Many people are surprised to learn that clover is an edible weed. We all know it well having grown up with it, wishing away sunny afternoons as kids searching for that elusive four-leaf clover.
Clover is the common name for plants of the genus Trifolium which, broken down in Latin, means three (tri) leaf (folium). It consists of 300 species of flowering plants in the legume or Fabaceace family.
Trifolium repens, or white or Dutch clover, is probably the most common in urban and regional areas. It has white or soft-pink flowers and the leaves boast distinctive markings. Red clover is also common; it’s similar in appearance to Dutch clover but its flowers are red and it has no markings on its leaves.
This edible weed is found in lawns and other open areas as a type of low ground cover, usually about 15 centimetres high. It tends to be dense, lush and dark green, pushing out other weeds and grasses.
A common symbol associated with Ireland, the shamrock – or three-lobed clover – found a place in members of the ancient Celtic culture’s hearts due to their belief of the mystic powers of the number three. According to legend, St Patrick used a shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity. But it wasn’t until the Irish Rebellion three centuries later, the wearing of shamrocks and green-coloured clothing became a national symbol.
The shamrock, which means ‘summer plant’ in Gaelic, is thought to refer specifically to white clover which typically produces three-lobed leaves. Very occasionally white clover will grow four lobes on a single stem and their rarity led many to associate spotting one to be a sign of good luck. Still today, the Irish idiom ‘to be in clover’ is used to describe someone living a carefree, comfortable and prosperous life.
Consider this edible weed as a dark-green vegetable with similar nutritional benefits as spinach. The leaves and flowers are more commonly eaten, although the roots are also edible. Both the leaves and flowers can be eaten raw, cooked or dried for teas. The leaves and blossoms are high in many vitamins and minerals, though they are particularly high in iron and vitamin C.
White clover infusion
The leaves can be steamed or boiled and they don’t have any of the bitterness often associated with other greens like spinach, dandelion leaves or mustard greens. In fact, clover leaves are slightly more fleshy and have a mild, almost sweet flavour profile.
Clover leaves can be cooked with onion, garlic or various spices, or simply wilted in butter and eaten with just a little salt and pepper. The fresh leaves and flowers, which both have that subtle sweet flavour, can be added to salads. Clover is far more nutritionally dense than many more commonly eaten leafy greens, which makes it a really worthwhile inclusion in your diet.
For more information on clover and other edible weeds, check out Edible Weeds and Garden Plants of Melbourne (Hello Little Weed 2010) or visit www.edibleweeds.com.au