Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day – green is the colour, but the national plant is shamrock!  We have already seen the US President get his bowl.  I thought it would be interesting, given the day, to have a look at some of the properties of the shamrock.

There is some confusion about the shamrock, traditionally it is a plant with three leaves, or a trefoil commonly called clovers!   I know we sometimes think of clover as four leaved, but this is a rare mutation – it is a three leaved plant.

The word Shamrock comes from the Irish seamróg – little plant or little clover.  The druids revered it because they revered any number 3 or triads. And it is said that is why St Patrick chose the shamrock because he used traditional beliefs to get across his new message.

Anyway, back to the shamrock. There is some confusion as to what is a shamrock with some reports that when the Irish talked about the woody taste from shamrock, which they ate during the famine, they were actually eating wood sorrel!   Interestingly the Irish for wood sorrel is seamsóg, so easy to see where the confusion may have come from.

Following a study in 1980’s, it was agreed shamrock was most associated with trifolium dubium, or trifolium repens.  Personally, I think trifolium dubium is nearer the mark.   The Department of Agriculture had to nominate one plant as the shamrock and so trifolium dubium was chosen as the official plant.

No matter which of the trifoliums you think is the correct shamrock, they are all clovers.  When we look at clovers for medicinal use, the most widely studied (and one used) is red clover – trifolium pratense.  Red Clover is high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and sodium.  It also contains coumarins, which may help blood platelets and an isoflavone called formononetin, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure[1].

Due to its phytoestrogenic properties, red clover has been used traditionally for menopausal symptoms.  More recently two of its constituents genistein and biochanin A offer some promise in terms of postmenopausal osteoporosis[2] and tumour progression in cancer.[3][4][5]  So clovers pack a punch!

Have a great St Patrick’s Day – Lá Fhéile Padraig sona duibh go léar! For more information on any herbs, please contact us at

[1] Sun et al, Vasorelaxant and antihypertensive effects of formononetin through endothelium-dependent and -independent mechanisms, Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2011 Aug; 32(8): 1009–1018. Published online 2011 Aug 5. doi:  10.1038/aps.2011.51.

[2] Su et al, The Preventive Effect of Biochanin A on Bone Loss in Ovariectomized Rats: Involvement in Regulation of Growth and Activity of Osteoblasts and Osteoclasts, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 594857.

Published online 2013 Feb 21. doi:  10.1155/2013/594857.

[3] Zhang et al, Genistein induces G2/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis via ATM/p53-dependent pathway in human colon cancer cells, Int J Oncol. 2013 Jul; 43(1): 289–296. Published online 2013 May 17. doi:  10.3892/ijo.2013.1946.

[4] Sehm et al, The impact of dietary isoflavonoids on malignant brain tumors, Cancer Med. 2014 Aug; 3(4): 865–877.

Published online 2014 Jun 4. doi:  10.1002/cam4.265.

[5] Lee et al, Inhibitory effects of biochanin A on mouse lung tumor induced by benzo(a)pyrene J Korean Med Sci. 1991 Dec; 6(4): 325–328. doi:  10.3346/jkms.1991.6.4.325



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