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Healing Herbs: Alfalfa

Updated on April 26, 2012

What is Alfalfa?

The alfalfa plant is a long-living, flowering perennial that belongs to the Fabaceae, or pea, family and the Medicago genus. Though native to Asia, this plant is widely cultivated throughout the world, and is an important forage crop in the United States, Europe, and Canada.

Similar in appearance to clove, alfalfa is most recognizable for its bright purple flowers, which develop in a characteristic, one-sided cluster. These large plants can grow to a height of around 3 feet, and stand upon a sprawling root system that can reach up to 49 feet. The leaves of the alfalfa plant are alternate, bright green, toothy, and relatively slender. They typically bear three individual leaflets, but may sometimes have four or five.

Once termed "the father of all foods," this plant has a long history of cultivation and use. Initially discovered and cultivated in Persia, the alfalfa plant was carried to Greece around 500 B.C., then rapidly spread throughout the majority of western Europe, then to South and North America, and small areas of Canada.

It is not surprising to see why this plant is so widely valued. Not only is it a rich source of carotene and chlorophyll, but it also bears eight amino acids, the vitamins A, B, D, E and K, as well as protein and numerous minerals like calcium, biotin, potassium and iron.

What Are the Benefits of Alfalfa?

Considering that this plant is absolutely packed with nutrients, it is no surprise that it has long been utilized as a medicinal herb. Practically every part of this plant can be used, from the leaves to the stems, the seeds to the roots; however, those who study and practice herbalism recommend that you confine your use to the alfalfa sprouts, as the seeds, when ingested, may be potentially lethal. Containing laxative, diuretic, and tonic-like properties, alfalfa is frequently used to treat:

Stomach and Digestive Issues:

This herb is thought to be especially beneficial for those recovering from surgery. Not only is it said to increase appetite, but it may also help to reduce stomach pains and nausea, control the flow of certain stomach acids, and reduce the risk of ulcers. Additionally, many believe that consumption of this plant is useful in treating insulin-dependent diabetes.

Skin, Hair, Bone and Joint Ailments:

Because of the high vitamin and mineral content of this plant, those who take alfalfa supplements report that wounds heal quicker, and skin ulcers and abscesses decrease or disappear entirely. These same nutrients are also said to help protect teeth and bone tissue, as well as aid in the stimulation of hair roots, especially when the juice of the plant is mingled with lettuce and carrot juices. Additionally, the high level of chlorophyll in these herbs is said to urge the growth of new connective tissue, which is especially useful for those suffering from arthritis.

Heart and Respiratory Conditions:

In some animal studies, this plant was shown to help reduce the levels of "bad" cholesterol in the system. Although it has not been officially proven, these studies have led researchers to believe that the use of this herb may help fight against strokes and heart disease. In addition to that, these plants are thought to lower blood pressure by softening hardened arteries. Rich in magnesium, alfalfa is also beneficial for those who suffer from respiratory issues, as this mineral can aid in the transportation of oxygen to cells and tissues, neutralize toxins, and fight infection.

Other Potential Uses:

In addition to the above mentioned conditions, this herb may also be useful in fighting cancer, hormonal imbalances, menstruation and menopause symptoms, alcohol addiction, and kidney and bladder ailments.

Side Effects and Warnings:

Although many people assume that just because something is natural, it is absolutely safe. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Although the alfalfa plant is mostly harmless, the use of it can come with some side effects. Consuming too much of this plant can result in the destruction of red blood cells. Those with lupus should avoid this herb, as coming into contact with canavanine can potentially aggravate symptoms. Breastfeeding and pregnant mothers should avoid taking this herb, as its estrogen-like properties may interfere with the pregnancy or the health of the infant.

Those taking blood thinners, birth control pills or other hormone-based medications, photosensitizing drugs, or immunosuppressants should avoid this plant, as it may reduce effectiveness or cause an added sensitivity to light.


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    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 5 years ago

      Hi, Gemmee. I think you should be all right with your consumption level. I think it's something like 75 to 125 grams; however, this applies mostly to seeds.

    • profile image

      Gemmee 5 years ago

      I've been sprouting alfalfa for some time now. I noted in the cautionary note that it said consuming too much can result in destruction of red blood cells. How much is too much? I include about a cup of alfalfa sprouts each morning in my morning juicing regime.

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 6 years ago

      Thank you so much for reading, wwolfs! Working on a new one as.we.speak (well... not so much as I'm replying, but you get my idea. ;-D).

    • profile image

      wwolfs 6 years ago

      Interesting. I enjoy reading and learning about the many different herbs and didn't know much about the benefits of alfalfa. You did a great job on providing information along with the side effects and warnings. I am looking forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 6 years ago

      Hi! Thank you for your comment. I was actually pretty surprised when I found out about all the benefits; I also thought it was mainly a horse thing. :-D

    • Aisla profile image

      Carolyn Mikkelsen 6 years ago from Norway

      Really interesting, i give this to my donkey , i should also take it. Nice hub look forward to following more from you.

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 6 years ago

      Thank you, MissFrost! This is a pretty handy little plant. I'm glad to've reminded you. :-D

    • MissFrost profile image

      MissFrost 6 years ago from 50% Island Girl, 25% East Coast Girl, 25% Country Girl

      I used to take Alfalfa but stopped a few years back....

      Thanks for the reminder that I need to start up again!!! Voted up and useful!