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Red clover tea is a drink brewed from the blossoms and leaves of the red clover plant. It is used for a variety of medicinal purposes, the most common of which is the treatment of menopause symptoms. Its effects are thought to result from phytoestrogens, a group of chemicals mimicking the effect of estrogen in the body.
The red clover plant, or Trifolium pratense, is also called cow clover, meadow clover, beebread, and cow grass. It is widespread and grows both wild and under cultivation. A useful plant for farming, it performs nitrogen fixation and feeds grazing cattle along with other animals.
Scientific data concerning the health benefits of red clover tea are lacking. Some studies state that red clover may improve the health of bones and arteries. A 2006 comprehensive literature review in the journal Menopause, however, suggests that there is not enough evidence to conclude that red clover will alleviate hot flashes or protect against cancer. Pregnant women should not consume red clover tea, since it will interfere with the normal hormonal changes necessary to support a fetus.
Proponents—commercially interested and otherwise—of red clover tea suggest that the phytoestrogen it contains is good for general health. It is claimed that these chemicals promote the expression of useful hormones and prevent harmful analogues from taking effect. It is also suggested that these chemicals inhibit cell growth that might be a precursor to cancer. A 2004 study in Menopause, however, suggests the exact opposite: that women at risk for estrogen-related cancer, such as breast cancer, should avoid red clover and similar chemicals. The chemical seems to have little effect on men.
Most observers seem to agree that red clover tea acts as a blood thinner. This effect results from a commonly occurring anticoagulant called coumarin. Coumarin is what causes red clover to protect against arteriosclerosis. It also makes the drink potentially dangerous for people who already have problems with blood clotting. It is not a good idea to drink large quantities of red clover tea before an event that can produce extensive bleeding, such as surgery or childbirth.
Red clover tea is fairly simple to prepare. Use mostly blossoms, but include some leaves. Place a few spoonfuls in a pot and add boiling water. Steep for about ten minutes, then add honey or sugar to sweeten. Lemon and mint can be nice additions.