Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalis) is one of my favorite plants because of its many medicinal and magical uses, though it is often considered a hated invasive and is usually either pulled, burned, or poisoned without a second thought. We can come into a better relationship with invasive plants, however, and they may even become some of our greatest allies! Being very close relatives of true clovers, these plants have trifoliate leaves and a spike of yellow or white flowers, the whole plant having a pleasant, vanilla-like aroma. It is a favorite of pollinators of all sorts, though I often see large numbers of native bees flocking to its tasty flowers (an indication of its alignment to Hekate). Also called melilot, this plant has had a wide array of uses throughout its history, though it has fallen out of vogue in recent years, likely due to its potential toxicity.
Sweet clover produces a chemical compound called coumarin, an anticoagulant blood thinner similar to Warfarin. When the plant is not properly dried, however, a mold begins to form within the structure of the plant that converts coumarin into dicoumarol, a very fast-acting and aggressive anticoagulant that can lead to internal hemorrhage and aneurysm. It is a Vitamin K inhibitor, causing an essential step in the coagulation process to not occur, leading to overly thin blood in people without a clotting condition and thus its related hemorrhagic disorders. Cattle and other livestock can develop something called “sweet clover syndrome”, a highly fatal hemorrhagic disorder, which is really dicoumarol toxicity from eating moldy feed. Dicoumarol also crosses the placental barrier, meaning it can lead to miscarriage or the presence of the syndrome in new born animals. It takes only 20-30 mg/kg of feed throughout several weeks to develop this condition. Ingestion of dicoumarol at small amounts for only a number of days can cause similar hemorrhaging in humans, so caution must be taken when employing this herb. However, dicoumarol derived from Melilotus is enormously important in pharmaceutical applications, as it is a primary anticoagulant and has also shown efficacy in treating cancer, tuberculosis, and even in blocking the replication of the HIV virus.
In remedial herbalism it is not used for such powerful work, of course, but is used for a variety of purposes in a wide variety of maladies. In Ancient Egypt an infusion of sweet clover was used for ear ache and for treating intestinal worms, while in TCM it has been used as a “blood cleanser”, likely because of its anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant properties. In Western herbalism it is used to treat itchy or injured eyes (a wash made with distilled water is applied regularly), as an emollient and demulcent, as an anti-spasmodic (for this simply simmer the plant in a gallon of water for about ten minutes, then strain into your bath water!), to treat gas and bloating, as a diuretic, and as an expectorant (it works quite well with marshmallow for this purpose). It also has strong anti-microbial properties and makes an infused oil that can be used somewhat like Neosporin. It works well when combined with Russian olive and tamarisk leaves and flowers. In fact, sweet clover also has some vulnerary properties and can actually help to close wounds, soften skin, and avoid scarring! Again, make sure you are using thoroughly dried or fresh plant material to make these things.
Sweet clover has also had a history of use as a nervine and sedative. It works wonderfully well with blue vervain and skullcap to ease the mind and take diminish anxiety. It can be ingested as a tea or applied topically. A recipe found in the Fairfax Still-room book, published 1651, reads, 'To make a bath for Melancholy. Take Mallowes, pellitory of the wall (Parietaria judaica), of each three handfulls; Camomell Flowers, Mellilot flowers, of each one handfull, senerick seed one ounce, and boil them in nine gallons of Water untill they come to three, then put in a quart of new milke and go into it bloud warme or something warmer.” I am unsure what “senerick seed” is, but I can attest to the efficacy of the rest of the recipe in its use to fight off not only melancholy, but also soreness in the body.
Sweet clover resonates most strongly with the planet Mercury and partakes mainly of the Elemental Air, making it a perfect herb to make charms for Mercurial purposes, such as communication, intellectual pursuits, clarity, and quickening. The magic of this plant is concerned mainly with cleansing, clearing, offering, and blessing, though. The stalks can be gathered into a besom for the purpose of clearing the sacred space or for cleansing oneself. The long stalks and leaves of the plant can also be gathered, thoroughly dried, and tied together to form a suffumigation wand, the smoke of which can be part of offertory rituals and evocations, particularly for familiar spirits. The smoke of Melilotus is also empowering, helping to heal energetic deficits and wounds that are accrued during the day, over a life time, or because of poor psychic hygiene.
A purifying water can be derived from sweet clover by soaking the plant in water or vodka with rue, lemon peel, and yarrow on the night of a Wednesday full moon. The plant can also be juiced, the resulting green liquid added to whatever washing waters you’ve prepared. When seeking to clear the pathways of communication, make an incense using sweet clover, lavender, horehound, and clove on a Wednesday night when the moon is dark. It also makes an appropriate offering to Hekate, as its scent when burned is sweet.
The name Melilotus of course derives from the Greek μελιλωτος, meaning “honey lotus”. Refer to my article in Noumenia News on Hekate and Her connection to bees to read more on why this plant is a suitable herb to find a place in her garden. A version of χερνιψ can be made by steeping sweet clover, henbane, and juniper in salt water and then immersing more of the same herbs, only smoldering, in the water. I’ve found this makes a particularly good form of washing water specific to Hekatean ritual.
Kamden S. Cornell (Lamia)
Albuquerque, New Mexico