Wild in the City: Clover
Ah, the elusive Elderberry. The Morel Mushroom. The Fiddlehead Fern. Just a few of the stars in my foraging sky, the ones that seem hopelessly out of reach when living in the city. Even in many suburbs, the pickins can sometimes be slim. Yet, when foraging, the most simple of truths apply:
If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. -Dorothy Gale
Clover! All types of clover are edible, and make an excellent addition to salads. You can cook it like spinach, but I think that's a little unnecessary. It tastes like a mild green. It's suggested that the leaves are picked before flowering, but I don't think it matters so much. (2017 Edit: I like to add it to pestos, or tincture in vinegar with other spring greens as a tonic. See end of post for medicinal info.)
Clover is prolific all over the United States, and is considered a pesty weed since it crops up frequently in lawns. I happen to have a giant tub of white clover (Trifolium repens) growing amongst my container garden. I was given a nutrient mix for rehabilitating soil, last fall, and so I gifted it to the soil in a large metal basin, that had been heavily used over the summer. The mix contained lots of clover seeds, since clover fixes nitrogen in the soil. The tub is now a lush miniature forest of clover, and is also home to a hummingbird sage, a strawberry plant and some wildflowers. It’s the cheeriest little party on our deck.
All parts of the clover are edible (you need to cook the root). The flowers may be eaten raw, cooked in fritters or made into tea. Red clover is a highly prized medicinal herb. Bees are frequent visitors of clover flowers, so don't pick 'em all, but also...the more flowers you pick, the more clover will make!
I planted red clover in my garden plot next door last summer. It has thrived, growing into a nice lush patch. Except….the reason I was letting it take up so much space was so that it would flower…the flowers make a wonderful nourishing tea, especially for lactating mamas…and the damn wonderful thing won’t flower! Gardening in San Francisco = Patience + Frustration.
Red Clover blossom. I didn't take this picture. I would have except...oh that's right...MY RED CLOVER WON'T FLOWER.
Thankfully, an upside to living in a large metropolis is access to goods and services…for now I can trot down to Scarlet Sage and buy a little bag full of red clover for a few pennies.
The folk method of making Red Clover Iced Tea:
Get a 16 or 32 oz mason jar.
Put in a big handful of clover blossoms. Maybe add another.
Cover with water, hot or cold.
Put it in your fridge and leave overnight.
Next you have two options: Remember to take it out the next day, strain and enjoy. Or...forget you put it in there and end up throwing it out 2 weeks later. Might I suggest the former?
Red clover makes a delicious iced tea. I drink it in moderation, since it is slightly detoxing and can make me a little woozy.
Even if you can’t find red clover, I guarantee you can find white, probably by walking no more than a block. In Shasta Co., the spring wildflower display often features the grace of crimson clover.
If you pick from a lawn or park, make sure the land you pick from is pesticide free, and if it is public property, wash your gatherings in case of dog pee.
(2017 Edit: Red Clover has some amazing uses for acute conditions, like swollen glands or cysts, and tonically is used, along with other herbs, with cancer. I have used it primarily as a tonic infusion, and for me has acted primarily as an alterative.)
Think with your stomach! Do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. It is SO not my responsibility if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. You’re an adult. you can make your own choices.
Have a great weekend! Eat salad!