History of Clover
Clover, both the white and red varieties, is a plant which carries with it many magickal legends and exciting energetic properties. Commonly found in yards and fields across the world, clover is useful as fodder for animals and a source for nectar for bees. It has been associated with luck, protection, prosperity, beauty, healing, and even fairies. In this post we will explore the history of the clover, its magickal properties, and look into how its leaves became known as shamrocks, a symbol for Ireland.
“In the Clover”
Have you ever heard the phrase, “in clover”? I hadn’t, but I’m sure that I’ll hear it all the time now that I know about it! Apparently this phrase is fairly common and it means ‘to live luxuriously’, to be carefree…basically to live the good life. The saying came about because clover is a favorite meal of cattle and makes them fat and delicious (more on that later). The English word clover is thought to come from a long line of words of German origin, possibly stemming from “klaiwaz” which meant ‘sticky pap’. This is because clover contains a sticky nectar that bees love, which in turn made sticky honey.
Clover’s Latin name is Trifolium repens (white clover) or Trifolium pratense (red clover). [there are several other species, but I’m only covering these two). Trifolium means “three” “leaf”. Repens means ‘creeping’, which is apt because clover indeed creeps along the ground rather than growing tall. Pratense means something like ‘pasture dwelling’, which again is apt because clover, especially red clover grows freely in pastures where livestock and other animals graze.
Clover is an important part of the ecosystem, especially for soil and for animals. Clover has spread to all parts of the world and is an important source of food for cattle and other livestock. If grown with a special mix of grasses and other edible plants, it can help reduce bloating in cattle. It also somehow fixes the nitrogen content in the soil and covers spaces where other plants can’t grow.
Clover also serves an important role for bees. Both honeybees and bumblebees are attracted to clover. It contains a good amount of nectar and you can find several varieties of clover honey in stores as a result. Fun fact is that clover is also known as “bee bread”. (Side note: my lawn is fairly large and has a TON of white clover in the spring and summer. There are bees, lots of bees in my yard. My daughter loves to run barefoot and has been stung twice! But I’ll forgive the bees now that I know how important clover is to them).
As a child I remember picking clovers and sucking the nectar out. (I thought they were called honeysuckles, but those are quite different flowers). Clovers are not just for children to suck out the nectar. Clovers are actually edible, both the flower and the leaves. They can be eaten as fresh greens but are said to be not delicious, but boiling them or mixing them with other ingredients can make them tasty. They have been used in times of famine and hardship as they are quite high in nutritional quality. The flowers are sweet, and often red clover is used to make teas, jellies, and other sweet concoctions.
Medicinal Uses of Red Clover
Although most of these uses hasn’t been proven, red clover has been used in homeopathic medicine for centuries. It was used for improving the lymphatic and immune systems, in salves for burns, for mastitis, joint problems, skin problems, and even cancer. There were also some studies that showed red clover extract having a reductive effect on hot flashes during menopause.
Clover Symbolism & Legend
One of the most well known symbols of luck is the four leaf-clover. This is a rare occurrence. One source says the odds are 1 in 10,000. What’s even more interesting is that there are actually clovers with 5, 6, and 7 leaves which are even more rare, and in 2009 the Guinness World Record recorded a 56 leaf clover.
Clover is also a symbol for Ireland, and over time became known as the shamrock (more on that in the next section). One cool legend about Ireland and the three leaf clover has to do with Saint Patrick. According to some sources the Druids had some mystical associations with clover, especially its three leaves. Remember in pagan Ireland there were many triple goddesses, so the three would have been a sacred number already. It is said that when St. Patrick came along, he used the three leaf clover to symbolize the Holy Trinity. There is a pretty stained glass window representation of this legend here.
There is a folk belief that the three leaves of the clover represent love, faith, and hope, and when there is a fourth leaf, it represents luck.
One leaf is for hope, & one is for faith,
And God put another in for luck,
And one is for love, you know,
If you search, you will find where they grow.”
~ Ella Higginson (1861-1940)
Tied in with Christianity, the leaves represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and if there is a fourth it is God’s grace. There is also a legend that Eve took a clover leaf out of the Garden of Eden when she was kicked out to remember what was lost.
Red clover is the state flower of Vermont and the national flower of Denmark.
The Shamrock & Ireland
Most of us are familiar with the shamrock, but we probably don’t think about it as being part of the clover plant. Although the origin of the shamrock, as in the plant it comes from, is up for debate, many say it is the leaves of the white clover. The word shamrock comes from the Irish word “seamróg”, meaning summer plant, which comes from “seamar” which means clover. In the 1570s an Elizabethan man named Edmund Campion was the first to talk about the shamrock and how the “wild Irish” ate “shamrotes”. Now, there is another plant, the wood sorrel, that the Irish ate, but it is questionable as to whether they regularly ate clover. Either way, this idea caught on and was repeated through the years, tying the Irish to the shamrock. Eventually the shamrock became a symbol of rebellion against the English. In the 1700s it was placed on flags, pins, and some even wore green uniforms or ribbons. The popular ballad The Wearing of the Green talks of these rebellions and includes lyrics about the shamrock. Today the shamrock is unquestionably the symbol for Ireland, not only for its shape and color, but for the luck it represents.
In Magickal Workings
Clover is an unassuming, common herb, with a variety of magickal uses, making it one of my new favorites. It has a gentle spirit that brings happiness, luck, and protection. Here are some types of magick you can focus on when using clover.
- Protection, especially from hexes
- Strength, the kind that is gentle but strong
Use fresh clover blossoms for decoration, especially for a fairy altar. Use red clover in your beauty routine to harness its wild beauty. Do a meditation where you are laying in a field of clover, and bask in it’s abundant and gentle energy. This isn’t my idea, but I liked it so I’m sharing. You can soak clover in some water (or use the essential oil) and spray it for protection or purification. You can also simply buy a box of red clover tea (or the herb itself) and sip it while you do spells or rituals related to any of the above properties. As always, keep clover in your wallet, purse or charm bag to attract its qualities. Spend an afternoon hunting for a four leaf clover and let your inner child come out.
While I think it would be cool to try and eat clover greens, the consensus I’ve found is that unless you use them as in addition to much tastier ingredients they aren’t super yummy. So my two recipes stick with the sweeter portions of the plant, the flower. Below is a recipe for Red Clover Lemonade, which you can easily make with red clovers you find near you. The second is sort of a cheat, but because bees and clover go hand in hand, clove honey has notes of the flower itself. The Clove Honey Butter Spread is simple and can be made with honey you find in the store or more locally in the farmer’s market.