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Why Clover is More Than Just a Lucky Symbol

Sara & CesarComment

Clover is a very important agricultural crop; it feeds livestock, restores nitrogen in the soil, and flowers for a thousand million bees that make clover honey.  

There are about 300 different species of clover that grow all around the world, and grazing animals love it. People don't really eat it, although children sometimes snack on the young flowers, but people generally appreciate it for other reasons.  

Behind the façade of luck and mythological symbolism, clover works hard for people, animals, and other plants.  Its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil is perhaps its most esoteric, yet necessary function. 

clover roots / image:  backyard nature

clover roots / image: backyard nature

clover nodule / Image:  backyard nature

clover nodule / Image: backyard nature

Rejuvenating the Soil

Nitrogen is an essential element to life on earth. 

It is at the center of all amino acids, which are used to build protein and therefore our muscles. It a building block of our DNA, and it makes the transfer of energy in our bodies possible. Yet while 78% of the earth's atmosphere is nitrogen, the element can only get into our bodies if it has been converted into a useable compound.

This conversion takes place in two ways.  First, by lightning, which converts a small amount of the air into ammonia (NH4+).  The second way is by bacteria and other microorganisms in the soil.  Clover, along with other members of the pea family, (aka beans, legumes, or fagaceae) come into this equation because they take nitrogen from the air and store it in little nodules on their roots.  Bacteria live in these sacs and when the roots die the nitrogen is released into the soil as NO2 for other plants to use. These photos show a White Clover plant and its roots with a close-up of the nodules.  From clover and other plants, nitrogen moves up the food chain into our bodies.    

NItrogen as it moves through the atmosphere / image:  University of Texas

NItrogen as it moves through the atmosphere / image: University of Texas

crimson clover field / image:  Herb Lester apiaries
bee farm / image:  pinterest

bee farm / image: pinterest

Clover Honey

Honey production is a more glamorous and well known use of clover though.  Monofloral honey is any kind of honey produced by bees that have access to only one kind of flower.  This kind of honey has a distinctive taste and can be highly valued depending on the species of flower.  

Clover honey is commonly produced in the United States and has a more smooth, watery consistency.  Other honeys, like the smokey mesquite honey produced in the southwest, are like crystalized cakes of honey that don't liquify even in hot weather.