White Sweet Clover – Melilotus Albus: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Vanilla of Wild Plants

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Often called melilot, our sweet clovers are a settler imported edible and medicinal plant. But you’re going to need to be careful about mold. And you might want to report it.

Around here white sweet clover (melilotus alba) is common. We also have yellow sweet clover (melilotus officinalis), identical in uses, but uncommon in these parts. For some reason the books favor yellow, but their usage is identical. They are invasive here. We’ll get into that later on.

White Sweet Clover - Melilotus Albus
White Sweet Clover – Melilotus Albus

Edible Uses of White Sweet Clover

Heed this first – the mold that may grow on this plant can kill you. You might as well buy rat poison from the store for lunch. We’re talking severe internal bleeding and death. It’s not just an uncomfortable burn like Jack-in-the-pulpit being prepared incorrectly, or the “itchy bum” of rose hips not deseeded. So to take advantage of the edible uses of this plant you need to be advanced and careful. In some books this plant is straight up included in the poisonous plant list.

The flowers and leaves can be used fresh or dried with careful inspection and proper drying. As a tea the leaves have a vanilla taste from a chemical called “coumarin”. This flavor grows stronger if you’ve dried the plant first. You can also crush the dried leaves and add them to baked goods for a touch of wild vanilla.

Young leaves gathered before flowering can be eaten raw in salads or prepared like spinach. And the early spring shoots can be cooked to eat, perhaps with nettle and dandelions. Or perhaps you’ll just want to stick to nettle or dandelions for now.

It’s not just the leaves used for flavoring. The seeds can be added to soups and stews for flavoring. And the flowers are used to flavor gruyere cheese in Switzerland.

Rich in protein.

Medicinal Uses of White Sweet Clover

White sweet clover is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent and Carminative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a mild astringent employed for typical uses like washes for wounds, inflamed eyes, etc. But the most widespread medicinal use isn’t of the sweet clover but of the moldy bits I’ve been warning about so much in this post…

At the University of Wisconsin circa 1930s, one Dr. Karl Paul Link figured out this whole coumarin turning to dicumarol/dicoumarol when sweet clover molds was behind some serious illness in livestock. Initially, this wasn’t looked at as some medical cure – they just wanted to kill rats! They synthesized the component and patented it by the name warfarin.

Also called coumadin, warfarin is an oral anticoagulant, meaning it stops the clotting of blood. It is used for everything from preventing clotting after surgery to life-threatening problems like  pulmonary embolism. Of course, only under professional supervision. It sounds purer if you skip over the dead animal parts of the story.

Alternative Uses of Melilot

As long as it’s not going to seed, take some flowers for potpourri and call it in to the Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711.

White Sweet Clover - Melilotus Albus
White Sweet Clover – Melilotus Albus

Growing Melilotus Albus

The main reason you can find white sweet clover around Haliburton is that it was popular livestock fodder and for raising honeybees. It’s considered invasive in Ontario. Here’s a source to help convince you to not plant it and to narc on it instead:

“White Sweet Clover is a threat to endangered grassland and prairie habitats in Ontario. It degrades these areas by out-competing native species. It is allelopathic, meaning the roots release chemicals into the soil which can prevent the growth of native plants. Each individual plant can produce up to 350,000 seeds. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 80 years.” And here’s how to narc on it: “If you think you see White Sweet Clover in an area where it has not been intentionally planted, take a picture, record the location and contact the Invading Species Hotline to report it. For more information and guidance call the Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711 or visit www.invadingspecies.com or www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca.”

I copied these two quotes from https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/OIPC_BMP_WhiteSweetClover_Jul172016_D4_FINAL.pdf

There’s also the technical bulletin: https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/OIPC_TechnicalBMP_WhiteSweetClover_Apr282017_D4_WEB-thumb.png

Here are places to find native plants that’ll help our native bees instead. Thank goodness we can buy actual vanilla at the store. 😉 You could plant native sweetgrasses if you want your property to smell like vanilla.


The coumarin mentioned in the edible uses if converts to dicumarol if it gets moldy, which is an anticoagulant used in rat poison.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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