Possumhaw: Crimson and clover

April 29, 2013 10:15:14 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


It was a day to roll the windows down and sing loud. I was heading down Highway 45 South to Noxubee County, and the roadsides were aflame with red clover. The words of Tommy James and the Shondells' 1968 hit "Crimson and Clover" played over and over in my head. I sang loud.  


Whether it was the spring rains or just the right mixture of wind, rain and sun I don't know, but I don't remember ever seeing such an abundance of red clover. 


I do remember riding with Momma in our 1964 gold Rambler station wagon when Momma would say, "See that red clover? That's there 'cause of Lady Bird Johnson." 


Momma would go on to explain the Highway Beautification Project of 1965. Looking at the clover on Highway 45 made me wonder if it might be some of the same clover, a perennial blooming herb, Lady Bird suggested some 48 years ago. 


I looked up Lady Bird's clover project for more information. It threw me for a bit of a loop to read about Claudia Alta Taylor. Who in the heck was Claudia Alta Taylor? 


It turns out that was Lady Bird's real name. Seems her mother died when she was 5 years old; an African-American nurse named Alice Tittle raised her. Alice said, "She's just as pretty as a Lady Bird," and the name stuck. 


Lady Bird was fond of fields and flowers and was said to have motivated a nation to a wild flower movement. Being the '60s, I guess Lady Bird found herself to be something of a flower child. 


One of her legacies became the Highway Beautification Project that promoted the planting of native flowers, be it red clover, poppies, blue bonnets, Indian paintbrush, pink evening primroses, spreading oaks or mixed tall grasses or junipers. These plants and trees would be planted in natural and planned landscapes, thus beautifying America. 


Using perennial native plants was also a smart economical choice for roadsides and medians. Even today 4,000 red clover seeds can be purchased for $1.50, and the plants can continue to re-seed themselves for years. 


For local foragers there are many medicinal benefits of red clover. Like anything else you pick off the ground you need to make sure what you've picked. Like anything you put in your mouth there may be benefits as well as side effects. I'm trying to cover myself here for novice foragers.  


There are some reports that red clover supplements or red clover teas aid in curing coughs in children, increases HDL (good cholesterol) in adults, improves blood flow, reduces menopausal symptoms, strengthens bones, and can be made into an ointment for rashes. 


If you are interested in roadside red clover collection, please consult a doctor, or herbalist (Mississippi Modern Homestead Center), or apothecarist Robert White before ingesting the herb.  


My preference is a cruise down 45 with the windows down singing loud, "Crimson and clover, over and over."

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.