The healing power of water trifoil

Waterdrieblad is a perennial plant with long creeping stems. Its mainly white but also reddish flowers are grouped together in bunches. The flowers are decorated with small blades on the edge of the petals so that the flowers have a hairy appearance. It likes to grow in swamps and other watery environments. It can grow on water while its roots attach to the mud at the bottom. The plant was widely used in Dutch folk medicine for stomach diseases and fever. Today it is still used as a medicinal plant in phytotherapy and homeopathy. The main effect is the liver and bile strengthening effect. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing water trifle / Source: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons (PD)


  • Naming
  • Traditional use of water trefoil
  • Emergency food
  • Active substances
  • Water trefoil in dyspepsia
  • Water trifle for blood purification
  • Other medicinal qualities
  • Dose and safety


In Latin the water trifoliate Menyanthes trifoliata . The name menyanthes comes from the Greek word ‘menyein’ which means to open and ‘anthos’, the Greek word for ‘flower’. The flowers of these plants open and close several times, hence the reference in the name. In Dutch, in addition to water trefoil, the plant is also called trefoil, beaver leaf, bitter clover, boxing beans, ring flower, water klee and water clover. The plant was named ‘Three’ because it has branches with three leaves, like a three-leaf clover.

Traditional use of water trefoil

In earlier times it was already noted that water trifoliate promotes saliva production and gastric juice production and that it is therefore a plant that is good for the stomach. In the past, water trifle was used in folk medicine in the Netherlands as a stomach remedy by making a tea from it. The leaves were picked in the summer and dried for use. It was part of stomach wine. Stomach wine or water three-leaf tea was drunk when feeling too full (indigestion) or a bloated stomach (meteorism). It is a bittering agent and like many bitter substances it is a plant that supports the digestive system. It can also drive away the fever; it has that in common with some other bitter plants. Sometimes a water three-leaf tea was mixed with wormwood absinthe to serve as a healing drink for dyspepsia and an underactive liver. Moreover, it was a remedy for scurvy.

Emergency food

The root of water trefoil is edible but not very tasty, rather bitter and acrid. The acrid taste was removed by drying the root, pulverizing it and then washing it. Then the flour was baked into a loaf called famine bread or ‘hunger bread’. This was eaten when there was really nothing else to eat. It was – or will be for the future – a real emergency food.

Active substances

Only the leaves of water trifoliate are used for medicinal purposes. The leaf contains the following active substances: seco-iridoid bitter glycosides such as menyanthine, menyanthol, meliatin, menthapholine, sweroside and foliamenthin. It contains the alkaloids gentianin, gentianidin, gentialutin and gentiabetine. There are tannins in the form of: hyperin, kaempferol, quercetin, rutin and trifolioside. Waterdrieblad contains anthraquinones such as emodin, aloe-emodin, chrysophanol and rhein glycoside. It also contains coumarin scopoletin and essential oil.

The effect of water trifoil is similar to that of yellow gentian and real centaury. Waterdrieblad works a little milder than these two.

Water trefoil in dyspepsia

Drieblad water is a bittering agent that stimulates the appetite, strengthens the stomach and stimulates bile. It increases the secretion of liver and bile juices, which improves digestion. Due to this medicinal effect, it can be used in phytotherapy as a medicinal plant for the following indications:

  • Dyspepsia or difficult digestion,
  • Nervous dyspepsia or dyspepsia due to stress or motion sickness

Water trifle for blood purification

Waterwort is known as a depurative or blood purifying plant. It is also a diuretic herb. This means that waste products are transported to the body more quickly. Because it also stimulates the liver, it works against the removal of excess substances from the body in three ways. If there are too many of these substances, they can cause all kinds of diseases such as joint infections and skin conditions. Waterdrieblad is able to remove the deeper cause of these diseases. It is used in phytotherapy for:

Menyanthes trifoliata / Source: Frank Vincentz, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

  • Arthrosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis,
  • Migraine,
  • Skin problems.

Other medicinal qualities

Waterdrieblad is:

  • A tonic for a weakened and recovering patient after a hospital visit,
  • A tonic for people with anemia,
  • A menstrual stimulant.

Dose and safety

There are three standard ways to take water trifoil as a herbal medicine:

  • Three times, before each meal, 20 drops of mother tincture per day.
  • Three times a day before each meal, an infusion or decoction boiled for 15 minutes of one tablespoon of dried herb per cup.
  • 1 to 4 ml tincture three times a day (1:5 in 40%)

At this therapeutic dose there is no risk of side effects. If too much is taken, the tannins come into play because they can lead to stomach and intestinal irritation, nausea, cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.