Why Are Four-Leaf Clovers "Lucky"? (2024)

In March, finding a four-leaf clover is hardly a stroke of luck. As the 17th of March nears, they seem to sprout up around eachcorner, blanketingeverysurface in green just as clover does out in the wilds of Irish landscape. So why are four-leaf clovers lucky?

Though they are a distinctly-Irish tradition, four-leaf clovers, or shamrocks as they are also known, are widely considered to be a symbol of luck, and a promise of good fortune to come.

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But a clover and a shamrock are not entirely the same. The word “clover” is a general term for the genus oftrifoliums (“three leaf”), which comprises 300 different species. What defines a shamrock has been moredifficult for scientists to pin downand remains somewhat mythic in the world of botany.

Many different representations exist in Celtic art, making it ambitiousto tie shamrock toa specific species. Thus the originalshamrock (the Platonic shamrock) remains a secret, shroudedsomewhere in the green hills of Ireland.

Originally, cloverwas a symbol of rebirth for the Celts, and its return to the landscape signaled the beginning of spring. The shamrock was sacred among the Druids and wasfrequently used in rituals.

Four-leaf clovers, possessing an extra leaf,were evenmorehallowed:Druids believed carrying oneallowed them to see demons and would ward off evil spirits, which is probably the talismanic belief that gave rise to the shamrock’s association with luck.

The modern celebrationof thethree-leaf shamrock developedlater, with Saint Patrick and the advent of Christianity in Ireland. Heralded as the patron saint of the Emerald Isle,Saint Patrick was actually born in Britain in 387 AD.

Kidnapped at age 16 by Irish raiders, Saint Patrick spent the following six years in captivity, working as a herdsman. During that time, he embracedChristianity with ardor and enthusiasm, and later in life returned to Ireland to preach his newfound religion.

It is saidthat in his mission work, which converted thousands to Christianity, Saint Patrick used the bountiful shamrock to explain the balance of unity and separation between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

After his death on March 17th (the exact year remains unofficial), Saint Patrickfell somewhat into obscurity.It was not until the 1700sthat Saint Patrick began to enjoy his current status of celebrity. In 18th-century Ireland,Irish Christians worethe shamrock both as a sign of prideand as a means to criticize English rule.

In America, which was rapidly becoming home to many Irish immigrants, the shamrock served asa symbolof solidarity and community. With time, the customevolved into simply wearing green clothing.

Why Are Four-Leaf Clovers "Lucky"? (2)

Photo Andreana Bitsis

Outside of their prominent associations with St. Patrick’s Day, shamrocks and clover have many more obscure legends, mostlytied to the original Celtic connotation of luck.

Interestingly, a great deal of these myths revolve around women: in the Middle Ages, shamrocks werebelieved to bea witch deterrent; clover was strewn in the path of a bride;and the four-leaf clover was also associated with Eve.

The mother of mankind was said to havecarried a sprig offour-leafed clover with her from the Garden of Eden as she left. Thus, anyone with a four-leaf clover is believed to be carrying a bit of paradise with them.

Why Are Four-Leaf Clovers "Lucky"? (3)

Photo: Andreana Bitsis

The four-leaf clover is not souncommon, in spite of their reputation as uncommon harbingers of luck.It is estimated there is one four-leafed cloverfor every10,000 three-leafed clovers, occurringas a result of a mutation in the regular three-leaf. More unusual is finding clovers with more than four leaflets–five, six, seven, and a worldrecord of fifty-sixhave all been documented.

Beyond the superstitions, clover has real benefits. Itis high in protein and fiber, and can be incorporated into salads and smoothies. Among herbalists, red clover is revered as a cancer-fighting antioxidant. In the dirt,clover is beloved by farmers, as it aids other crops by nitrogen-fixing the soil.

Clovers aren’t only lucky for humans, though. The plant is incredibly important to bees, so much so that it is believed to be one of their favorite plants. The clover honey frequently sold in grocery stores (often in the familiar bear-shaped bottles) is sourced from bees who feed on clover.

Of the many varieties of honey that exist, clover honey has the broadest appealbecause of its milder floral taste.According to folk wisdom, clover also fattenscows (hence the cherished butter)–giving rise to phrase “to live in clover,” meaningto live luxuriously.

Across the many disparate threads of its origins, the shamrock and various leafed clovers have become international symbols of luck– not just for the Irish or the superstitious, but for all creatures great and small.

Just remember— if you’re looking for a little extra luck on March 17th,the luckiest clover you’ll find is the one you come across when you aren’t looking.

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Why Are Four-Leaf Clovers "Lucky"? (2024)

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