“The more you cut it, the more it grows. The more you eat it, the more you have to eat.” When we were kids all we knew was that clover had three leaves, and the ultimate prize was finding one with four. The trick was to split one of the leaves so carefully that it appeared as two. It rarely worked, but the search for the ultimate four-leaf clover took our senses into a more focused and in-the-moment presence. We were down on our knees and hands inspecting each plant intimately, smelling the fresh greenery, feeling the cool, clover-carpeted earth under bare hand and grass-stained knee. Our eyes were microscopes inspecting unusual details, and we would step back, take in a wider expanse, seeking new fields, new lands to discover, realms to uncover the ultimate four-leaf clover, secret treasure of gods. The only sense uninvolved then was the sense of taste. That came later: clover’s value as wild food ranks high in taste and nutritional value. No wild salad would ever be complete without it.
Run! Throw the ball! Run! Oh, what a catch! Run on the clover! See how it springs back? So alive. So green. Roll in the clover. Red, pink, white, sweet, three-leaf, four…
There are seventy-five species of true clover (trifolium spp.) in America. Of the many varieties of clover, tomcat, clammy, foothill, hop, rabbitfoot, white, alsike included, red clover is most abundantly found in all ecosystems. This durable perennial prefers meadows, grasslands, and lawns, but I have seen it in high mountain plateaus and in the driest deserts. It grows from one to three feet with several stems supporting many three-sectioned ovate leaves, each imprinted with a light green V. The flowers range in color from pink to purple. They are round, fragrant, and plentiful. The red clover is not a favorite of bees. They prefer the white clover as the wild source plant for clover honey production. The red clover is a favorite food plant for many other animals, though, game birds and fur-bearing animals being the most frequent visitors. Quail, grouse, wild turkey, partridge, marmot, and woodchuck (especially when alfalfa is in short supply), prefer leaves, seeds, and sometimes the whole plant. Songbirds eat clover seeds. Small animals such as squirrels, mice, and gophers enjoy flower pods and foliage, and deer browse on the entire plant. Clover is also cultivated as forage for range animals and as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop for soil improvement.
The entire red clover plant can be eaten. Because of its abundance it is an excellent wild food source. I have used hundreds of red clover leaves in salads, soups, stews, and steamed. The raw plant may be a bit hard to digest for some, so soaking for a few hours helps. The plant can be dried and ground into nutritious flour for all-purpose cooking and baking. Clover is excellent juiced, contains many vitamins and minerals, and is a good protein source. From city parks to deep wilderness, clover feeds and nourishes many.
Red clover is known medicinally around the world for its quality alterative and blood cleansing properties. Current cancer research sights its blood thinning activity which helps remove accumulated toxins from the entire system. Tonic for convalescents, clover stimulates liver and gallbladder activity, improving appetite and relieving constipation. For fevers and inflammatory conditions, and all debilitating illnesses (such as hepatitis and mononucleosis) clover can be used frequently with no side affects. It is slightly diuretic, and expectorant for coughs, mucus and colds. Used as a fomentation over rheumatic and arthritic joints, and as a poultice for sores, athlete’s foot, rashes, and cancerous growths.
A story from the past: In the Southern Utah desert, at a place called Tailrace, where a free flowing creek has been diverted for irrigation. It now rumbles over a rockface creating a spectacular waterfall amidst countless junipers and sage. Below the ridge the teeming waters crash to the canyon floor and exit rapidly in meandering and lilting orchestrations to the Escalante River that eventually empties into the mighty (or once mighty?) Colorado. It is early August, late afternoon. Black clouds billow out above, then focus on Tailrace Canyon where I am encamped in a small wickiup. In the distance lightning rips at the sky, thunder shakes and thumps canyons and creek beds for miles around. The blackened mass moves quickly overhead. I have never heard such loud and penetrating blasts of thunderous sound in all my life. As if the stone-walls would shatter in an instant, I shook and trembled with the earth beneath me, curled under stone protuberances for fear of lightning igniting my spine. Rain came in sheets, then torrents, thick as milk, robbing one of all sense of place. Thunder, lightning, rain, and more and more of it for an entire night. This was the very absolute in nature’s drama.
My eyes opened to glittering sun turning rain beads into crystalline fixtures, sequins on Mother Nature’s immaculate gown. Beyond the trees a small meadow glistened in the morning light and the creek ripped past careening, enjoying its glutted belly of sparkling rainwater. Amongst the thistles and grasses, red clover heads beamed with luscious pinks and crimsons and purples, leaves filled with the juice of rain, electrified by lightning, empowered by thunderbolts thrust by the hands of rain gods. Who could resist an inviting breakfast such as this? Peeled thistle stalks, grass seed, clover-leaves and flowers. Druids, trinities, red clover bowers! Hey! Let’s eat!