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Melilotus officinalis

Melilotus officinalis (L.) Lam.

Melilotus alba Medikus orth. var.

Melilotus albus Medik.

Melilotus albus Medik. var. annuus Coe

Melilotus arvensis Wallr.

Melilotus leucanthus W.D.J. Koch ex DC.

Melilotus lutea Gueldenst.

Melilotus officinalis (L.) Lam. var. micranthus O.E. Schulz

White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassRosidaeRoses, legumes, proteas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, mistletoes, euphorbias, grapes, many more
OrderFabalesLegumes (pea and bean families)
FamilyFabaceaeLegume family (peas and beans)
GenusMelilotusFrom Greek meli, “honey,” and lotos, a leguminous plant
SpeciesofficinalisSold at pharmacies; believed to have medicinal benefits

About plant names...

Those botanists. Always changing the rules. Sweet clover, so-called for its sweet, haylike scent, used to come in several varieties, notably white (Melilotus alba) and yellow (M. officinalis). Now they are considered one and the same, at least according to the USDA Plants Database, which we use as the standard for herbaceous plant names. It isn’t the botanists’ fault though. Naming plants in a way that reflects their relationships to each other is a complex and subtle business. Sweet clovers are European and Asian natives, introduced and now widespread in North America.

Identification: Plants are 24-84" (60-213 cm) tall, often branched, bushy or gangly in appearance. Stems are fairly straight but not necessarily erect; sometimes they sprawl along the ground or over other plants. They are hairless. Leaves are alternate, occurring in clover-like clusters of three. Leaflets are ¾" (1.9 cm) × ¼" (6.3 mm), oval, with slightly toothed edges. Long, curving spikes contain tiny, pea-like flowers that are yellow or white. Each flower is ⅛-³/₁₆" (4-6 mm) long. The flower spikes are probably the most obvious identifying feature. Flowering occurs from June to September. Fruits are oval-shaped, ¹/₁₆-⅛" (3-4 mm) long, with raised veins.

Edibility: Fresh young leaves, shoots, and seedpods can be eaten raw. However, sweet clovers contain coumarin. While coumarin is responsible for their appealing smell, if the plants develop mold, coumarin is converted to dicoumarol, a blood thinner that is poisonous in significant amounts. Moldy or dried leaves may be toxic Skull & Crossbones! (If you know someone taking Coumadin, a drug used in carefully controlled amounts to prevent clotting of the blood, it is derived from dicoumarol.)

Medical: Sweet clover has been used to treat a wide range of ailments, and there is some evidence that at least some of these treatments, such as for varicose veins, convey real benefits. However, given the blood-thinning effects of improperly harvested or prepared plants, we don’t recommend its use. See this Plants for a Future article, or this one on medicinenet.com, for further information.

Online References:

Melilotus officinalis on Missouriplants.com

Melilotus alba on Missouriplants.com

Melilotus officinalis on Wildflowers, Ferns & Trees of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah

Melilotus officinalis at Illinois Wildflowers

Melilotus alba at Illinois Wildflowers

Melilotus officinalis on Montana Plant Life

Melilotus officinalis at Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and the Plants of the Sonoran Desert

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

8/1/2009 · Gordon & Kathy’s, Prospect, ME
≈ 9 × 13" (22 × 33 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

6/13/2016 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/27/2009 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton, MA
≈ 6 × 4" (15 × 10 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

6/16/2010 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA
≈ 4½ × 7" (11 × 17 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/17/2017 · Oak Hill, Littleton, MA
≈ 4 × 5" (11 × 13 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/17/2009 · Mt. Lebanon St, Trail, Pepperell, MA
≈ 9 × 14" (23 × 34 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

6/13/2016 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/19/2017 · Monongahela National Forest, Monongahela, WV
≈ 4½ × 6" (12 × 16 cm)

Melilotus officinalis description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 18 Jul 2017.

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Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/31/2016 · Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

5/22/2009 · Oak Creek Vista, AZ
≈ 11 × 15" (28 × 37 cm) ID is uncertain

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

6/13/2016 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/31/2016 · Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/17/2017 · Oak Hill, Littleton, MA
≈ 4 × 6" (10 × 14 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

6/5/2013 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA
≈ 4½ × 6" (11 × 14 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

9/18/2016 · Deer Isle Beach Vegetation Reclamation Project

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

6/5/2013 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA
≈ 4½ × 6" (11 × 15 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

6/16/2010 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA
≈ 1¾ × 1¾" (4.8 × 4.9 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/28/2013 · Andres Institute of Art, Big Bear Mountain, Brookline, NH
≈ 4½ × 3" (12 × 8.5 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

8/6/2009 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton, MA
≈ 4 × 6" (10 × 15 cm)

Melilotus officinalis (White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover)

7/17/2009 · Mt. Lebanon St, Trail, Pepperell, MA
≈ 6 × 8" (14 × 21 cm)

Range:

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