Red Clover ((Trifolium pratense)

Red Clover ((Trifolium pratense)

"The isoflavones isolated from red clover have been studied for their effectiveness in treating some forms of cancer. It is thought that the isoflavones prevent the proliferation of cancer cells and that they may even destroy cancer cells. Laboratory and animal studies have found that red clover isoflavones may protect against the growth of breast cancer cells. This is surprising because estrogens (and isoflavones have estrogenic properties) have generally been thought to stimulate the growth of breast cancer in women. Until further research has been conducted and more information is available, the use of red clover isoflavones or other red clover products should probably be avoided in women with a history of breast cancer." " It is part of the famous Hoxey Formula for treating cancer, especially lymphatic cancer. Red clover ointment may be applied to lymphatic swellings." "A 66-year-old physician with prostate cancer took a concentrated phyto-estrogen based on red clover for just one week and thereby caused his tumour to regress. The patient had been diagnosed with a high PSA level (13.1 micrograms/liter) in March 1996 and a subsequent needle biopsy had confirmed the presence of a low grade adenocarcinoma. He was scheduled for a radical (suprapubic) prostatectomy and, on his own initiative, decided to take a daily dose of 160 mg of a phyto-estrogen product based on red clover (Promensil tablets - 4 X 40 mg/day) for the seven days preceding his operation. After the operation the biopsy tissue and the tumour tissue were compared. It was clear that the tumour tissue showed a high degree of apoptosis (cell death) resembling the effect of high- dose estrogen therapy and consistent with tumour regression. Professor Stephens concludes that this case history provides further evidence that phyto-estrogens may prevent prostate cancer. He also points out that there were no adverse effects of the phyto-estrogen treatment." Stephens, Frederick O., Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 167, August 4, 1997, pp. 138-40

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A botanical we don't want to overlook.

Around St. Patrick's day, thoughts of clover naturally turn to the green, four-leaf variety, for everyone knows that a shamrock is good luck. However, if your wish is for good health, you may want red clover instead of green. Unlike its shamrock relative, red clover (Trifolium pratense) has three distinct leaves, but what makes it stand out are its vivid, reddish flowers.

Long recognized for their healing properties, the flowers of red clover have received praise since ancient Greek, Roman, and Celtic herbalists used them. Many beneficial compounds give this herb a wide range of healing properties. Red clover contains salicylic acid, the same compound that gives aspirin its pain-relieving and fever-lowering properties. It also possesses light sedative properties due to its trace amounts of the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan. Because it reduces muscle spasms and clears lung congestion, the Russians and Chinese recommend red clover tea to cure bronchial asthma.

For such a popular herb, it is amazing how little science knows about red clover's effects on people. Since it is a nutritious, high-protein food for livestock, most study has been devoted to the leaf as a forage plant.

A weapon against cancer

Can a pretty little flower really offer resistance to this deadly disease? If not a cure, red clover may at least provide resistance. For cancer to grow, it needs a large supply of blood, so it signals the body to grow more blood vessels right into the tumor itself, a process doctors call "angiogenesis." Cancer researchers now think that they may be able to literally starve tumors by cutting off this blood supply. This is exactly the role of genistein, one of the many compounds found in red clover that shows anticancer potential.

A feminine botanical

The latest buzz is about red clover's estrogen-like properties. Many products formulated for use in easing menopausal symptoms contain red clover. In one study, the estrogen levels of postmenopausal women increased when they ate red clover sprouts, linseed, and soy -- all estrogenic botanicals -- for two weeks each. After they stopped the diet, their estrogen count dropped. Although it is estrogenic, red clover may inhibit estrogen-based cancers since there is evidence that plant estrogens actually block carcinogenic forms of estrogen.

For skin problems

Red clover is equally famous as a liver-assisting "blood purifier." Many blood purifiers, red clover included, effectively treat skin complaints, such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, and skin rash. This is no surprise since herbalists consider liver health whenever confronted with a skin condition. Gentle, although effective, it is recommended for skin problems in children or ones that are painful.

Blood-thinning properties

Red clover is a safe medicine, although it does thin the blood. This is good news for anyone who has problems with blood clots, but be careful about taking it with blood-thinning medications because it can increase the drug's action. It should also be avoided for a week prior to surgery, since thin blood can cause you to bleed. Also, don't use it during pregnancy.

PHOTO (COLOR): Kathi Keville


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Kaufman, P.B., Duke, J.A., et al. "A comparative survey of leguminous plants as source of the isoflavones, genistein and daidzein," Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 3(1):7-12, 1997.

Matsukawa, Y., et al. "Genistein arrests cells cycle progression at G2-M," Cancer Research 53(6):1328-31, 1993.
Wilcox, G. "Oestrogenic effects of plant foods in postmenopausal women," British Medical Journal 301:905-906, 1990.
By Kathi Keville

Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and publishes the AHA Quarterly Newsletter. She is the author of 10 herb and aromatherapy books, including Herbs for Health and Healing and Aromatherapy, The Complete Guide to the Healing Art, as well as over 150 herb articles for national magazines. She also gives seminars on medicinal herbs throughout the U.S.