Melilot (Melilotus officinalis)
Name: The name of this genus comes from the words Mel (honey) and lotus, a term for clover-like plants. There are four common species in this genus of Eurasian origins: Melilotus alba, M. indica, M. officinalis, and M. altissimus. The Melilots (Sweet Clovers) were formerly known as Melilot Trefoils and assigned, with the common clovers, to the large genus Trifolium, but now are grouped in the genus Melilotus.
Common names: Sweet Clover, Yellow Melilot, White Melilot, Corn Melilot, King's Clover, Plaster Clover, Sweet Lucerne, Wild Laburnum, Hart's Tree, Hart's Clover, Ribbed Melilot.
Parts Used: Whole plant, when in flower.
Description: Yellow sweet clover; biennial herb; 2 to 4 feet high at maturity; 2nd-year plants are bushy. The smooth, erect stems are loosely branched. The leaves placed on alternate sides of the stems are smooth and trifoliate, the leaflets oval. The plants bear long racemes of small, sweet-scented, yellow or white, papilionaceous flowers in the yellow species, the keel of the flower much shorter than the other parts and containing much honey. It flowers from May to August. Broad, black pods, transversely wrinkled, each pod containing 1 to 4 seeds, ripening in July-September succeed them. All species of Melilot, when in flower, have a peculiar sweet scent. The scent becomes stronger and more pleasant upon drying, somewhat like that of the Tonka bean. This similarity comes because they contain the same chemical principle, coumarin, which is also present in new-mown hay. Melilot seems to have been a very common crop in the sixteenth century, seeding freely and spreading in a wild condition wherever grown. A new kind of Sweet Clover, an annual variety of M. alba, has been discovered in the United States. To distinguish it from the other Sweet Clovers, it is called Hubam, after Professor Hughes, its discoverer, and Alabama, its native state. Some five or six years ago, small samples were distributed by Professor Hughes among various experimental stations, with the result that the superiority of the plant has been generally recognized and its spread has been rapid, over 5,000 acres now being cultivated. The plant has especially valuable characteristics - great resistance to drought, adaptability to a wide variety of soils and climates, abundant seed production, richness in nectar and great fertilizing value to the soil, and has been grown successfully in the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy, and many other countries. The quantity of forage produced from a given acre is second to no other forage plant, and the quality, if properly handled, is excellent. It is of very quick growth and blooms in three to four months after sowing, producing an unusual wealth of honey-making blooms. The flowers remain in bloom for a longer period than almost any other honey-bearing plant, and in the matter of nectar production it is equal to that of any other honey produced in the United States, and the quality compares favorably with the best honey produced. It is considered that this annual Sweet Clover will one day stand at the head of the list of honey plants of the world, if the present rate of spreading continues.
Habitat: Grows well in direct sunlight and in partial shade, but it cannot tolerate dense shade. Common places include roadsides, abandoned fields, railroad ballasts, pastures and any unflooded, open natural community such as a prairie. The White Melilot found in waste places in England, particularly on railway banks, is not uncommon, but apparently not permanently established in any of its localities. It differs from M. officinalis by its more slender root and stems, which, however, attain as great a height, by its more slender and lax racemes and smaller flowers, which are about 1/5 inch long and white. The standard is larger than the keel and wings, which alone would distinguish it from M. officinalis. The pods are smaller and free from the hairs clothing those of M. officinalis.
Grows with: Other varieties of Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Goldenrod, Tansy and other plants of abandoned fields and pastures.
Constituents: The herb, Melilot, contains coumarin and its derivatives. The flowers have essential oil, which consists of coumarin, resin and mucous substances, choline, tannin and choline glycoside. The seeds contain protein, starch and essential oil. Besides coumarin, the leaves contain melilotic acid and an oily substance called melilotol, which has a specific scent.
Uses: The herb has aromatic, emollient and carminative properties. The tender foliage makes the plant acceptable to horses and other animals, and it is said that deer browse on it, hence its name 'Hart's Clover.' Galen used to prescribe Melilot plaster to his Imperial and aristocratic patients when they suffered from inflammatory tumors or swelled joints, and the plant is used for that purpose in the present day in some places. The juice of the plant is believed to clear the eyesight and ease inflammation of the eyes. Melilot tea is said to relieve flatulence, and its addition to tea blends is thought to improve the flavor of the other ingredients. The dried leaves and flowering tops form the drug used in herbal medicine. It can be infused in oil and used as a salve or liniment. Applied as a plaster, or in ointment, or as a fomentation, it is an old-fashioned country remedy for the relief of abdominal and rheumatic pains. The dried herb has an intensely fragrant scent, but a somewhat pungent and bitter taste. The flowers, besides being very useful and attractive to bees, have supplied a perfume, and a floral water distilled from them has been used for flavoring. The dried plant has been employed to scent snuff and smoking tobacco and may be laid among linen for the same purpose as lavender. When packed with furs, Melilot is said to act like camphor and preserve them from moths, besides imparting a pleasant fragrance. The fresh or dried leaves and flowering stems of sweet clover were traditionally used as a diuretic. The chemicals present help to reduce fluid leakage from blood and lymph vessels. For this reason, its been used in the treatment of varicose veins and venous insufficiency (two closely related conditions). Sweet clover (oral or topical) is also used for hemorrhoids, bruises, and minor injuries. Steeped in vinegar or Rose Water, it may mitigate a headache. It is said to ease earache when dropped into the ears. In traditional medicine, Melilot is used as an expectorant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, sedative and carminative remedy. Melilot preparations are taken in case of inflammatory diseases of upper respiratory tract, gynecological diseases and dermatological inflammatory processes, as well as in case of high nervous excitability and insomnia. Melilot preparations are prescribed in case of hypertonia, atherosclerosis, and thrombophlebitis, heightened blood coagulation as direct anticoagulant. The stimulating effect of Melilot preparations regarding tissue regeneration is also known. Melilot is widely used in the food industry. It gives piquancy to fish products, cheese and alcohol drinks. Dried flowers and leaves are used as a spice for soups, salads and compotes