(Melilotus officinalis and albus.)
Common Names: Melilot, Yellow Sweet Clover, White Sweet Clover,, King's Clover, Hart's Tree or Plaster Clover, Sweet Lucerne, Wild Laburnum, wacańga iyéceca, Bai Xiang Cao, Лечебна комунига, стрък, komonicová nať, Stenkløverurt, Steinkleekraut, μελιλώτου πόα, meliloto, mesikaürt, rohtomesikkä, zelen kokotca, Barkūnų žolė, Amoliņa laksti, trew, Honingklaver, Ziele nostrzyka, iarbă de sulfină, vňať komonice, zel navadne, sötväppling, legesteinkløver
Dry air, dry skin.
A spark could catch fire.
The smell of dust and rock,
Sweet clover grows thick in my neighbors fields. In the sun, on the dry side, not down from the creek, but where the gravelly soil starts. Ducking through the gate bars, walking through the field means brushing the tall stems, wafting the vanilla hay scent in waves with each step. And all around the buzz of bees, stopping at the yellow and white flowers, butts wiggling.
I have fresh tinctured sweet clover, in the flowering stage, the leaves, flowers and some of the more supple stem, mostly using this tincture topically. I’ve found it, in what seems to be the North American herbalist most common use, quite nice for sharp pain. This can be shooting nerve pain, but really any pain that has a sharp quality to it, point specific, not dull and aching. I’ve only more recently been experimenting with its internal use. I find it interesting that it is so nice with sharp pain, and also has a long history of use for dull aching legs. What pain versatility. I look forward to a long relationship with these plants that thrive so well in my New Mexico mountain home.
Plant Family: Fabeaceae
Genus and Species: Melilotus officinalis and albus. (meli: honey)
Botanical Description: Melilotus is a genus of 19 species native to Asia and Europe and has spread around the globe. Numerous different Melilotus species are used medicinally. This monograph is focusing on the species officinalis and alba, the yellow and white sweet clovers, which I use interchangeably.
These two species are very similar looking, with the difference in flower color being their main differentiation. They are both annual or biennial legume family plants.Their tall stems, often around 3 feet tall, have three fold obovate leaves with irregular slightly toothed margins. The flowers are in 30 to 70 one sided bunches, from May through September, producing abundant nectar for the bees. The seeds are contained in light brown rounded husks.
Sweet clover likes to grow in disturbed ground, thriving in grazed fields, rocky soils, riparian areas, and grass lands. It is simultaneously extolled for it’s nitrogen fixing capabilities and cursed as an invasive weed. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) has a nice write up on it’s use as a cover crop and forage plant including benefits and draw backs here:
Properties: Relaxant, anodyne with nerve focus, emollient, warming carminative, anti-inflammatory, venous toning and lymph moving
Parts Used: Above ground flowering plant, often with leaves and flowers stripped from the stem.
Taste: Sweet vanilla hay, mild bitter, aromatic
Tissue States: Cold, tense, stagnant
Interestingly Michael Moore found sweet clover to be “suppressing” to many of the organ systems. Mildly to the upper GI, hepatic, lower urinary, generative, skin and thyroid stress, and strongly suppressing to the musculoskeletal system. A good reminder that his constitutional physiology framework does not directly correlate with the tissue state model.
Degree of Action: 3rd
According to Grieves, 1936:
“Galen used to prescribe Melilot plaster to his Imperial and aristocratic patients when they suffered from inflammatory tumours or swelled joints.”
Grieves also sites Gerard, Culpepper, and Fairfax-Still as using sweet clover in a bath for melancholy, topically to relieve, ear and head pain, for ulcers, inflammation, loss of sense and apoplexy, and the juice as a wash for clearing eyesight. She says that the topical application was an old country remedy for rheumatic and abdominal pain. And that at the time it was used in herbal practice internally to relieve flatulence
Emplastrum meliloti, a plaster of sweet clover, resin, wax and olive oil, was included in the Norwegian Pharmacoepia until 1895.
Stimulant and antispasmodic in whooping cough and a local anodyne in a poultice.
Traditional Persian Medicine:
As a topical application over the abdomen for: gastric swelling, pain, inflammation and abscesses, dyspepsia, flatulence, vomiting and diarrhea.
“Dr. Reed gives melilotus in cases where ergot would seem to be indicated; where there is fullness of circulation of the brain; a tendency to nose bleed, often followed by sick headache; where the action of the heart is oppressed with occasional palpitation. He believes that in all three cases it is an excellent remedy.”
Sweet clover is an introduced plant in North America. It’s Lakota name, wacańga iyéceca, translates to, “like sweet grass” and is occasionally substituted for sweet grass in many nations including the Numunuu, Ná’isha, and Oglala Lakota when sweetgrass isn’t available, because of it’s similar smell coming from it’s coumarin content.
Pain, especially nerve pain with peripheral coldness and/or soreness or tenderness including: headaches, structural pain including sciatica, visceral and intestinal colic and neuralgia, and menstrual and ovarian pain and dysmenorrhea.
Venous and lymph stagnation: varicose veins, aching legs from poor veinous/lymph return, hemorrhoids.
Bruising, swelling, and skin inflammation topically.
Melilotus is used in Europe commonly in formula for a variety of complaints associated with poor venous and lymph return from the legs.
The European Union monograph on Melilotus gives the traditional uses:
“Relieves symptoms of discomfort and heaviness of legs related to minor venous circulatory disturbances…[and] for the treatment of minor inflammations of the skin.”
Commission E gives a few more details:
“Internally for complaints of chronic venous insufficiency such as pain and heaviness in the legs, night cramps, itchiness and swelling. Furthermore to support the treatment of thrombophlebitis, post-thrombotic syndrome, haemorrhoids and lymphatic congestion and externally for bruises, sprains and superficial bruises.”
A 2018 report on traditional and ethnobotanical dermatology practices in Romania found sweet clover to be in current clinical use internally for arteritis, thrombophlebitis, varicose veins, leucorrhea, and urethritis and externally for pathos stomatitis, gingivitis, bruise, wounds, ulcerations, furuncle and leucorrhea. They classified its actions as anticoagulant, vulnerary, astringent, tissue regenerative, emollient, anti-infective and anti inflammatory.
Melilotus albus is used in China for reducing edema with hemmrhoids, traumatic injuries, thermal burns, and lymphedema in the limbs.
In North American herbalism, sweet clover is much more commonly used for its affinity for nerve pain symptoms. This is the use I was familiar with prior to writing this monograph. I’m interested now in expanding my repertoire with this herb.
David Winston: “Indicated for spasmodic neuralgia with impaired circulation and sharp stabbing pain in legs or hips.”
Suzan Tobias Scholl: “Nerve pain; especially spinal injury with headache. Migraine. Peripheral neuropathy and neuralgia.”
Homeopathic psycho-emotional picture: “dissolves psychological stagnancy and interlocking conflicts between mental pursuits and spiritual agendas.(CERES)”
Culinary and Perfumery Uses:
Sweet clover is used to flavor Gruyere and Schabzieger cheeses.
Ellen Zachos, foraging author, makes a melilot simple syrup for cocktails, and dries the leaf and flower as a cooking spice, substituting it for tarragon on chicken, pork and fish, and infusing it in cream as a base for blancmange
Melilotus officinalis absolute is used as a fragrance. According to Adam Michael,
“The aroma of sweet clover is coumarin rich and has similarities in aroma profile to tobacco, tonka and liatrix minus the heightened powdery aspect of the latter two materials. In the top through to middle notes I detect a faint caramel sweetness with hints of monkey nuts and cocoa. For me the base note is new mown hay and Cadbury Dairy Milk themed.”
A constituent extracted from sweet clover, dihydrocoumarin, is a common flavoring and fragrance ingredient in food and cosmetics. There is some concern that it could inhibit sirtuin deacetylases, which could potentially increase apoptosis and lead to epigenetic alterations, which the authors of a 2005 study posit may increase the aging process (Olaharski).
Anti-inflammatory effects of Melilotus extract have been seen in animal studies, where it reduced the activation of circulating phagocytes and lowered citrulline production. Scientists burned rats and gave them sweet clover and found that it reduced the swelling and tissue necrosis caused by the thermal injury. They also induced edema in rat’s paws with carageenin and found that giving sweet clover extract reduced the edema.
An in vitro study showed Melilotus to inhibit the production of TNF-a mRNA, COX-2 mRNA, and NF-jB in LPS-stimulated RAW 264.7 cells.
Two studies look at the anti-inflammatory and swelling reducing qualities of sweet clover in humans.
A 2008 study looked at the effects of Melilotus extract given after plastic surgery operations, specifically augmenting nose jobs and eye lifts. This study looked at 46 consecutive patients. They found that bruising was reduced in both types of surgery, and edema reduced at day 4 and 7 with the nose jobs, but not with the eye lifts.
A 1999 study evaluated the efficacy of a coumarinic extract of Melilotus officinalis in reducing lymphedema of the upper arm post lymphadenectomy surgery for breast cancer. 14 patients were given the extract post surgery. 11 had a reduction of the arm circumference of at least 5%, and 12 had a reduction of symptoms. 3 patients had short term gastro-intestinal side effects.
A 2013 study looked at the effect Melilotus and Centella asiatica supplementation on diabetic cystoid macular edema without macular thickening. They evaluated 35 patients over a 36 month period, orally administering 300mg diosmin per day, which includes 160mg Melilotus. They found that at 12, 24 and 36 months, the control group had significant loss of retinal sensitivity, while the treated group did not lose sensitivity. No reduction in edema was found in any statistically relevant amounts.
Coumarin, volatile oils
Dosage and Method of Delivery
Felter, 1922: 1 to 20 drops of Specific Medicine Melilotus
Sayre, 1917: In a poultice. as an infusion.
King’s 1898: 1 to 20 drops strong tincture, ointment of leaves and flowers boiled in lard (for ulcers).
Ellingwood, 1919: 4 or 5 drops every 2 hours (engorged conditions of the uterus)
Michael Moore: Standard infusion 2 to 4 ounces internal; short term, or topical.
European Union monograph:
-For discomfort and heaviness of legs related to minor venous circulatory disturbances:
Herbal tea: 1.0–1.2 g as an infusion 2 times daily
Powdered herbal substance: 250 mg 3 times daily
-For minor skin inflammation: 3 g of liquid extract, as a cutaneous patch.
David Winston: Fresh Plant Tincture (1:2.5) 1-2ml 3x/day. Infusion: 1 tsp recently dried herb in 8 ounces hot water, steep covered 1 hour. 4 ounces 2 or 3x/day. Combine with: St. Johnswort, Prickly Ash.
Jim McDonald: 5-15 drops tincture/dose
Cautions and Contraindications
Not recommended for children under 18
Safety during pregnancy and lactation not established
Reports of GI upset and topical allergic reactions have been reported
(European Union monograph)
Avoid with any history of or current liver disease
Limit coumarin intake to 5mg/day
Melilotus officinalis and Warfarin Interactions:
“Melilot is used mainly to treat inflammation, oedema, and capillary fragility. There was no relevant pharmacokinetic data for Melilot. In one case, a 66-year-old women's INR rises from 2 to 5.8 after 7-day intake of Melilot with acenocoumarol]. Another report showed a woman developed a prolonged prothrombin time when taking large quantities of a[n] herbal tea containing Melilot. However, experimental evidence for this interaction was blank. The mechanism of interaction was unclear. Some studies inferred that the natural coumarins contained in Melilot might be a reason for the interaction between warfarin and Melilot. On the basis of limited case reports and lacking of mechanistic study, this interaction may only be considered as doubtful. (Ge)”
Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (2017). European Union herbal monograph on Melilotus officinalis (L.) Lam., herba. Retrieved from: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-monograph/final-european-union-herbal-monograph-melilotus-officinalis-l-lam-herba_en.pdf
Kooperation Phytophramika. Sweet Clover. Retrieved from: https://www.koop-phyto.org/en/medicinal-plants/sweet-clover.php
Felter, H (1922). The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Retrieved from: https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/felter/melilotus.html
Winston, D (2019). The Clinical Use of Herbs and Complimentary Therapies for Treating Chronic Neck and Back Pain. AHG Journal vol. 17. Retrieved from: https://en.calameo.com/read/00458073081f175657776?authid=IDAnHT8Gk5jU
Scholl, S. Herbs for Pain. Retrieved from: https://www.ladyofthelakeherbs.com/herbs-for-pain.html
Gilca, M., Tiplica, G. S., & Salavastru, C. M. (2018). Traditional and ethnobotanical dermatology practices in Romania and other Eastern European countries. Clinics in Dermatology, 36(3), 338–352. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2018.03.008. Retrieved from: https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/j.clindermatol.2018.03.008
Hedrick, UP (1919). Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Retrieved from: https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/sturtevant/melilotus.html
Zachos, E (2017). Melilot, aka Sweet Clover, aka Melilotus sp. Retrieved from: https://www.backyardforager.com/melilot-sweet-clover-melilotus-sp/
TGSC Information System. Melilot Absolut. Retrieved from: http://www.thegoodscentscompany.com/data/ab1046161.html
Olaharski, et. al. (2005). The Flavoring Agent Dihydrocoumarin Reverses Epigenetic Silencing and Inhibits Sirtuin Deacetylases. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1315280/
Xu, F., Zeng, W., Mao, X., & Fan, G.-K. (2008). The Efficacy of Melilotus Extract in the Management of Postoperative Ecchymosis and Edema After Simultaneous Rhinoplasty and Blepharoplasty. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 32(4), 599–603. doi:10.1007/s00266-008-9149-3. Retrieved from: https://sci-hub.se/10.1007/s00266-008-9149-3
Pastura, G et. al. (1999). Lymphedema of the upper extremity in patients operated for carcinoma of the breast: clinical experience with coumarinic extract from Melilotus officinalis. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Lymphedema%5BTitle%5D+AND+upper%5BTitle%5D+AND+extremity%5BTitle%5D+AND+patients%5BTitle%5D+AND+operated%5BTitle%5D+AND+carcinoma%5BTitle%5D+AND+breast%5BTitle%5D&cmd=DetailsSearch
Forte, R., Cennamo, G., Bonavolontà, P., Pascotto, A., de Crecchio, G., & Cennamo, G. (2013). Long-Term Follow-Up of Oral Administration of Flavonoids, Centella asiatica and Melilotus, for Diabetic Cystoid Macular Edema Without Macular Thickening. Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 29(8), 733–737. doi:10.1089/jop.2013.0010. Retrieved from: https://sci-hub.se/10.1089/jop.2013.0010
Moore, M. Principles and Practices of Constitutional Physiology for HerbalistsRetrieved from: http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsMM/HRBENRGT.pdf
Grieves, M (1936). A Modern Herbal. Retrieved from: https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/melilo29.html
Redaktøren, B (2005). Steinkløvere – medisinske planter. Retrieved from: https://tidsskriftet.no/2005/03/brev-til-redaktoren/steinklovere-medisinske-planter
Sayre, L (1917). A Manual of Organic Materia Medica and Pharmacognosy. Retrieved from: https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/sayre/melilotus.html
Tafti, L et. al. (2017). Traditional Persian topical medications for gastrointestinal diseases. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5378958/
Felter, H and Loyd, U (1898). King’s American Dispensatory. Retrieved from: https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/kings/melilotus.html
Ellingwood, F (1919). The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. Retrieved from: https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/ellingwood/melilotus.html
Morgan, G (1990). Oglala Sioux use of Medical Herbs. Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1505&context=greatplainsquarterly
CERES homeopathic mother tincture. Retrieved from: http://www.phytodyne.net/index.php/melilotus-officinalis
Mcdonald, J. Herbs for Back and Joint Pain. Retrieved from: https://www.herbcraft.org/backpain.html
Ge, B (2014). Updates on the Clinical Evidenced Herb-Warfarin Interactions. Evidence Based Complement Alternative Medicine. 2014; 2014: 957362.
Published online 2014 Mar 18. doi: 10.1155/2014/957362. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976951/