Sweet Clover

Melilotus officinalis

Herbs gallery - Sweet Clover

Common names

  • King's-clover
  • Melilot
  • Sweet Clover
  • Sweet Lucerne
  • Yellow Melilot

Sweet clover is an herb that grows biennially and reaches a height of up to five feet. This herb has several boughs and every leaf of sweet clover comprises of three leaflets having jagged edges. Sweet clover bears pale yellow flowers in very tall spikes during the period between June and September. Each flower is approximately 14 inches in diameter. Sweet clover possesses a sugary aroma akin to vanilla and this becomes additionally strong when the herb is dried out.

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Apparently, the nectar of sweet clover flowers produces an inebriating influence on bees, which attracts them to the flowers and move in whirling clouds. Horses and cattle are similarly attracted towards sweet clover, which is among their most preferred fodder. Way back in the 1920s, peasants started storing sweet clover in the form of a fodder for their cattle and horses. While cattle which consumed the hay of sweet flower started bleeding, it was found that the plant they had consumed has been stored prior to drying them completely and, therefore, it had been fermented. Additional probe into the matter revealed that coumarin, a substance enclosed by sweet clover which is responsible for the plant's vanilla flavour, turns into an anticoagulant, dicoumarol, when it is fermented.

The popularity of sweet clover as a natural remedy dates back to several centuries. In ancient Egypt, people prepared a tea with sweet clover to cure earaches as well as eliminate parasitic intestinal worms. Ancient Greek physician Aelius Galen recommended employing an infusion similar to the herbal tea prepared with sweet clover in the form of a poultice to treat swollen joints and inflammations. On the other hand, in England during the Anglos-Saxon era, sweet clover had earned the repute of being an effective remedy to preserve eyesight. In addition, sweet clover was also employed to prepare a balm for treating sores and wounds - this practice is still continued in England where a section of pharmacists market 'melilot plasters'. The leaves and flowers of sweet clover are also used to prepare a pleasing tea with vanilla flavour and this tea may be drunk just like a beverage or in the form of a medicine to alleviate persistent flatulence.

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It may be noted that the herb sweet clover has actually resulted in the development of the drug known as warfarin (blood thinner), which is currently employed in the form of an anti-coagulant agent. In herbal medication, sweet clover has been traditionally employed in treating lymphatic drainage of clogging, hemorrhoids, varicose veins and thrombophlebitis (inflammation of a vein accompanied with development of a thrombus). In addition, use of sweet clover is also believed to enhance blood circulation. Sweet clover has also been employed in the form of a laxative (purgative) and diuretic (promoting flow of urine). People suffering from asthma have smoked the dried leaves of sweet clover to cure their condition, while the herb has been employed in the form of a poultice to treat wounds, rheumatism and inflammation. In the form of an herbal tea, sweet clover has been employed to alleviate headaches, muscles pains as well as gastrointestinal disorders.

Sweet clover is also know by several other names, counting ribbed millet, field millet, melilot trefoils, ribbed melilot, yellow melilot and common melilot. During the time of Tudor dynasty in England, sweet clover was denoted as the 'King's clover' since King Henry VII reportedly employed this herb. However, peasants of that period loathed sweet clover as it is an extremely invasive plant that invaded their fields and damaged their crops. During contemporary period, people often grow sweet clover with a view to avoid soil erosion as well as to augment the amount of nitrogen present in the soil.

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Parts used

Aerial parts.

Uses

Similar to the herb horse chestnut, prolonged use of sweet clover, either topically or internally, may help in treating hemorrhoids and varicose veins. In addition, sweet clover also facilitates in diminishing the hazards of developing thrombosis (intravascular coagulation of the blood in any component of the circulatory system) and phlebitis (inflammation of the veins, especially occurring in the legs). This herb also possesses mild tranquilizing and antispasmodic properties and is prescribed for treating insomnia or sleeplessness, particularly among children, and anxiety. In addition, sweet clover has been employed to cure indigestion and excessive stomach gas, problems related to menopause, bronchitis and rheumatic fever. As sweet clover possesses mild astringent attributes, the main use of this herb over the ages has been in the form of a poultice to treat wounds and inflammations in the tender (soft and delicate) body parts, for instance, the eyes.

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It has been found the sweet clover plant encloses coumarins and when the plant dries up or is decomposed, coumarins transform into dicoumarol - a potent anticoagulant agent. Hence, it is advisable that this plant need to be used with certain extent of caution and it should not be recommended for patients having a known history of poor blood clotting or those who are taking any blood thinning medication, such as warfarin. An infusion prepared with sweet clover is employed by herbal medicine practitioners to treat insomnia (sleeplessness), palpitations, neuralgia, nervous anxiety, varicose veins, excruciating congestive menstruation and in preventing intestinal problems, flatulence and thrombosis. Sweet clover is applied topically to cure swollen joints, inflammation of the eyes, boils, acute bruising and erysipelas (a severe streptococcal contagious disease of the skin). A decoction prepared with the plant is added to bath water for refreshment as well as relaxing the tensed body and mind. The blossoming sweet clover is harvested during summer and is dried up and stored for use when necessary. In addition, distilled water obtained from the flowering tops of sweet clover is known to be useful in treating conjunctivitis.

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As aforementioned, the leaves of sweet clover enclose coumarin and when the plant is drying up, coumarin exudes a pleasing aroma similar to that of freshly mown hay. In effect, the leaves of the plant are dried out and used in the form of an insect repellent, particularly to keep moths away from clothes. In addition, the dry leaves may also be placed inside pillows, mattresses and so on for the same purpose. Leaves that are not completely dried out become fermented and turn out a substance known as dicoumarol. Dicoumarol is basically a powerful anticoagulant agent that is highly toxic when taken in excess and it puts off clotting of the blood. Therefore, it is possible that when partially dried leaves are taken in large amounts, it may result in the death of the person by bleeding profusely from his/ her wounds. In effect, dicoumarol is employed as an ingredient in rat poisons. Apart from its therapeutic uses, sweet clover may also be used as a fodder for animals and also in the form of a green manure, which makes the soil richer by adding nitrogen and, at the same time, by supplying organic substance.

Habitat and cultivation

Sweet clover is native to North Africa, Europe as well as the temperate climatic regions of Asia and over the years the herb has been naturalized in North America. Generally, sweet clover grows in arid and open areas and the herb is harvested during summer.

Sweet clover plant prefers soil conditions that range from properly drained to arid neutral alkaline and in a sunlit location. Sweet clover has a preference for a saline or clay soil and is loathe to shade. Plants that are established well have the aptitude to tolerate drought. The flowers of sweet clover produce pollens profusely and this is an excellent bee plant. Provided the plant is cut prior to the flowering season, it will grow for a minimum of an additional year prior to extinction. The dehydrated or dried out sweet clover plant possesses a sweet aroma similar to freshly mown hay. In effect, sweet clover has a symbiotic (mutual/ reciprocal) rapport with specific bacteria found in the soil. These bacteria create nodules on the plant's roots and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. A part of this nitrogen is used by the growing sweet clover plant, while some others may also be employed be other plants in the vicinity.

Sweet clover is propagated by its seeds, which are sown in situ (in their permanent position) between the period of spring and mid-summer. The seeds need to be soaked for about 12 hours in tepid water prior to sowing as this will help to accelerate the germination process, especially in arid weather conditions. Normally, it takes about two weeks for the sweet clover seeds to germinate.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of sweet flower has revealed that the plant encloses resin, flavonoids, tannins, coumarins (counting hydrocoumarin and hydroxycoumarin) and a volatile oil. If the herb is allowed to decompose, sweet clover yields dicoumarol, a potent anti-coagulant agent.

Side effects and cautions

People using sweet clover or its products ought to know that using this plant may result in side effects, including yellowed skin or eyes, bleeding or bruising, headaches, mood changes, stomach aches and dark urine. Patients suffering from liver ailments need to consult their doctors prior to using sweet clover. In addition, people enduring diabetes should also exercise caution while using this herb. Sweet clover should not be given to women during pregnancy. In addition, nursing mothers taking this herb should consult their physician before breast-feeding.

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