Botanical Name: Medicago sativa.
Alfalfa common name either comes from the Arabic, al-fac-facah, meaning “father of all foods.” or from ancient Iranian “an aspo-asti” which means “the best feed” or “feed for horses.”
Alfalfa is one of the oldest cultivated plants, and it is used as livestock forage, as a highly nutritious food for humans, and as herbal medicine.
It is considered to have the highest nutritive value of all fodder plants.
What is Alfalfa Uses For
Alfalfa has been used for numerous ailments in traditional folk medicine throughout the ages.
Most of these uses are primarily based on traditional application, but a few have been validated by scientific methods, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the condition.
People have used the herb for the following conditions:
- menopausal symptoms
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- liver disorders
- varicose veins
- bleeding gums
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
The herb has a long history of use in China as an appetite stimulant and as an herbal treatment for digestive disorders, especially ulcers.
Ayurvedic medicine used Medicago sativa as an herbal treatment for ulcers, to alleviate the pain of arthritis and as a treatment for fluid retention.
Early American herbalists used the herb as a treatment for arthritis, boils, cancer, scurvy, and for diseases of the urinary and digestive systems.
Pioneer women in America used alfalfa as an herbal remedy for menstrual disorders.
Alfalfa is traditionally used as an herbal treatment for debility during convalescence or in cases of anemia.
Also, it was used as a natural treatment for infections from surgical incisions, bed sores and as an external poultice for the treatment of an earache.
In Columbia, the mucilaginous fruits are used as an herbal treatment for a cough.
Alfalfa Modern Day Uses
Medicago sativa is alterative, antipyretic, anti-scorbutic, aperient, diuretic, oxytocic, nutritive, stimulant and tonic.
Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens, and modern herbalists use Medicago sativa to help women with disorders related to hormonal imbalance.
Due to its alterative qualities (ability to maintain healthy hormonal levels), alfalfa is used as a natural treatment for disorders such as hot flashes during menopause, fibrocystic breasts, osteoporosis, polycystic ovaries, fibroids and premenstrual tension. 1
Alfalfa may be used to treat both hypoestrogenism (insufficient estrogen) and hyperestrogenism (excessive estrogen), and traditional herbalists use it to dilute the strength of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).
Alfalfa is one of the best natural sources of vitamin K. Vitamin K helps bones to knit by working with vitamin D and glutamic acid to activate osteocalcin, a protein hormone that is essential to both the formation and maintenance of bones.
The combination of these three nutrients is essential for building bone because the body cannot use calcium without all three.
Consuming alfalfa might, therefore, help to keep calcium out of the linings of arteries.
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a result of calcium replacing cholesterol in the lining of the blood vessels.
The hardening of the arteries happens when a microscopically small amount of cholesterol becomes lodged in the arterial wall.
These can form a mass that can be replaced by artery-hardening calcium. Alfalfa may help prevent the formation of calcium deposits on the arterial wall. 2
What Does the Science Say About the Benefits of Alfalfa?
Numerous scientific studies using animal models, and few small studies done on human subjects, have shown the effectiveness of Medicago sativa as a natural treatment for high cholesterol.
It is known to reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or bad cholesterol) without lowering high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or good cholesterol).34
Studies have shown that alfalfa may reduce blood sugar levels due to its high manganese content. Clinical studies have demonstrated that Medicago sativa with a high level of manganese improved the condition of diabetic patients who do not respond to insulin.5
The plant contains a molecule analog to the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). Thyrotropin-releasing hormone is common in the animal kingdom but unknown in the vegetable kingdom.
The TRH hormone analog found in alfalfa is also biologically active in animals, suggesting that Medicago sativa may be an effective natural therapy for treating secondary hypothyroidism as well as diseases caused by an excess of prolactin, as in polycystic ovaries. 6
Scientific studies indicate that Medicago sativa may have a stimulating effect on the immune system.
Alfalfa has been shown to inhibit the development of certain viruses, including herpes simplex virus.
Some in vitro studies have shown that L-canaverina present in the herb has anti-tumor actions against certain types of leukemia in mice and selective toxicity against cancer cells in dogs. 7
Active Ingredient and Substances
The active components include up to 50 percent protein, beta-carotene, chlorophyll, octacosanol, saponins, sterols, flavonoids, coumarins, alkaloids, acids,
The plant also contains vitamins (A, B, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid), amino acids, sugars, minerals (Ca, K, P, Ma, Fe, Zn, Cu), and trace elements.
Plant Parts Used
The stems, leaves, and flowers of alfalfa are used in herbal medicine.
The plant is generally collected before flowering and dried for later use in herbal medicinal preparations such as capsules, tablets, extracts or extracts (infusions).
Dosage and Administration
The usual dose of alfalfa leaves for tea is 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup, steeped for 10 to 20 minutes.
Powdered alfalfa is widely available in powder form where the manufacturer’s recommendations should then be followed.
For cholesterol reduction, the recommended dosage is 5 to 10 grams of dried alfalfa leaves, taken three times a day.
Possible Side Effects and Interactions of Alfalfa
The most significant risk in using alfalfa is eating sprouts grown in contaminated water or sprouts that have gone bad and are decomposing.
For most people, alfalfa is safe, but it may interact with certain medications.
Those who are taking anti-rejection drugs for transplant, should not use any form of alfalfa.
People who take Coumadin or other anticoagulant drugs should consult with their physicians concerning what amounts of green vegetables (which contain high amounts of vitamin K) are safe to consume.
Eating the sprouts have been linked to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Those diagnosed with SLE should avoid alfalfa products.
Consuming large amounts of the seeds has also caused reversible blood abnormalities.
In rare instances of excessive consumption of alfalfa herb or sprouts, abnormal red blood cell counts, enlargement of the spleen or relapses of lupus may occur.
Other Common Names
Chilean clover, buffalo grass, father of all foods, buffalo herb, lucerne, purple medic, Spanish clover, California clover, purple medick, medicago, fuelle de luzerna (French), holy hay, trefoil.
Alfalfa is believed to be native to Central Asia (Transcaucasia, Armenia, Iran, etc.).
Wild types grow in the Caucasus and the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and surrounding areas.
Medicago sativa favors temperate-warm or subtropical semi-dry climates. It adapts well to soil that is deep, permeable and rich in calcium and phosphorus.
Alfalfa is widely cultivated as feed for livestock.
The taproot of the alfalfa plant reaches deep into the soil, allowing the plant to extract a wide range of nutrients from deeper substrate even when the shallow soil is exhausted.
Medicago sativa is a valuable plant for the improvement of poor and depleted soil.
The leaves are alternate and trifoliate. The flowers are blue to purple, arranged in short axillaries. The fruit is black or brown when ripe and has several yellow seeds that are kidney-shaped or irregular in shape.
van Wyk, Ben-Erik: Food Plants of the World. Portland, Oregon. Timber Press 2006.
University of Rochester – Medical Center – Alfalfa
Balch, Phyllis A.: Prescription for Herbal Healing. New York. Avery 2002.
Stuart, Malcolm: The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. London, Orbis Publishing 1979.
Balch, Phyllis A.: Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 4th Ed. New York. Avery 2006.
Mindell, Earl: Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible. New York. Simon & Schuster / Fireside 1992.
UPMC Pinnacle – Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Foster, Steven: 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, Colorado. Interweave Press 1998.
Gruenwald, Joerg et al.: PDR for Herbal Medicines. 4th Ed. Montvale, New Jersey. Thomson Healthcare Inc. 2007.
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Julia Pace says
Does alfalfa have vitamin K1 that helps clot blood, or Vitamin K2 that puts calcium back in your teeth and bones? I wouldn’t want to increase my clotting at this point in my life but I do like the idea of stronger bones. I need to be clear on this before I try ANY alfalfa products.
Thordur Sturluson says
Vitamin K1 is mostly found in plants and is most abundant in leafy greens. Vitamin K2, on the other hand, is only found in animal foods and fermented plant foods. So alfalfa does only contain K1 to best of my knowledge.
Annie E Gibbons says
Thank you for re-educating me about alfalfa !