What is Alfalfa?
Alfalfa, also known as lucerne or sweet lucerne, is a green superfood rich in vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll. It is a perennial plant of the pea family, with soft green compound leaves and purple-blue flowers.
Alfalfa grows in non-acid soils preferring dry fields or sandy wastes. It reaches a height of one to two feet and has bluish flowers from June through to August. Despite its small size Alfalfa boasts a massive root system that travels up to 250 feet (77m) down into the earth to obtain its abundant nutrients. Some studies have shown that the total length of the roots of a single plant would add up to almost 3,000 miles. It’s name means “Father of all foods” in Arabic.
What does Alfalfa contain?
- Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.
- It is a rich source of calcium, silicon, phosphorus, iron, potassium, chlorine, sodium, magnesium, zinc and many additional trace elements.
- Alfalfa has eight known enzymes that promote chemical reactions that enable food to be assimilated properly within the body.
- Alfalfa has a high chlorophyll content.
- It is a good source of plant sugars, protein (approximately 25% by weight), fibre and beta-carotene.
- It also contains saponins, sterols, flavonoids, coumarins and alkaloids
What is Alfalfa used for?
Alfalfa is commonly cultivated around the world for use as an animal feedstock. In fact it is thought that Alfalfa is the oldest known plant used for livestock feed, with records of its use in the Middle East as early as 1,000 BC. The ancient Arabs not only ate this amazing plant themselves but also fed it to their horses, claiming that it made their horses faster and stronger. They became so convinced of its health benefits that they named it "Alfalfa", which in Arabic means "Father of All Foods”. It is also known as "The Father of Herbs", such is its standing with natural health practitioners.
How much Alfalfa should I take?
Gradually work up to a serving of 3g a day, about a heaped teaspoon. Our 125g snap secure tub is an ample month’s supply. Alfalfa is often mixed with other superfoods as the powder is coarser.
- Alfalfa was traditionally promoted as a detoxifier, able to cleanse the liver and bloodstream.
- The Chinese have used Alfalfa since the Sixth Century to treat kidney stones and to relieve fluid retention and swelling.
- The Ayurvedic physicians of India used Alfalfa to treat poor digestion and arthritis.
- Alfalfa has traditionally been used as an internal cleanser. A tea made from Alfalfa and buchu was used in the healing of urinary infections. Alfalfa and peppermint tea has traditionally been used to aid digestion and ease indigestion.
- The leaves, stem, seeds, petals, flowers, root and sprouts are all said to have medicinal properties from stimulating appetite, to treating rheumatoid arthritis and lowering blood sugar in diabetics (see below).
Whilst the medicinal benefits of Alfalfa are poorly understood, the constituents of Alfalfa are well studied.
- Alfalfa is a rich source of active medicinal ingredients, such as isoflavones and sterols. These are thought to be responsible for the oestrogen-like effect seen in animal studies. Alfalfa is therefore used to ease menopausal symptoms1,2, 3.
- Alfalfa contains 2-3% Saponins. These have been shown to lower cholesterol in monkeys and therefore reduce atherosclerosis – the fatty plaque build-up along artery walls which is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke. The plants’ natural fibre enhances its cholesterol lowering ability4. Alfalfa’s lowering of plasma cholesterol has been replicated in one small human study5. More research is needed into this.
- Alfalfa contains derivatives of coumarin, an antiplatelet substance that reduces blood clotting and may also therefore protect the body from atherosclerosis. This is an important interaction for people who are taking anti-coagulants such as warfarin (see cautions).
- Alfalfa is high in beta-carotene. Beta carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A – essential for good vision, healthy immune function and skin health
- Alfalfa is an excellent source of chlorophyll, the active ingredient in many breath fresheners. Chlorophyll also inhibits dioxin absorption. For the many health benefits of chlorophyll see Nutritional-supplements-healthguide.com/chlorophyll-benefits.html
- The leaves have antibacterial properties and also contain the anti-oxidant tricin6,7.
- Further research is necessary to determine if Alfalfa has a role in the management of diabetes. In one published study mice given Alfalfa had a reduction in blood sugar and a delay in the development of diabetes8 However, the volume of Alfalfa required for clinical benefit may prove to be too great for human consumption.
- Alfalfa also contains protein, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Nutrient analysis demonstrates the presence of calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc. The amazing benefits of these vitamins and minerals are well known.
- Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants Dorling Kindersley. London 1996 ISBN 9-780751-303148
- Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London. 1995 ISBN 0-7513-020-31
- Shemesh M, Lindrer HR, Ayalon N. Affinity of rabbit uterine oestradiol receptor for phyto-oestragens and its use in competitive protein-binding radioassay for plasma coumestrol. J Reprod Fertil 1972;29:1–9.
- Story JA. Alfalfa saponins and cholesterol interactions. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:917–29.
- Molgaard J, von Schenck H, Olsson AG. Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis 1987;65:173–9.
- Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1990 ISBN 0395467225
- Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China Reference Publications, Inc. 1985 ISBN 0-917256-20-4
Are there any precautions for Alfalfa?
As with any of the concentrated green superfood supplements, it is best to start with a low dose and build up gradually.
Although generally recognised as a safe health supplement, some researchers have raised specific health concerns relating to the excessive consumption of Alfalfa. Studies have noted a link between excessive consumption of Alfalfa and aggravation of existing or dormant Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), a disease affecting connective tissues. The suspected cause is the amino acid L-canavanine.
It is not possible to know who is predisposed to SLE and therefore only moderate amounts of Alfalfa should be used. It is especially important to adhere to this if you suffer from another autoimmune condition. Provided you gradually introduce Alfalfa to your diet, the suggested intake on the supplement bottle should be safe for most people.
Anyone diagnosed with Lupus should avoid Alfalfa entirely. Anyone taking an anticoagulant, like Warfarin, should avoid Alfalfa.
Where can I read more about Alfalfa?
- Tropical Plant Database http://www.rain-tree.com/alfalfa.htm
- Plants for a Future http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Medicago+sativa
- Nature’s Bone Builder http://www.ostivone.com/boneHealth/index2.html
Alfalfa in animals
Alfalfa is an accepted ingredient for livestock feed. It is grown all over the world as a fodder crop for cattle and horses. Yahoo lists over 78,000 hits on a narrow search on “alfalfa animal feed”. A full search returns 572,000! Since Alfalfa has proven a nutritious and beneficial food crop for larger animals, it must be worth considering as a nutritious addition to pet food too.
Benefits for pets
- Dried alfalfa offers high quality protein and vitamins as a supplement to their standard diet.
- Alfalfa contains a good source of calcium. Calcium insures healthy bones and bone growth.
- Alfalfa is extremely rich in nutrients; it is very alkalinizing and may help with conditions such as arthritis.
- It is often used to improve appetite and help with poor digestive function.
- It can also be added to the bedding of smaller animals like hamsters to provide both a soft warm nest and a nutritious late night snack!
- It is notable too that horses fed on hay that does not contain alfalfa have a higher incidence of colic.
As the Pet Food Institute says “ a proper diet is vital to your pet’s happy healthy life” and alfalfa can help bring additional nourishment to what is often lacking in processed commercial pet food.