Health benefits of alfalfa include reduction of cholesterol, healthy cardio vascular system, reduction of heart disorders, weight loss, treating vitamin K deficiency, reducing Pre menstrual symptoms, stimulate lactation, detoxification of body, reduce risk or cancer, treat diabetes, act as antioxidant, stimulate gastro intestinal tract and digestive system, increase immunity, increase urination, reduce inflammation in intestine.
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Some Alfalfa basic facts
Alfalfa is a perennial flowering plant belonging to pea family. The scientific name of alfalfa is Medicago sativa (Medicago refers to Medea in North Africa where it is considered originated, ‘sativa’ meaning with a long history of cultivation). Alfalfa are known by Trefoil, Lucerne, Purple Medic, Spanish trefoil, Jatt, Chilian clover, Kaba Yonca, Brazilian clover, Buffalo Herb, French clover, Mielga, Medic and Mu Su.
Alfalfa plant can grow up to 3 feet high, however the root system go deep in soil; as deep as 50 feet. Because of this deep root system it can absorb minerals lying deep in soil and plays vital role in Nitrogen fixation. Roots of Alfalfa show ribosomal activity and home to nitrogen fixing bacteria which enrich soil by absorbing nitrogen from air. This also makes Alfalfa rich in nitrogen or protein content.
Alfalfa is possibly one of the first crops cultivated by man. Across the globe, it is considered the ‘Queen of Forages’ and has been traditionally used as animal fodder.
History of alfalfa
Evidence of cultivation of alfalfa which is more than 5000 years old have been found in Iran. Oldest manuscript dating 1300 BC mentioning alfalfa is found in Turkey showing history of association of this herb with mankind. Alfalfa herb reached China, Middle east, North Africa and Europe along with Persian horses long ago. In many of these cultures, alfalfa is associated with the horse. The name ‘alfalfa’ comes from Arabic, Persian, and Kashmiri words which means ‘best horse fodder’ or ‘horse power’. Colonization lead to spread of alfalfa to South America. Gold rush of 1850 lead to spread of ‘Chilean clover’ – alfalfa brought from Chile in California and within a few years it was one of the fastest expanding crop in the West. “Gold could not always be found with pick and shovel, it could without fail be found by alfalfa roots.” – Coburn describing the history of alfalfa during the California Gold Rush.
Parts of alfalfa which have health benefits
Alfalfa leaves, alfalfa tops, alfalfa seeds are primarily edible. In traditional medicine forms leaves, flowers and seeds have been used. Sprouted alfalfa seeds are commercially available. Supplements in form of alfalfa leaves powder, alfalfa leaf extract, alfalfa leaf extract capsules are available. One can make herbal tea from alfalfa leaves as well. Alfalfa leaf powder forms part of dietary or food additives as well.
Nutritional value of alfalfa
Alfalfa sprouts are very low in calories. One cup (around 33 grams) of alfalfa sprouts provides less than 10 calories.
What makes alfalfa seed and leaves rich are its dietary fibers and high protein content. Alfalfa seeds are also rich source of vitamin K, Vitamin A, and contain almost all other water soluble vitamins including Vitamin B complex and Vitamin C. Alfalfa seeds are rich in minerals like Copper, manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iron, Zinc, Calcium and Magnesium which are essential for metabolic processes in body and other key body functions. It is one of the foods that have more essential nutrients per calorie and are better choice for optimum health.
It also contains phytonutrients (carotene, chlorophyll, coumarins, isoflavones, alkaloids, saponins), secondary metabolites of plants (phytoestrogens, isoflavones and coumestrol), and anti-nutritional components (phytates, L-canavanine, saponins) which also contribute various health benefits
Leaf extract and stems have about 55% protein with good balance of fat, fiber and trace metals. They also have high content of xanthophylls.
Saponin in alfalfa have been identified for attributing benefits to alfalfa. Thye are not absorbed in our body, but play a vital role in human intestine.
Uses of alfalfa
Alfalfa has been commonly used as fodder for animals. High protein and fiber is considered good for animals including cattle, horses, sheep, goat and poultry. Alfalfa pellets or alfalfa meals are also made out of alfalfa leaves for animals. Alfalfa produces more protein per acre than any other crop and hence alfalfa meal can replace soyabean meal or other protein supplements to animals. Organic alfalfa pellets and organic alfalfa meal are recently gained some interest as animal feed, with popularity of organic dairy products.
Alfalfa sprouts are popularly eaten by human, as salads or in sandwich. Dried alfalfa leaf is commercially available as a dietary supplement in several forms, such as tablets, powders and tea. Pablum, a processed cereal for infants also contains powdered alfalfa leaf along with other grains.
There exists potential for industrial products out of the biomass. Fiber from alfalfa is valuable and used for paper. Fermented products including lactic acid and ethanol can be made out of alfalfa, which are used as enzymes, ingredients for other chemical process, as bio fuels or manufacture of biodegradable plastic. Alfalfa is also used in production of phytase, cellulose and other edible vaccines for animals. Research in Canada shows antibacterial activity of alfalfa for animals and its use as animal vaccines against shipping fever.
Health benefits of alfalfa
In Ayurveda, alfalfa is used as body tonic, increase urination, treat arthritis and ulcers. Native Americans used it to treat scurvy, menstrual problems and urinary problems. They also used alfalfa seed paste to relieve pain from insect bite. In Iraq and Turkey it has been used for arthritis, as tonic. Chinese traditional medicine have shown importance for alfalfa (zi mu in Chinese) and leaves were used as cleansing agent and tonic of digestive system, as diuretic, for treatment of bladder stone, ulcers, fever, jaundice, night blindness.
Leaves and flowers are commonly used as body tonic. Health benefits of Seeds have benefits in treating gastro intestinal problems, aid menstrual problem, increase lactation, control cholesterol, detoxify body, act as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, estrogenic, anti ulcer agent and other benefits. Some other benefits of alfalfa are listed below:
Alfalfa for reducing cholesterol
A study also shows that alkaloids in alfalfa reduce accumulation of cholesterol in liver. A study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences found alfalfa in diet increased levels of good cholesterol in body. Clinical study in Germinal with alfalfa leaf extract on diabetic patient showed considerable reduction of blood cholesterol levels.
Alfalfa plays powerful role in control of cholesterol. Fibers and other chemicals reduce absorption of bad cholesterol in intestine while leaving good cholesterol unaffected. This helps in prevention of various cardio vascular diseases including deposition of plaque on artery walls, blockages, strokes and heart attack.
Alfalfa and prevention of Cancer
Alfalfa is believed to prevent cancer. It gets rid of carcinogenic substances from intestine and prevents them from being absorbed in body. It also acts as anti oxidant and helps protect body tissues from free radicals.
Recent studies suggest that L-canavanine – an amino acid present in alfalfa is effective in fighting leukemia.
Anti cancer properties of alfalfa are specially attributed to bio activity of chemical – saponins. University of Toronto have studied three ways in which they inhibit cancer cells. Saponins have special affinity to cancer cells because of their membrane structure similar to cholesterol. They bind to cancer cells and restrict their activity. One of the reason for colon cancer is due to conversion of bile into carcinogenic substance by intestinal bacteria. Saponin bind bile acids and prevent such conversion. Bioactive saponins also help remove intestinal pathogens causing inflammation of intestine.
Alfalfa supply Vitamin K which are associated with cancer treatment. A study published in International Journal of Oncology, slowing of cancer cells supplemented with Vitamin K. Similar study in Alternative Medicine Review showed patients taking oral Vitamin K had better response in liver cancer. A German study found Vitamin K useful against prostate cancer.
Diuretic Properties of Alfalfa
Alfalfa has been respected for its diuretic properties in traditional medicines of China and India. It helps removal of water from body and helps treat edema. It increases urination and helps prevent disorders of kidney, bladder, prostate and relieve in urinary tract infection and other urinary problems.
Alfalfa for treating asthma and other respiratory disorders
Alfalfa has been traditionally used for treatment of asthma and respiratory disorders. This can be attributed to anti-inflammatory properties of alfalfa.
Laxative effect of Alfala
High fibers content of alfalfa is considered good for bowel movements. It also has mild laxative effect. It is helpful in other digestive disorders.
It also shows anti ulcer properties and used in treatment of gastric ulcers.
Gastro Intestinal Tonic
Various traditional medicine form used alfalfa as tonic. Rich in amino acids, it has high vitamin and mineral content. It is used to increase appetite, relieve anemia, increase metabolism, fight anxiety and relax nervous system.
Alfalfa Increases Immunity
Regular consumption of alfalfa sprouts and alfalfa sprout juice boosts immunity. Saponis stimulate immunity system in body. Alfalfa leaf and its extract help supporting circulatory and immune system in body.
Alfalfa for treating Vitamin K deficiency
Alfalfa is used in treatment of Vitamin K deficiency. It restores vitamin K lost due to antibiotic regime. Vitamin K is essential for clotting of blood, calcification of bones, regulating sugar and insulin.
Alfalfa to Detoxify body
Saponin in alfalfa acts as cleansing agent. It helps removal of various unwanted toxins and substance from body. It reduces intestinal toxicity. Saponins have antimicrobial property and helps prevent intestine from various pathogen.
Antioxidant and anti inflammatory property of alfalfa
Alfalfa is excellent source of antioxidants in body. Research has shown alfalfa leaf protein as high quality protein and having antioxidant activity.
It also acts as anti inflammatory agent and beneficial to patients of asthama, arthritis. It also helps keep our cardio vascular system healthy and prevent them from various risks including high blood pressure, heart attack, etc.
Alfalfa for Diabetes
Alfalfa helps reduce lower blood sugar levels and regulate sugar and insulin levels. Vitamin K in alfalfa can be attributed for treating diabetes. Research is in concurrence for benefits of alfalfa on diabetes [1, 2]
Alfalfa helpful in hypothyroidism
Alfalfa contains chemicals which helps release of thyroid hormone through stimulation of hypothalamus and inhibiting prolactin release. Study (Abundance of immunoreactive thytropin releasing hormone-like material in the alfalfa plant published in Endocrinology) shows that Alfalfa extracts can be used in the treatment of secondary hypothyroidism and conditions of prolactin excess such as polycystic ovaries.
Alfalfa with muscle relaxant effect
Tricin a flavones present in alfalfa can relax smooth muscles. It is helpful in treatment of intestinal cramping.
Alfalfa for preventing Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is associated with calcium metabolism, especially in menopausal women. It is often result of lower levels of estrogen in body. Alfalfa is estrogenic in nature and helpful in preventing osteoporosis. Further it contains Vitamin K and magnesium which are essential for calcification of bones and healthy bones.
Benefits of alfalfa for women
Common problems of women are associated with Menstruation, pregnancy, nursing and breastfeeding and menopause and are closely associated with female hormone estrogen levels in body. Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens which resemble hormone estrogen and help in managing women health problems. It can be alternative to hormone replacement therapies. Estrongenic properties of alfalfa are considered good in aiding pre menstrual symptoms.
Alfalfa helps stimulate mammary gland function. They are galactagogue, and helps flow of milk in mammary glands. This is helpful for nursing and breastfeeding mother. Benefits of breastmilk for infants are well known, and alfalfa plays vital role in infant health.
Further they contain vital minerals like iron which are commonly deficient in women. Alfalfa also supplies reserves of vitamin K which are essential for blood clotting and important for pregnant women. Vitamin K in alfalfa is good for reducing post partum bleeding. Alfalfa is believed to relieve various discomforts morning sickness, heartburn, constipation and anemia common during pregnancy.
Alfalfa for healthy hair and skin
Regular consumption of Alfalfa juice along with carrot, beet and lettuce helps detoxify body and helps growth of hair. It provides vital nutrients essential for healthy hair and smooth and glowing skin. It is often touted as ‘component for beauty’ and used as additives in facial creams, hair rinse and bath herbs.
Alfalfa and benefits of Cholorphyll
Exposure of sunlight to Alfalfa sprouts produces early chlorophyll. Benefits of cholorphyy includes its cleansing and other healing properties.
Alfalfa for oral care
Alfalfa juice is in some countries for cleaning and rinsing mouth. It is believed to prevent oral diseases like gum infection, cavities and other. There is no particular research confirming the same. The same may be attributed to mild anti bacterial effect of alfalfa.
Alfalfa juice is believed to treat short-sightedness. This is generally associated with vitamin deficiency and alfalfa contains vital vitamins which are helpful in treating short sightedness. Further as antioxidant it helps protect eye tissue.
It is helpful in treating narcotic and alcohol addiction. With its strong detoxifying and body cleansing properties, it helps reduce level of alcohol, nicotine and other narcotic drugs in body.
Alfalfa sprouts for weight loss
With low calories and high nutrients make them good for weight loss. It helps in detoxification which is essential if you want to loose weight. It is one of the foods that have more essential nutrients per calorie and are better choice for optimum health.
Benefits of Alfalfa honey
Alfalfa honey is variety of honey prepared by honey bees feeding on alfalfa. Preliminary research suggests that alfalfa honey has some properties of alfalfa and helpful in managing Pre menstrual symptoms, digestive problems and can treat kidney and other urinary problem.
Other benefits to human
Alfalfa is one of the most environmental friendly plant and plays important orle in nitrogen cycle. With its deep root system and abilty to absorb nitrates and minerals from ground, it can help in treating ground water, recycle waste and disposing industrial waste and preventing ground water from contamination. Alfalfa plays key role for wildlife ecology. Alfalfa leaf for Pets – Similar to humans, alfalfa leaf supplements for pet with their anti inflammatory property help them relieve pain of arthritis and help cardio vascular health.
Side effects of alfalfa
- Hypersensitivity to sun
- Larger quantity of alfalfa during Pregnancy or breast-feeding should be avoided.
- Alfalfa may interact with hormonal replacement therapies or medicines for treating breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids
- Alfalfa sees though enhance immunity, excess and long term consumption of alfalfa seeds are associated with auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions.
- Canavanine, an amino acid in alfalfa seeds and sprouts is attributed for resulting lupus diseases.
- Unhygienic sprouting of alfalfa resulted in salmonella bacteria epidemic in 2010.
Various Alfalfa supplements
Some of the alfalfa supplements available in market include sprouted alfalfa extract, alfalfa leaf extract, alfalfa leaf powder, alfalfa capsules, alfalfa tablets, liquid chlorophyll from alfalfa.
How to make Alfalfa tea
Alfalfa tea is used as a beverage and herbal tonic. It is good in promoting promote appetite, weight gain, diuretics, and stopping bleeding. It is mild in taste and blend well with other herbs.
Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried alfalfa leaves in water. Boil it for 5 minutes. Add some lemon and honey for taste when cooled. Enjoy with mint garnish. Use organic alfalfa leaves for best taste.
Best way to sprout alfalfa seeds
- Use only mature seeds for sprouting.
- Soak seeds with water twice as much as alfalfa seeds. Keep them overnight.
- Remove excess water, drain the seeds out.
- Spread alfalfa seeds to avoid sticking of seeds and remove excess water.
- Wrap the seeds in clean cloth tightly. This shall remove the excess water if any.
- Keep the seeds in dry and warm place.
- Wash the seed once in two days with cold water and check for any bad odour.
- Sprouting shall occur in 3-4 days.
- If sprouts are big enough, spread the sprouts and dry to remove any excess water
- Sunlight exposure many help activation of some enzymes in sprouts.
- Wash sprouts with water to remove seed coat that tend to float on water.
- Eat sprout fresh or refrigerate and consume within couple of days.