Botanical family: Fabaceae
Parts used: Flower, leaves, stem, and seeds
Main active constituents: Phytoestrogens, amino acid canavanine, bioflavonoids, saponins, phytosterols and alkaloids
Actions: Delivers high nutrient content, antioxidant
Good for: Menopause, high cholesterol, blood sugar balance
Available forms: Dried leaves, stems and flowers in tablets, powders, and tea
Alfalfa is also called Lucerne and is from the legume family, Fabaceae. It has small purple flowers which become fruits then seeds. It’s widely grown throughout the world, essentially as a forage crop for cattle and is very high yielding, also providing superior nutritional quality.
Alfalfa is cultivated in many countries around the world, and tends to prefer warmer temperate climates. Typically, its root system can grow to a depth of more than 15 metres which also provides much-needed nitrogen for the soils. Importantly, alfalfa seeds can be sprouted to provide a nutritious garnish for salads and sandwiches. This normally takes about five or six days with one tablespoon of seed yielding round three cups of sprouts. It is known as ‘alfalfa’ in the Americas but lucerne in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
History of Alfalfa
Whilst alfalfa seems to have originated in south-central Asia, it may have been introduced in Greece in about 490 BC and always used as cattle feed, but also has a long history of medicinal use for humans.
Current uses of Alfalfa
Alfalfa is rich in phytoestrogens, also called ‘plant oestrogens’ which are chemically similar to the hormone oestrogen. Therefore, this helps manage the typical symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, naturally.
Alfalfa is high in saponins, plant compounds that have been found to lower cholesterol, including the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
As an Antioxidant
In Ayurvedic medicine, but also for general wellbeing, alfalfa can help support inflammatory conditions and protect cells from oxidative damage, responsible for the ageing process.
General Nutritional Support
Alfalfa sprouts are nutritionally rich, being high in vitamin K, needed for healthy bones and blood, plus a range of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, copper and iron.
Alfalfa helps balance blood sugar levels but also helps reduce blood fats, so may be beneficial for people at risk of type 2 diabetes.
How to take AlfalfaYou can sprout alfalfa by putting two tablespoons of seeds in a bowl, or jar, adding water, soaking overnight and then continually draining and rinsing them. Put them in an area of indirect sunlight and after five or six days they will be ready to eat. The draining process is important to avoid bacterial contamination.
Alfalfa leaves, flowers and stems can be taken as an herbal supplement, or they can be used to make tea.