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Tuesday, May 1, 2012
MELILOT OR SWEET CLOVER - HERB WITH MANY USES:HISTORY AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF MELILOT
Melilot is known as sweet clover and was once in the trefoil family along with red and white clover. However it is now in the Fabaceae or Leguminoseae family of plants making it a relative of the Burmese Rosewood tree, the European laburnum, jhand, dhak, alfalfa, Borneo or Pacific teak, field restharrow, the ashoka tree (Saraca indica), lupins, indigo, the Monkey Pod tree, gum Tragacanth or gond katira and the Butterfly pea, the Indian coral tree, lentils, soya beans, choliya and chickpeas, peas, green beans, carob, to name just a few.
It has been known by many names in English such as King’s Clover, Sweet Lucerne, Wild laburnum and Hart’s tree, as deer browsed on it. Its genus synonym is Melilotus arvensis, and although it grows wild in the UK now, it was introduced from Europe and was cultivated as a fodder plant. Melilotus comes from the Greek word for honey, meli and lotus, so the plant is known as the honey lotus. It actually smells a lot like new-mown hay due to its coumarin content. It is useful in potpourris as it retains its fragrance when dried. It has also been used to stuff pillows to banish nightmares.
According to John Gerard, the 16th century herbalist and apothecary to the King, it was a common sight in fields in his day. He also used it for medicinal purposes and says this of it: “Melilote boiled in sweet wine untile it be soft, if you adde thereto the yolke of a rosted egge, the meale of Linseed, the roots of Marsh Mallowes and hogs greeace stamped together, and used as a pultis or cataplasma, plaisterwise, doth asswge and soften all manner of swellings.”
This herb comes from Europe and was extolled by Pliny for its ability to soften “hot-tempered” sores of the eyes, anus externally and internally he prescribed it for stomach ache, gastric problems as well as uterine and liver problems. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, also used the flowers for septic ulcers.
Fuchs (1543) recommended melilot mixed with honey for facial spots and wrote that taken orally the chopped herb was good for bladder problems. It has been used in European folk medicine for so long that it has been approved for use for the treatment of problems associated with varicose veins, such as swelling and pain in the legs, night cramps of the legs, phlebitis and thrombosis, piles and lymphoedema by the German Commission E. If a medicinal herb has been used for more than thirty years with no health problems reported, it can gain the approval of the European Medical Agency.
The use of melilot over the long-term has been found to help with the problems associated with melilot mentioned above, but it should be noted that the use of the herb is not a quick fix.
“ Government and virtues. Mellilot, boiled in wine, and applied, mollifies all hard tumours and inflammations that happen in the eyes, or other parts of the body, and sometimes the yolk of a roasted egg, or fine flour, or poppy seed, or endive, is added unto it. It helps the spreading ulcers in the head, it being washed with a lye made thereof. It helps the pains of the stomach, being applied fresh, or boiled with any of the aforenamed things; also, the pains of the ears, being dropped into them; and steeped in vinegar, or rose water, it mitigates the head-ache. The flowers of Mellilot or Camomile are much used to be put together in clysters to expel wind, and ease pains; and also in poultices for the same purpose, and to assuage swelling tumours in the spleen or other parts, and helps inflammations in any part of the body. The juice dropped into the eyes, is a singularly good medicine to take away the film or skin that clouds or dims the eye-sight. The head often washed with the distilled water of the herb and flower, or a lye made therewith, is effectual for those that suddenly lose their senses; as also to strength.”
The young shoots can be eaten cooked like asparagus, and the leaves and seed pods can be cooked as a vegetable as well as being used as flavouring. The leaves can be added to desserts as a vanilla substitute. The crushed dried leaves really do have a vanilla flavor, but should be used with caution as they contain coumarin, so only use a few if you use them. The dried leaves like those of the neem tree make good moth repellants.
A tisane can be flavoured with the fresh or dried flowers, and in Switzerland the leaves are used to make cheese, Schabzieger, as in German the herb is known as zieger kraut.
This ‘recipe’ is for a bath to ease varicose veins and so on and was taken from the Fairfax still-room book of 1651.If you want to try it remember that a quart is two gallons.
“To make a bath for Melancholy take Mallowes, pellitory-of-the-wall, of each three handfulls. Camomile 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 newe milk and go and go into it bloud warme or something even warmer.”
It can be used as an ointment for rheumatic pains and for varicose veins, and the infusion has in the past been used for conjunctivitis, although this use as eye drops has not been officially approved in Europe. The tisane of the dried or fresh flowers and leaves has been used for painful menstruation and intestinal problems, including flatulence.
Melilot has a long tradition of use and is also a good sleep herb. As it can grow up to around four feet tall it is easy to spot in June and July when it is usually in full flower.