White Clover – Miscellany of the 22 Botanicals

IN

As a small child in my first year at school I can remember spending ages scouring a grassy bank near our school for four leaf clovers.

It is not as rare as you might think and I would regularly find examples, once I even found a five leaf clover!  I don’t remember getting much luck but it’s difficult to quantify how much luck a five year old can really obtain especially, as these were the days before the National lottery. But perhaps I was saving it up as a life engaging with plants is a lucky one. The belief that clover can bring luck was something that could be dated back to the middle ages. The following poem helps to demonstrate that the aspirations of our ancestors in the Middle ages were not too far from our own.

One leaf for fame, one leaf for wealth,
One for a faithful lover,
And one leaf to bring glorious health,
Are all in a four-leaf clover.

Clover and especially white clover is a plant that is extremely common and indigenous to Europe and Central Asia. It has also been introduced to the grasslands of North America and New Zealand. Farmers and gardeners will often plant it as a nitrogen fixer as the plant absorbs nitrogen from the air and stores it in the roots. It is planted on a field that will be left for a year and at the end of the season it can be cut and dug back into the soil which will enrich it with nitrogen.

It’s not just plants that can benefit from clover, but animals too. Back in the 1960’s a study was undertaken on lambs fed with either white clover or perennial rye grass. It was found that the lambs fed with white clover had up to a third more body fat than those fed on rye grass they also had higher levels of iodine.  Indeed, on a recent trip to Bristol Zoo I witnessed Komale one of the female Gorillas foraging for clover. With some purpose she moved over to a patch and individually plucked a white flower and repeated to do so. In watching primates such as these forage we get a link to our hunter gatherer past.

Over time plants can pick up spiritual significance and more so with common plants such as clover. Due to the fact that clover has three leaves it has often been associated with the Christian church and the holy trinity, (God the father, God the son and the God the holy ghost). However, just like many Christian traditions the association existed long before the church. The Celts, Romans and the Greeks all considered it sacred each with their slightly different spin on what the leaves represented the Greeks and Romans both associated it with their triple godesses whilst the celts considered it to be a sacred symbol of the earth, the sea and the sky.

Those into witchcraft would know white clover as a powerful herb that is used for breaking curses, the person wishing to break the curse would put the plant into a sachet and wear it around their neck. Or if their house was cursed it can be placed in the four corners or a house.

Medicinally white clover has many uses, it is thought to help fight rheumatism, purify the blood, help relieve a cough, colds or fevers. Gout suffers should also take note as a few cups a day of white clover tea could help relieve some of your symptoms. But it is as a food that I enjoy the plant, favouring the red clover much more in drinks. The leaves of both can be used in the folowing.

White Clover grows in clusters

For the more adventurous foodie, add a pinch of cocoa powder and play guess the ingredient with your guests.

Toasted summer lawn a recipe by Harry Man and Andy Hamilton

Many foraging books will offer cooking suggestions for your plucked ingredients, often they will be very simple such as use in place of spinach or great in a salad. These simple shortcuts offer a great route into experimental cooking, for this recipe I simply told my good friend and ameture gormet chef Harry that clover can taste a little like seaweed (nori) and this was enough for the creation of the following.

Serves: 4 – 6 / Preparation time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 50 leaves of clover
  • 30g almond flakes
  • 1 tsp of grated whole nutmeg
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • Salt to taste

Heat a frying pan, don’t add any oil. Put in the almond flakes and the clover together. As the two heat up in the pan the almond flakes will be a good temperature guide as they brown delicately at the edges. Keep moving the clover around in the pan, once the flakes are brown the clover will be crispy enough. Take the pan off the heat, and drizzle over enough sesame oil to lightly coat a quarter of the leaves in the pan. Grate over the nutmeg and plenty of salt. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes as the flakes retain their heat. Toss the mixture together and serve in ramekin dishes. The dish will take well to some lemon juice and pine nuts and works very well on toast for breakfast.

For the more adventurous foodie, add a pinch of cocoa powder and play guess the ingredient with your guests.

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