Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains how red clover can ease the body through menopause
Spring and autumn are renowned as excellent months for foraging. In spring we have plenty of fresh green herbs popping up, many of which are cleansing and nutrient dense, making them perfect tonics for overcoming winter comfort eating. Autumn is best for berries and mushrooms, most of which can offer a hefty dose of vitamin C or beta glucans for the immune boost we require for the approaching winter.
Summer can sometimes be overlooked as a season for wild harvests, but my favourite thing to forage around the summer time is flowers.
I use a huge variety of flowers in my herbal medicine clinic, all of which have been dried, powdered or tinctured to make potent medicines. When I’m out and about foraging for private use, I love to use flowers while they’re fresh. The vibrant colours give dishes a decorative appearance that can turn a plate of food into art itself.
My recent harvest came from the abundance of red clover flowers growing in the grasslands not far from my home. Red clover has a sweet, delicately floral flavour, like tiny bites of summer. It can be used in all manner of ways, to make teas, honey, jelly or syrup, but my favourite way to eat red clover is raw, scattered in salads and as a topping on dishes.
In my clinic, I use red clover for two things, menopause symptoms and skin problems. This makes it an excellent choice when skin problems are related to or influenced by hormonal imbalance!
One of the main menopausal symptoms I get asked about is night sweats or hot flushes. In the middle of summer this can be especially problematic. Even without hot flushes, I find humid nights to be oppressive, no matter how wide I open the windows.
In addition to hot flushes, many women experience brain fog, tiredness, mood swings and aching joints as they approach what we have come to know as “the change”.
Why women? Why do women experience this change, while men seem to get an easy ride and sail through their middle age and into their later years with barely a concern?
The “male hormone” (testosterone) declines gradually over a lifetime, while the “female hormone” (oestrogen) drops rapidly, when we stop releasing eggs and our body is no longer preparing for pregnancy. This sudden change takes a lot of getting used to and our endocrine system (the part of the body that produces and releases various hormones) goes into overdrive, trying to restore balance.
Every woman will respond differently, but common characteristics include hot sweats, brain fog, lethargy and drier skin. Sometimes anxiety can occur in women who have never suffered with it before and in other cases skin problems can break out.
Menopause is a natural process, but if your symptoms are particularly bad, your GP may offer HRT, hormone replacement therapy. This provides synthetic oestrogen, so that your body no longer goes into withdrawal mode. HRT isn’t right for everyone though and there are a variety of reasons women choose to avoid it or are advised against taking it.
Red clover acts as a phytoestrogen, a plant form of oestrogen that tricks the body into thinking that it still has some oestrogen supply. It’s much more gentle than HRT, so choosing plant-based phytoestrogens helps to reduce the likelihood of sudden withdrawal once the medicine is stopped.
Instead, it gradually eases the body through menopause, reducing symptoms of hot flushes, sweating and the various mood changes that come with the sudden shift.
When I use Red Clover in clinic, I tend to recommend either a tablet or a tincture but for women with busy lives, I suggest a red clover complex that is packed full of stress busting herbs. Sudden surges of adrenaline can trigger hot flushes and if you’re already busy, stressed and trying to keep to a schedule, sudden surges of heat are the last thing anyone needs!
If however, you simply want to try some flowers to brighten up your meals or for a refreshing summer tea, then red clovers are out in abundance now. Just remember to save some for the bees!
For more information on anything in this column, call Nicola on 01524 413733.