Herbal Supplements
Alfalfa - a Potential to Future Folk Medicine

Alfalfa has been used for different purposes for centuries. Good feed for animals (Alfalfa hay for cows, horses, beef cattle, sheep, chickens, turkeys and others; can be by the way used as a pasture, hay, or silage crop), nice agriculture properties due to its nitrogen-fixing bacteria and a herbal remedy for many health problems – all that makes Alfalfa "father of all foods" (as Arabs called it when first discovered) and “a cure-all”.

Biological Description

Alfalfa’s scientific name is Medicago sativa, also known as Trefoil, Lucerne and Purple Medic. The name ‘Alfalfa is derived from the Arabic "al-fac-facah" that means "father of all foods"; the genus name ‘Medicago refers to Medea in North Africa from where this plant is considered to have originated; the species name sativa means "with a long history of cultivation". Its other names are: Spanish trefoil, Jatt, Chilian clover, Kaba Yonca, Brazilian clover, Buffalo Herb, French clover, Mielga, Medic and Mu Su. The plant belongs to the family of Fabaceae (a member of the pea family).

Alfalfa is a cool season perennial flowering plant. It is about 1 meter in high with a long deep root system that may stretch even to 4 m. Each flower of Alfalfa grows on its own stalk from a common stem with 10 to 50 individual flowers. They are purple to blue-violet; some have shades of white, creamy, yellow and bloom from July to September. Leaves are pinnately trifoliolate (three leaflets per leaf) and green, stipules are sharp pointed. The seeds of Alfalfa are yellow to greenish-yellow, browning with age.

The plant is cultivated as an important forage crop and is one of the most important legumes in agriculture.

Depending on the climate Alfalfa lives from three to twelve years. It can be sown in spring or fall.

Growing

It was first originated in Asia before 700 BC. (Some sources tell that it came to Greece around 490 B.C. being used as a horse feed for Persian army). Others tell that it has been cultivated first in Iran.

Besides western Asia Alfalfa is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and was originally found in Medea, Spain, Italy, France and Central Asia. Also in North America (the sources say that the plant was introduced to the US around 1860) . The US is the largest alfalfa producer in the world. The leading alfalfa growing states are California, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Now it is widely grown throughout the world.

Alfalfa has a wide range of adaptation. It is famous for its tolerance of drought, heat, and cold; for the remarkable productivity (it also has a tetraploid genome) and the quality of its herbage; and for its value in soil improvement. So, Medicago can grow in very cold northern plains as well as in high mountain valleys, and in rich temperate agricultural regions as well as in Mediterranean climates and searing hot deserts.

Alfalfa roots as well as other legumes have nodules that contain the bacteria Sinorhizobium meliloti with the ability to fix nitrogen. Rhizobium meliloti can only fix nitrogen within alfalfa (an interesting case of mutual partnership establishment).

 Alfalfa can be sown in spring or fall, and does best on well-drained soils with a neutral pH.

Parts Used

In folk medicine flowers, the leaves, the tops, the seeds and the sprouts are used.

Leaves and flowers are more used for the tonic purposes, for arthritis, gout and blood. Seeds more used as emmenagogue, hangover and stomachache; sprouts used in salad. Alfalfa extract is used by food makers as a source of chlorophyll and carotene.

Market

In the United States, Australia, New Zealand and some other countries use Alfalfa sprouts as a salad ingredient. Tender shoots are eaten in some places as a leaf vegetable. Dehydrated alfalfa leaf is commercially available as a dietary supplement in powders, tablets and tea.

Alfalfa juice are available together with carrot (as well as with some other juices) that is used for loosing weight and used successfully (though some think that it causes weigh gain). Alfalfa juice is used in some other health food products. In traditional Chinese medicine, juice squeezed from fresh alfalfa is used to treat kidney and bladder stones.

Although alfalfa is available as fresh or dried leaf, it is most often taken as a capsule of powdered alfalfa or as a tablet or just in its dried form (for making a tea). Tea is taken twice daily. Some experts recommend 500-1,000 mg of the dried leaf per day or 1-2 ml of tincture.

Alfalfa is also available in liquid extracts.

Be careful with dosage and follow the directions on the package you purchase or consult your physician.

Action
Medicago sativa has the following properties:
  • it excites the appetite
  • relieves anemia, helps the blood clot - anti-anemic
  • increases the secretion and expulsion of urine – diuretic; eliminates retained water, fluid retention and swelling, kidney, bladder and prostrate disorders, kidney stones, relieves urinary problems, urinary tract infections
  • strengthens organs or the entire organism – tonic
  • lifts your spirits, boosts energy levels and fights anxiety
  • increases mammary gland function – galactagogue
  • helps with the formation of atherosclerotic plaques and stroke
  • laxative - promotes evacuation of the bowels; helps with digestive disorders, relieves gastric ulcers
  • blocks absorption of cholesterol; detoxifies the the liver, jaundice
  • promotes pituitary gland function
  • gives nourishment
  • detoxifies the body
  • builds muscles and strength
  • helps with late or irregular menstruation problems and menopausal symptoms
  • stimulates lactation in nursing mothers (increases quality and quantity)
  • treatment for alcoholism and drug dependency
  • helps with inflammatory conditions like arthritis
  • helps to treat male conditions like prostate disorders

Alfalfa is also an anti-fungal, gout, hangover, hormone balancing, and abortifacient.

In China it is generally used as anodyne, depurative, gravel, emetic, dysuria and fever. In United States as cyanogenetic, cancer. In Iraq as arthritis. In Turkey as arthritis, cardiotonic, intellect, scurvy. In most countries as arthritis, boil, scurvy, emmenagogue and lactagogue.

The leaves of the alfalfa plant are rich in minerals and nutrients (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and carotene) and other trace minerals.The ashes of its leaves are almost 99% pure calcium. Alfalfa is an excellent natural source of most vitamins: A, B1, B6, B8, B12, C, D, E, K1, P, and U.  Alfalfa is also higher in protein than any other plant food (15 to 22% by weight). It is rich in chlorophyll and has such essential natural ingredients as choline, coumarin derivatives, eight amino acids, isoflavones, sterol, 3% of saponins and flavonoids. It also contains copper, niacin, zinc, tricin and a lot of enzymes, such as:

  • coagulase - coagulates milk and clots blood
  • protease - digests proteins
  • amylase - acts on starch
  • emulsin - acts on sugar
  • lipase - splits fat
  • invertase - changes cane sugar to dextrose
  • pectinase - forms vegetable jelly from pectin
  • peroxidase - has an oxidizing effect on the blood

Health Benefits

Alfalfa is considered to be a healthy and nutritious source of chlorophyll, beta carotene, calcium, and the vitamins D, E and K. All over the world its leaves and sprouts are consumed for health benefits and Alfalfa tea is widely touted as a health tonic.

Alfalfa has been effectively used in treatment of vitamin K disorders in man, as the amount of the vitamin is very high. It is famous for its antibiotic properties – it is an antifungal and has shown some activity against tuberculosis bacteria (extracts of alfalfa are antibacterial against gram negative bacteria), for its detoxifier properties – it cleanse the liver and bloodstream, it treats high fevers, inflamed prostate, and alleviating allergic reactions related to plants and grasses.

Special components in the root of the plant and in the leaves (2-3%) – saponins – have appeared to lower cholesterol levels in monkeys (and in some human studies). But only that kind of high cholesterol that is known as type II hyperlipoproteinemia. But from the other hand alfalfa saponins are hemolytic and may interfere with the utilization of vitamin E.  

Medicago sativa is a ‘component for beauty’ – it is added to facial creams, hair rinses and bath herbs. Some herbalists say that the plant is useful for people with diabetes, as it may also lower blood sugar levels (due to its high manganese content - low levels of manganese have been associated with diabetes in some studies). Human studies (and proofs for the statement are in close future). The Alfalfa tea is very good for these purposes. Magnesium is also good for relief of migraines and helps slow bone loss.
Alfalfa may also have some ability to enhance immune system function. It is a great remedy in case of swelling caused by excess water accumulation, as it is a mild diuretic and promotes the loss of the water from the body. Foe women alfalfa is a help during menopause, due to its components that act like the female hormone estrogen. The herb can reduce tissue damage caused by radiotherapy - another modern medical technique.  It contains natural fluoride that helps in the prevention of tooth decay. Additional help for teeth is the big amount of calcium in the plant.

Leaves are used to make pablum, a cereal for infants.
Traditional Chinese healers use alfalfa leaves to cleanse the digestive system and to rid the bladder of stones. The root of alfalfa is used in Chinese medicine to improve urine flow
,  reduce fever, and treat jaundice, kidney stones, and night blindness. Though, Alfalfa is considered a minor herb.

Treating with alfalfa preparations is generally without side effects, however the seeds contain a slightly toxic amino acid L-canavanine. Some resources claim that notwithstanding the fact that there are no major side effects (sometime an allergy) and using Alfalfa is comparatively harmless, but for some people it can be dangerous.
 Because of its importance as an animal feed, alfalfa has been the subject of numerous and detailed chemical analyses.
Its health benefits are now under the permanent and serious studies and human trials. Alfalfa contains hundreds of biologically active compounds; it is really difficult to analyze, to describe and to prove healing properties of them. So, the plant is becoming a remedy to many ailments, all we need is some time to prove benefits and know the back of the medal.

More About Alfalfa...

Alfalfa

Biological Description Alfalfa is a herbaceous perennial, also known as Medicago sativa. The plant belongs to the forage crops and can produce the ...

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More About Alfalfa...

Alfalfa

Biological Description Alfalfa is a herbaceous perennial, also known as Medicago sativa. The ...

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