When most people think of clover, what comes to mind are the staple green leaves and the folklore of luck when you find a four-leaf clover. Clover is often viewed as a weed or derivative of grass, when actually it is a great crop cover and overall addition to landscaping.
If you’re a homesteader, then adding diversity to your lawn makes having that ground cover more beneficial to your soil, to any livestock you may have and to your pollinators, and you can start by planting and caring for white clover in landscaping today.
Benefits of White Clover
White clover appears as little white plants with thin stems and tiny petal-like sprouts. This delicate plant is a trifoliate, which means that it has leaves that are comprised of three parts. Since white clover is such a small plant, it is no surprise that it grows low to the ground, and is a great attraction for bees.
What makes white clover highly beneficial is its nitrogen-fixing ability, which allows plants to transform nitrogen molecules into ammonia, an easily metabolized molecule by most living organisms.
Through nitrogen-fixation, white clover is able to bring nutrients to soil, acts as a weed suppressant, and brings diversity to lawns.
While freshly mowed, green lawns may look nice, adding ground cover such as white clover adds the necessary diversity for other living organisms. White clover is robust and resilient, as it works as a living mulch system, producing up to 80 to 130 pounds of mulch per acre of land.
With its strong and interconnected root system, white clover is able to prevent soil erosion, increase soil health, and acts as a natural fertilizer (due to managing and producing its own nitrogen supply). “But what if I have farm animals or outdoor pets?” you may ask. Well, white clover is a hardy cover, as it’s able to withstand grazing while also providing a protein content of up to 28%.
However, it is important to note that you should keep your horses away from patches of white clover, since this ground cover crop can sometimes produce a fungus that is toxic to horses.
Growing White Clover
A crop of white clover establishes quickly, as it grows best in slightly acidic soil (aim to plant between a 6.0 and 7.0 pH range) that has either a clay or sandy consistency.
Since white clover is an herbaceous perennial, it will regrow every year, and produce edible flowers and seed pods, which bloom between the months of April or May all the way to September.
When looking for a place to plant white clover, you should choose areas that get full sun exposure and partial shade.
Once you’ve spotted a good place to start growing your white clover crop on the homestead, the best time to plant this ground cover is in the spring, after the last frost has passed, and after it has rained.
After its blooming season had passed, white clover is similar to an evergreen, in that the plants will stay green during short durations of drought and may even remain visible in mild winter seasons.
White clover is propagated by seed and can be sown directly into the ground. Before laying out white clover seed, you need to prepare the soil first by removing any weeds, stones, or debris that will inhibit the growth of fresh clover.
If you are starting on a brand-new plot of land that you are unfamiliar with, start with testing the soil for its pH level.
Depending on the soil’s pH level, it is recommended that you add lime to the patch of soil you wish to plant the clover in. Once the soil has been tested and, if needed, limed, then you can start by breaking up the ground to create a good seedbed for the clover seeds.
Either using a rake or rototiller, break up the top layer of the soil to loosen, then water the soil to encourage any remaining weeds to grow. Once the remaining weeds have begun to show in one to two days, remove the freshly grown weeds and use a rake to smooth the plot out.
The range of how much clover seed to use varies greatly, but the recommended amount is around two pounds per acre (use more if you wish for a greater amount of clover blooms). White clover develops a thick root system, so the seeds do not need to be covered much with soil but aim to sow the seeds between 10 to 12 millimeters deep with a light, yet sturdy soil covering.
One benefit of growing white clover is that it does not need fertilization, but keep in mind that the combination of hardiness characteristics makes white clover a difficult plant to remove once it has been propagated (planting white clover in containers is always an option, though).
If you do not have sandy or clay-like soil, you may want to mix the clover seed with sand, saw dust, or another fine soil, which will help to make the spread of the seed easier. For larger areas that you wish to plant white clover, use a broadcaster for an even distribution.
Once the seed has been lightly covered with soil, you also may wish to use a soil roller to compact the soil over the seed (hence a sturdy cover), watering regularly after to establish the growth. While white clover does not require extensive maintenance, do make sure that the soil you plant the seeds in well-drained.
Going forward, here are some tips and reminders when growing white clover:
- While white clover does attract bees, so consider planting it away from areas where you may walk barefoot in your yard.
- Avoid planting this robust ground cover near flower beds, as white clover spreads aggressively.
- White clover is durable, but you should nonetheless avoid planting in high traffic areas where people walk extensively, or where children play.
- In the early growing stages of white clover, even though the plant itself is highly pest and insect resistant, there is potential for slug disturbance and attacks.
- There are three other varieties of white clover: Micro clover, Atropurpureum, and Dragon’s Blood, which are considered the improved varieties.
Using White Nutritional Content
Similar to other renowned “weeds”, such as dandelions and nettle, clover is a natural growing plant that has more to offer than what meets the eye. White clover leaves, stems, flowers, and seed pods are all edible, with different parts often used in different ways.
You may have heard of an alternate option to bee honey, called ‘clover honey’, which is most often made from white clover and now sold commercially as a “vegan” option to honeybee honey.
White clover originates from Europe and the British Isles and is also referred to as “Dutch Clover” or “Garila” in Hindi. The botanical name for white clover is Trifolium Repens and referred to as “Mother Tincture” in homeopathy.
For centuries, white clover has been used in traditional natural medicine in multiple countries, including India and Turkey, as well as amongst the Native Americans.
In Turkey, their folk medicinal practices included white clover against rheumatic aches, and was used for its supposed expectorant, antiseptic, and analgesic properties.
Infusions and teas were a popular way of preparing white clover for use, as the infusion and tea was often used to alleviate coughs and colds, as well as an eyewash.
The white clover flowers were often used to alleviate rheumatism, to clean wounds and boils, and to heal eye ailments. The leaves were traditionally made into a tincture and used as an ointment for gout.
As years have progressed, white clover is still counted on as an alternative aid in easing ailments.
In addition to its role in folk and herbal medicine, white clover has its own fair share of nutritional properties as well. The plant is renowned for its high protein content, and it also is chock full of vitamins A, B2, B3, C, and E. White clover also contains minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
Moreover, the ground cover is also useful in the overall management of general health, as it has anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties.
Due to its expectorant and antispasmodic properties, white clover is useful against respiratory conditions, and can also prevent lung-related diseases due to its flavonoid content.
The extract pulled from the flowers can slow enzyme activity, which aids in the management of diabetes. The isoflavones in white clover aid in increasing bone mineral density, which can help in preventing osteoporosis.
White Clover in the Diet
These tiny flowers can be incorporated into your diet, like many other flowers and wild plants. The plant in its raw state is difficult to digest however, so cooking parts such as the leaves and flower buds is important.
Before diving into the edible uses of white clover, keep these points in mind (along with the fact that I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice):
- When first trying white clover, only consume in small quantities, as with any new food, white clover can cause a severe allergic reaction in people. Consult with your general physician or nutritionist before regularly consuming white clover.
- Consume in moderation. White clover is known for its blood-thinning property, as consuming in excess can lead to health issues.
- Do not consume or use white clover before any surgical procedures for two weeks or longer. The properties of white clover might interfere with any medications you would receive before and after surgery, in addition to the blood-thinning effect.
- Similar to many other herbs and alternative supplements, avoid during pregnancy and consult with your doctor before using or consuming white clover.
- If you aren’t confident in your ability to identify white clover or any other wild plant, find a trusted forager to help you do so.
With the important disclaimers out of the way, white clover is most popular in tea form, but it can be prepared in a variety of ways. Fresh white clover leaves can be added to any salad or soup, or prepared as a stand-alone vegetable side.
Tea is prepared from fresh white clover flowers and seed pods, which also happen to be popular in their dried form to make an alternative baking flour (for its hint-of-vanilla flavor).
Whether you forage your clover blossoms while waiting for your patch to bloom, or are picking straight from the backyard, make sure to gently rinse each part of your harvested batch that you plan on using.
Rinsing the clover in a strainer, or in a bowl, will be gentler on the plant and will often catch any parts that are usable from floating away and down the drain. Lay out your collected clover to dry on dish towel by gently patting with another towel. From here, if you do not intend on using your clover fresh, preserve through dehydration. The method of dehydration is up to you:
- Hang clover by the stems and hand upside-down to dry
- Lay out clover on a baking sheet and allow to bake in the sun
- Use an electric dehydrator
- Use a solar oven
The first two options take the longest, but are the most cost effective, whereas the solar and electric options are time efficient, but might require financial investment. Regardless of how you choose to dry your clover blossoms, make sure that each flower is completely dry before storing them.
Store the dried clover in glass mason jars with the lid on tight, as any air contact may cause moisture, which can lead to dried goods growing mold and spoiling before use.
Clover isn’t just good for honey; white clover can be turned into jelly, tea, and used as a dry ingredient in baking. White clover flour is a simple way to begin your journey in using white clover in your everyday diet.
White Clover Blossom Flour
Equipment: Food processor, coffee grinder, or mortar & pestle
Ingredients: White clover blossoms (as needed; 2 cups blossoms = ½ cup flour)
- Harvest fresh white clover and separate the flowers from the green parts (stems and leaves).
- Rinse clover flowers to rid of dirt, debris, and bugs, then dehydrate.
- Take dehydrated clover flowers and place into your processor/grinder/mortar. Grind until the flowers are finely ground, close to a powder-like consistency.
- Store in an airtight container
Clover flour is best used when combined with other baking flours, since the texture of clover flour is quite different. One interesting thing to note is its unique flavor: white clover flour will add a hint of vanilla-like flavor to your next batch of bread, biscuits, or cookies!
To pair nicely with your freshly baked clover goodies, white clover tea is a delicious option in both the winter and summer seasons.
White Clover Iced Tea
- Large mason jar or glass container
- Fine mesh sieve, or cheesecloth
- 1 cup white clover flowers, fresh
- 4 cups water
- Honey and fresh lemon slices, for taste
- Prepare the clover blossoms by gently washing in the sink, pat dry, then place the flowers into the large mason jar or container.
- Bring the four cups of water to a boil and pour over the clover blossoms.
- Let the clover flowers steep for up 30 minutes to four hours, depending on how strong you would like the clover flavor to be.
- Strain clover blossoms with the mesh sieve or cheesecloth, then refrigerate brewed tea. If using cheesecloth, be sure to squeeze remaining liquid form the flowers.
- Serve over ice, with honey and slices of lemon, if desired. Refrigerate leftover tea and use within 24 hours.
If you aren’t using ground covers on your homestead to improve your soil, diversify your lawn, and provide forage and food for bees and livestock, what are you waiting for?
Growing a crop that is hardier than most weeds and can make your homestead healthier and more productive is simply a no-brainer! When it comes to ground covers, few are as hardy, easy to grow and useful as white clover.
This plant will not only make your homestead more productive, but it will find a place on your kitchen and medicine cabinet as well. So, order some white clover seed today, and put this terrific ground cover to work in your lawns and fields as soon as you can!
When Tom Harkins is not busy doing emergency repairs to his 200 year-old New England home, he tries to send all of his time gardening, home brewing, foraging, and taking care of his ever-growing flock of chickens, turkey and geese.