tooth and nail to eradicate them from their garden corner or manicured lawn or gravel. The ever persistent dandelion, reproducing prolifically and spreading its sunny orb everywhere it goes, or the tenacious purslane that grows in the heat of summer, creating a mat of moist and crunchy edible leaves and stems. But today, I’m drawn to tell you of the sweetest smelling weed of summer, Sweet Clover.

Sweet clover comes in two varieties, both white and yellow (M. alba and M. officinalis) and they look almost identical save the flower color, and I’ve used them both in exactly the same fashion.

The sweet vanilla hay smell is a favorite summer smell, and anyone who has lived in proximity to rural areas with horses fed hay will recognize the sweet smell that fills the air around the sweet clovers. Here in the southwest it favors damp and wet spots along rivers and arroyos, but in other more temperate climates, I’ve seen it growing along the side of the road and in empty lots. Like many members of the legume family ( which sweet clover is a part), it fixes nitrogen in the soil and is a high source of plant protein and nutrients that are used often to nourish livestock, and is fodder for many other wild four legged creatures of the west.

Lucky for us, we can take advantage of its sweet smelling nourishing properties as well. I’ve used sweet clover, both white and yellow as a fragrant and potent summer herb for cooking or tea making. The vanilla honey scent comes through just remarkably in dried plant, and can lend a subtle sweetness to anything you add it to. The tea of infused flowers and leaves is mild tasting and sweet, and almost doesn’t even need to be sweetened with anything to taste lovely. I always find the sweet scented tea of melilotus to be uplifting, warming and relaxing, and perfect for brightening up a cloudy day, or transitioning from wakefulness to resting in the evening. A steaming cup of sweet clover tea can bring the warmth and brightness of summer back even in the gloomiest of cold seasons, and is such a wonderful pick me up for the seasonal blues.

Aside from its delicious tea properties, one of my very favorite uses for clover is to make a weed pesto! I often mix sweet clover with other milder greens for pesto, as large amounts can be more bitter than sweet. Clover and nettle, clover and spinach, or clover and bee balm all make a delicious combo to dress up salads, baked fish, or for dipping vegetables in. Here is a recipe for sweet clover nettle pesto.

Finally, I use melilotus species medicinally as well. Sweet clover moves blood and pooling, stagnant fluids, taken internally or used as a poultice. Mastitis responds quite well to the fluid moving properties of sweet clover as a breast poultice or compress. I use the tincture of the freshly dried leaf/flower for all manner of stagnant blood conditions including, but not limited to slow to start, sluggish menses with clots and menstrual cramping, stuck, sluggish liver which isn’t processing blood as efficiently as possible, or generally stuck liver chi. Clover is diffusive and diaphoretic as a hot tea, and helps move energy out from the core to the surface of the skin by both improving blood flow and relaxing tension. Kings American Dispensatory remarks on sweet clover as specific for painful neuralgias (including digestive tract, uterine, ovarian or sciatic pain) as long as there is coldness and lack of circulation associated with the condition. Sweet clover is also a wonderful bitter aromatic digestive remedy, and can be used as a tea or tincture to alleviate gas, bloating, lack of GI secretions, lymphatic congestion.

There is a lot of talk and misunderstanding about the clovers in general in regards to coumarin and blood thinning properties. Needless to say, to separate one chemical constituent out of a plant, while ignoring the other associated compounds is ridiculous and reductionist. I’m not going to spend time on the discussion of coumarins in plants in today’s post, but suffice it to say that because of the plants blood moving properties alone (chemical compounds aside) I’d exercise caution when using the plant, tea, or tincture in large quantities with those who are on blood thinners or might be adversely affected by a large movement of blood from one place to another. I generally think of sweet clover as a safe and nutritive weedy herb that grows all over the North American continent, and a delicious food, condiment and medicine.


Comfrey Cottages said...

wonderful post! loved learning about the pesto and all the lovely medicinal qualities of sweet clover! thanks for sharing! hugs :)

Karen Vaughan said...

Pesto that can cure stabbing pain! That makes my day.

And I love that smell of new mown hay from Melilotus.

rose AKA Walk in the Woods - she/her said...

Funny, I've never used sweet clover internally - in any way. As I read your post, I wondered why? For years I've loved harvesting it to hang in my home, just for that fabulous vanilla fragrance. I've used it in smudge and incense blends too. Now - thanks to you - I will experience it on the *inside!* :)

tansy said...

i love the smell of sweet takes me back to my childhood summers of harvesting hay. mmmm...such a wonderful scent and memory.

Dreamseeds said...

First of all DMW, I am thinking of you and hoping your time in the Gila right now is really amazing!

Secondly, I have been eying the melilot and wanting to work with it and today, I read this. Thank you

LadyB said...

Thanks for this Darcey, (and for hosting the Blog Party!)I so appreciate your take on the great CoumarinConcern. Here's the plant and all it is. Yes, it CONTAINS a constituent that other plants have too. But THIS is THIS plant. It moves blood from one place to another. There ya go. I haven't seen them yet here in Oregon, but loved them back in NY. LadyB

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~