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Red Clover

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense [Latin]), also known as purple clover, trifolium, sweet clover, and cow clover, is one of the world's first agricultural crops. Named for the pinkish purple flower this plant produces, red clover has a long history of medicinal use. In China and Russia, red clover was used to treat respiratory infections and congestion. It has also been used to treat coughs, speed wound healing, and relieve water retention. Today, red clover is being studied for its possible benefits to those suffering heart disease, diabetes, menopausal symptoms, and prostate enlargement.

Since the 1800s red clover has been promoted as a potential treatment for cancer. Recent research by the National Cancer Institute found that red clover contains four phytoestrogens: biochanin-A, formononetin, daidzein, and genistein. Daidzein and genistein actually help prevent the growth of cancerous tumors. Red clover also contains tocopherol, a form of vitamin E that some studies have linked to reduced risk of heart attack and cancer.

Red clover is an active ingredient in a combination formula marketed for treatment of cancer, called the Hoxsey formula. However, it is important to note that the use of herbs for treatment of cancer is highly controversial, and anyone with this or any other serious illness should be under a doctor's care.

Red clover contains a high concentration of phytoestrogens, which mimic the action of female hormones in the body. One study of cows found that those fed large amounts of red clover had significant size increases in their teats; today red clover is included in some herbal supplements that claim to promote natural breast enlargement.

Although the phytoestrogen effects of soy and flaxseed have been more widely studied, red clover may actually be a more effective treatment for relief of menopausal symptoms. It is an active ingredient in Promensil, an over-the-counter supplement used to help treat hot flashes.

One Australian study found that Promensil helped improve elasticity of the arteries in menopausal women as well, and other studies have also shown that red clover improves the blood flow through the arteries and veins. Thus, red clover may prove helpful in treating high blood pressure and decreased circulation in both cardiovascular and diabetic patients. The estrogen-like effects of red clover have lead some researchers to theorize that it may help treat symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), a condition in which the prostate gland starts growing again in middle age.

Red clover has traditionally been used to treat inflammation and infection, including syphillus, venereal disease, and tuberculosis. Recent laboratory studies have shown that this plant does indeed kill many types of bacteria, including the bacteria that cause tuberculosis.

Fresh red clover is easily identified by its signature three-leaflet leaves, and sweet-smelling pink or purple edible, ball-shaped flowers. You can find this plant growing just about anywhere in the wild, although it doesn't grow well in sandy or rocky soil. You can also buy red clover seed and plant it in the spring or fall. To make your own red clover tea, simply add 1 tablespoon of dried or fresh clover flowers to a cup of hot water and drink three times a day. Red clover is also available in commercially prepared capsules, liquid extracts, and teas. Follow the dosage instructions on the package.

Red clover has documented phytoestrogenic activity-if you have a condition that prohibits you from taking estrogen supplements, you probably shouldn't take red clover supplements either. In extremely high amounts, red clover has been linked to miscarriage, certain birth defects, infertility, and growth disorders. Because estrogen has been shown to accelerate the growth of estrogen-dependent breast and gynecological tumors, people with a history of these growths should not take clover. Estrogen also increases the risk of blood clots-smokers, people taking birth control pills, and anyone with a history of heart disease or stroke should not take red clover without doctor approval.

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