Alfalfa (scientific name: Medicago sativa; Sanskrit name: Lahsunghaas), also called lucerne is a perennial legume in the pea family native to warm temperate climates like that of Iran where it is believed to have originated from. Discovered by the Arabs, it was named the ‘King of kings’ / ‘Father of all foods’. It has a mild flavor and a mild crunch.
It has been cultivated as fodder for livestock since ancient times. Its use as animal fodder and the nitrogen fixing quality of this plant make it ideal for improving agricultural efficiency. Its deep root system (up to 15m) makes it resilient with high rates of survival. In India, the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu cultivate alfalfa.
Alfalfa is low in saturated fat, sodium, and has very less cholesterol. It is high in protein, calcium and other minerals including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese. Alfalfa is a very good source of fiber, vitamin A, B-group vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin K.
Alfalfa has been is considered the richest land source of trace minerals. Each part of the alfalfa plant has varied uses and health benefits.
- Alfalfa leaves contain saponin, a cholesterol-lowering compound.
- Chinese medicine uses fresh alfalfa juice to treat kidney stones.
- The root helps control fever, improves jaundice.
- Sap extracts of alfalfa are found to be effective against bacteria, fungi and yeast.
- Alfalfa’s high phytoestrogens are used in treating menopause symptoms to increase estrogen levels.
- Its’ diuretic properties help keep the kidneys and bladder healthy. Regular intake of alfalfa helps in quick recovery from kidney and bladder related diseases.
- Alfalfa sprouts are significantly beneficial the digestive system. Eating raw sprouts of provide the body with essential proteins and enzymes that aid digestion. Alfalfa tea helps reduce acidity as it can control over-secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
- Daily intake of alfalfa juice combined with equal amounts of carrot and lettuce juices greatly assist hair growth and prevent hair loss.
- Alfalfa’s rich chlorophyll helps reduce respiratory disorders. It is used to heal whooping cough.
- The presence of vitamins A, C, E and K in alfalfa sprout extracts help rapid healing of cartilage tissues.
- Alfalfa’s anti-inflammatory properties assist in reducing acute inflammation which is beneficial for diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism and ulcers.
The alfalfa seeds must be stored in a dry area away from humidity and dampness. Keep in sealed container; plastic bag or glass is better. Freezing will extend the shelf life. In freezing, the main concern is condensation which can be avoided by returning the seed to the freezer within minutes of removing what one needs.
HOW TO CONSUME
It can be taken in the form of seeds, leaves or tablets. It can be sprouted and added to salads and sandwiches. The leaves and flowers can be made into herbal tea and drunk. The seeds can be made into a paste to treat boils and insect bites. Typical dosage for high cholesterol is 5-10g of the herb or 5-10ml of liquid extract (strained tea) three times a day.
To make into nutritious sprout, follow the below steps: Use a jar, minimum 9 cm in diameter, and 15 cm in height. Place 1-2 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds in the jar and soak in water for 3 hours. Drain water and store jar in cool dry place out of direct sunlight. Drain any excess water. Rinse sprouts 2-3 times a day. Shake jar few times a day to prevent sprouts from tangling. Alfalfa sprouts may take up to one week to harvest. Rinse before serving.
Excessive consumption of alfalfa might cause red blood cells to breakdown, which is a very serious side effect.
The amino acid, canavanine in alfalfa can aggravate the disease lupus in some individuals. Avoid alfalfa during pregnancy and breast feeding.
In some individuals, it might cause skin to become extra sensitive to the sun.
Alfalfa might activate the immune system, which could increase symptoms of auto-immune diseases. Avoid if you have any auto-immune disease like MS, arthritis or other conditions.
In case of any condition that might worsen by exposure to estrogen, do not use alfalfa.
In case of diabetes, monitor blood sugar levels closely in case you consume alfalfa since it might lower blood sugar levels
Certain drugs interact with alfalfa. In case on any medications, kindly consult a doctor before taking alfalfa.