White Sweet Clover
I made White Sweet Clover tincture last year, and I love it. I decided to discuss it right now because it is just about the right time to start making more of this tincture (at least in SW Michigan) and it isn't a really commonly used one for most herbalists. I wanted to let people know that if it isn't in their current repertoire, maybe it should be.
I will begin with the fact that Melilotus spp. contain Coumarin, which scares off a lot of people because they believe it to be a dangerous chemical. It is true that coumarin is a blood thinner precursor, and that white sweet clover should be handled carefully because of this, but it is not true that white sweet clover is a danger to all who might ingest it. As I said, coumarin is a blood thinner precursor, not a blood thinner itself. While there have been cases of livestock poisoning from eating (poorly handled) dried sweet clover, I do not believe there are records of this happening to humans. When a certain mold grows on sweet clover, it breaks coumarin into dicoumarin (or possibly it is called dicoumarol) - which is a blood thinner. For this reason, I only use sweet clover immediately after harvest. I do dry it, but only in a dehydrator, and then I tincture it right away. Drying brings out the sweet coumarin scent of the plant and I think that it adds some therapeutic value to the tincture, though I prefer to tincture most plants fresh. I think that this handling of sweet clover means I end up with a very safe tincture. There are some days that I end up taking several doses of this tincture, usually during my period. Between working on a farm, where I get a lot of cuts and scrapes, and using sweet clover during my period, I have a lot of opportunity to see whether it has any kind of blood thinner action. I have found that it does not. However, several sources say that coumarin is a mild blood thinner. I honestly think that such statements come from a misunderstanding of the plant, but I would still hesitate to give it to someone with blood clotting issues or a person taking prescription blood thinners.
I am sure that there are many herbalists that would be happy to jump down my throat for saying that I do not think that White Sweet Clover is a danger. For more info on coumarin see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coumarin
I prefer White Sweet Clover over Yellow (currently they are both considered to be Melilotus officinalis, which mystifies me, White used to be Melilotus alba) but it is worth trying yellow as well. I just think the white is a more pleasant plant.
To make my tincture I began by collecting the entire aerial portion of a few white sweet clover plants just after they started to flower, dried them in my dehydrator, cut them into fine pieces, and covered them with 100 proof vodka. Since then I have switched to using 151 proof Everclear almost exclusively, but this tincture turned out so well that I will probably use 100 proof every time I make it in the future.
When I made the tincture I had no idea how I was going to use it. I just liked the plant and have a lot of it growing around my home, so I went with it. Sweet clover is listed in many sources as a carminative, meaning that it helps the body expel intestinal gas, so that seemed like a place to start. After making the tincture, I tried it in this capacity, but it didn't help much and I have many other effective carminatives, so I kind of forgot about it for several months (maybe eight - an important point here because it means that the plants sat in the alcohol for longer than usual, which may make a difference in the final product). I have a few theories about why the plant might be considered a carminative even though it is not, but it isn't so important here. It is entirely possible that it just isn't the best carminative for me. Try it yourself and report back to me what you find if it strikes your fancy.
When I found it again in the back of my herb cupboard, I began to wonder what other things it might be useful for. Somewhere, unfortunately I can't remember where, I came across a few lines stating that it is useful for relieving menstrual cramps. I happen to have endometriosis, so every time I come across such a statement my heart skips a beat. I began trying the tincture during particularity bad cramp fests and it worked very well for me. Basically, I take a few (3-5)drops of tincture when the cramps are in their upswing, and it keeps them from getting as bad as they normally would. This may not sound so groundbreaking but for an endometriosis sufferer it is heavenly. Unfortunately it requires another dose every time the cramps start to get bad again, but it is worth it, tastes nice, and over the course of a day seems to require less and less frequent dosing.
After this success I decided to try it for other issues. Following the pain theme, I started taking small doses when I felt headaches (migraine or stress mostly) coming on and, low and behold, it helped those too. This use requires only one or two doses to stave off a headache entirely. So far I would say that it works about 90% of the time, as long as I catch the headache early on. It will not stop a headache that has already set in fully as far as I can tell, but it doesn't make them worse either so I will probably continue some experimenting with this to see if it at least shortens the headache or makes it less severe.
So far I have only had the chance to try these things out on myself. But I have a few friends that I am going to give it to, and I will be continuing to look for other uses for this lovely herb.