The Health Benefits of Alfalfa
We grow and cultivate alfalfa as a commercial crop, to feed our livestock and as well, I grow some around the house. I make sprouts, a herbal tea and I love the gorgeous little flowers in the late spring, early summer.
Also, Known As:
- Buffalo Herb
- Purple Medic
Alfalfa is a common sight in many temperate grasslands of the world. Alfalfa belongs to pea family (Fabaceae). The herbal remedies made utilizing the alfalfa have been generally prescribed by herbalist for the treatment of a variety of ailments and disorders, the alfalfa can be taken in the form of an herbal tea and it is also used in the form of herbal tablets or capsules, at times the dried plant itself is consumed by patients. The effectiveness of the herbal remedies made from the alfalfa in treating disorders is available from many testimonials written by people who used the herbal alfalfa tea as a cure for different kinds of arthritic conditions, which includes serious conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis – which affects a lot of people. In addition, these faithful advocates of the curative abilities of the alfalfa, inform us in these testaments that taking large quantities of the herbal alfalfa tablets before daily meals can prevent the excess absorption of cholesterol from food – this is a very beneficial effect, especially for the arterial blood flow and particularly so, for the heart and circulation in general. Many people have also claimed that alfalfa herbal tea is effective in treating or reducing diabetes, it is also said that the herbal remedy can help stimulate the slack appetite and that the herb can be used as a general tonic for treating appetite disorders. These claims may be true, for example, the physical effects of an alfalfa aqueous extract at 1mg/ml on insulin release were recently conducted on streptozotocin-diabetic mice as subjects. Some noticeable effects such as insulin-releasing and anti-hyperglycemic activity were reported when the extract was given to the mice at doses of 62.5g/kg of body weight per test subject.
As for the supposed anti-diabetic action of alfalfa is concerned, it is not supported by the numerous scientific studies and clinical results-indeed, the evidence for this property of the alfalfa is very little or totally lacking as far as the results show. One study carried out on monkeys, suggests that the compound called saponins found in the root of the alfalfa plant may prevent the expected increase in plasma cholesterol in the test animals-the root of the alfalfa is not the part of the plant which is normally used in most herbal remedies. In addition, these possible positive effects of the saponins in alfalfa root are negated by other results, some clinical evidence suggests that the alfalfa-based saponins may be hemolytic, thus these compounds could interfere with the utilization of the vitamin E in the body.
Alfalfa has been subjected to a lot of chemical analysis, as the plant is a very important general animal feed, numerous and involved chemical analyses have been conducted on the plant-measuring its chemical constituents and nutritive values among other variables. These test have shown that alfalfa contains a variety of chemicals aside from the saponins, biochemically the plant is rich in fiber, it contains a variety of proteins, different fats, and is also very rich in many different types of essential minerals – including among others, the essential mineral calcium, and other essential minerals like the phosphorus and iron, the plant also contains many organic acids, it is also rich in the vitamin K, and contains trace amounts of the vitamin C, the plant also has a variety of plant pigments, aside from chlorophyll, and other essential pigments. None of these chemicals are very important as therapeutic agents by themselves, even while some of these compounds do act out some important physiological roles in the body, which is to say, that while they are essential or vital to many processes in the body, at the quantities in which they are present in the herb – they are of no value as herbal medicine. If you like the taste of alfalfa sprouts in fresh salads, they are refreshing and generally harmless so you can eat them, at least in moderation.
The inclusion of the warning “in moderation” has an excellent basis as far as the consumption of alfalfa is concerned. Results from studies carried out since the year 1981 suggest irreversible blood abnormalities (pancytopenia) can be often developed in human beings who ingest large quantities of the alfalfa seeds. These alarming results are supported by the finding of subsequent studies carried out on monkeys fed entirely on alfalfa seeds and sprouts – these results indicate that dangerous conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is an often fatal inflammatory connective tissue disease, can develop in the animals tested. Furthermore, the ingestion of large quantities of alfalfa tablets by individuals already suffering from clinically inactive SLE may be dangerous, as the condition can be reactivated in them. Alfalfa contains a non-protein amino acid-like compound, called the L-canavanine, this compound may be the likely agent that brings on the blood abnormalities and it may also be the agent responsible for inducing or reactivating dormant SLE in individuals already affected or susceptible to the condition. People who are predisposed to developing SLE must always be extremely cautious about consuming any herbal product made from alfalfa, for this reason, moderation in consuming is the best policy as susceptible individuals and those at risk may not always be aware of their vulnerability.
Use a quart of lukewarm or tepid water to soak a teaspoon of alfalfa seeds overnight to make your own alfalfa sprouts. Tepid water can be used again for rinsing the seeds the next morning, carefully drain away the water and the alfalfa sprouts are ready to be consumed. These can then be placed in a jar, and use small damp cheesecloth to cover the jar as snugly as possible. The airtight jar containing the seed must then be stored in a dark place away from all sources of light. The seeds will sprout out soon, at least two times every day the sprouted seeds must be rinsed using water, at the same time, they should be well drained, and then carefully reintroduced to the dark after such rinses and drainage. The sprouts will be ready for greening after they have been maintained 4 to 5 days in this way, following this period place the sprouts for a few hours in the sunlight – the sprouted greens can now be stored in the refrigerator for use at some later time. As the nutrient value of alfalfa sprouts is much higher than lettuce, these sprouts should be preferred when preparing green salads.
At least one beneficial effect of the alfalfa herb has been documented in August 1984, the Journal of Nutrition reported that, research scientists based at the University of California at Davis found that alfalfa extracts improved the general condition of diabetics who had not responded well to insulin treatment, the extracts of the alfalfa contained large amounts of the essential mineral manganese and this may be one reason for the effectiveness of the extracts. For patients suffering from diabetics and having a similar problem, it may be worthwhile to try two alfalfa extract capsules twice or thrice a day to treat the condition.
Essential nutrients such as the vital vitamin A, the B complex group including B-1 thiamine, B-6 pyridoxine, B-12 cynocobalamine, the vitamin C, the vitamin E, and other vitamins like K-1, B 3 niacin, the related B vitamins like the pantothenic acid, the biotin, the folic acid, aside from many of the essential and non-essential amino acids are present in large quantities in the powdered alfalfa herbal extract. The powdered herbal form of alfalfa also contains about 15-25% of all groups of proteins, it has all the major minerals and the trace elements like the calcium, the phosphorus, manganese and iron, the mineral zinc, and copper – last but not least, powdered alfalfa also contains abundant sucrose, and fructose aside from the other naturally occurring plant sugars.
Plant Parts Used:
Aerial parts, sprouting seeds.
Medicinal Herbal Remedies:
The larger role of the alfalfa is perhaps not as a medicine, but as a nutritious health food during therapeutic diets. As the herb contains high quantities of very easily absorbed nutrients, herbal remedies made from the alfalfa are often given to convalescing patients or individuals in recovery from recent illness. The herbal remedy made from the alfalfa may also be of some benefit in the treatment of different problems related to menstruation and menopause in women as the herb is known to possess distinct estrogenic properties.
OTHER MEDICAL USES
- Endometrial Cancer
The alfalfa plant grows in the wild in large parts of Asia, in continental Europe, and in areas of North Africa, the alfalfa is found native in open meadows as well as other open and cultivated areas in these places. The alfalfa is also cultivated in many countries having temperate climates as an all year fodder crop for use in livestock rearing, summer is the time when harvesting of cultivated alfalfa occurs across much of the world.
Alfalfa contains proteins, sugars, chlorophyll, plant estrogen’s, minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, silicon), beta-carotene, vitamins B, C, E and K, enzymes.
The leaf of the alfalfa plant is available in the form of herbal tablets or capsules as well as in bulk herbal form in many herbal stores, processed alfalfa is normally dried. The herbal liquefied extracts of the alfalfa are also widely available for use in various herbal medications around the world. Till now, as far as human consumption is concerned – there is no correct or appropriate therapeutic dose or dosage volume. Alfalfa is normally recommended at 1-2 ml of the tincture form by some herbal experts, some herbalist also recommends taking 500-1,000 mg of dried alfalfa leaf every day for the treatment of various conditions and disorders.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions:
Safety concerns do not exist as far as the moderate use of dried alfalfa is concerned and such amounts are normally prescribed for use by many herbalists. Alfalfa has also been known to trigger allergenic reactions in some individuals, even now isolated reports of individuals allergic to alfalfa keep coming – these are, however, rare and relatively few people are affected in any deleterious way by the consumption of alfalfa. However, some disturbing results from the use of alfalfa herbal remedies have come from animal test subjects, indeed when animals ingested large amounts of the seeds or the alfalfa sprouts, it was seen that the test animals were more likely to be affected by the sudden onset of systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE. The condition known as SLE can affect humans and animals, this disorder is a dangerous autoimmune illness marked by symptoms such as the sudden development of inflammation in the joints and the probability of suffering long-term damage to the kidneys. A chemical compound called canavanine is believed to be the agent that induces these deleterious effects within the body. For this reason, it is suggested that alfalfa products must be avoided by all individuals affected by SLE and such products must also not be used by those with a known history of SLE in the family.
Alfalfa is best eaten raw whenever it is taken as the herb is very healthy in this way, it can be used as a green salad or as an addition in a sandwich. The chlorophyll and mineral content of alfalfa picked directly from the fields is also much higher than stored or processed alfalfa products. Some of the beneficial effects of alfalfa its ability to increase the rate of treatment from ulcers in the body, its ability to heal a sore throat, its ability to deal with stomach ulcers, people suffering from a lack of appetite and anemia can also benefit from consuming freshly picked alfalfa leaves in salads and other dishes. Alfalfa-based herbal products are also known to help in lowering the level of bad cholesterol in individuals suffering from cholesterol problems. The best long-term remedy is to drink an herbal alfalfa tea daily, this tea must preferably be taken in very small doses as most than three cups at a time can induce abdominal bloating, the herbal is an excellent way to provide for the daily requirement of minerals and proteins in the human body.
- 2 tablespoons (10 g) alfalfa seeds
- 1 plastic net
- 1 glass jar
- 1 elastic
- 4 cups (1 liter) water
Soak the seeds in the water for 24 hours, then drain. Using the elastic, attach the plastic net to the top of the glass jar. Rinse the seeds in the jar under the tap and drain. Store the jar away from light. Repeat this procedure every morning and night for 3 to 4 days. Shoots will appear on the sixth day. Soak the sprouts in a salad bowl, rubbing gently to remove the seed coats and to remove those that are still hard. Drain and store in the refrigerator. Consume within 1 week.
Try this alfalfa salad with homemade vinaigrette.
Note: Two tablespoons of seeds produce 3 cups of alfalfa sprouts.