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Herb Reference Guide

Alfalfa

History

This plant is probably better known as an agricultural product for livestock or cover cropping, but in recent years its high nutritional value has brought some attention to its use for humans. Many people eat the spouted seed of alfalfa, but the green flowering plant is mostly dried and used as hay for livestock and can be found in tablet form for supplementation. Alfalfa has roots that reach hundreds of feet into the ground and has one of the highest mineral profiles of any land plant. Its root nodules contain bacteria with the ability to fix nitrogen, producing a high-protein feed regardless of available nitrogen in the soil. Many legumes have this ability. Because it is so dense in nutrition it is cultivated throughout the world, known as, “lucerne” in the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Function

Alfalfa leaf is sometimes used to support healthy lactation in women, due to its high nutritional profile. It is also a valuable plant to use for helping to optimize female hormonal balance. It contains weak acting phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), which are useful in either hypo or hyper-estrogenic states. By competing for receptor site bonding with the stronger estrogens, the weaker ones keep the negative effects of excess estrogen in check, but if there is deficient estrogen, provide it in a mild form as well as dense nutrients. There is also some compelling research that indicates Alfalfa leaf may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Additionally the rich mineral content could promote the healthy growth of hair, skin and nail tissue, while also providing a source of antioxidants.

Uses of Alfalfa

Disclaimer

This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.

Active Constituents

Flavones, isoflavones, sterols, and coumarin derivatives, protein and vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K, calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

Parts Used

  • Leaf

Important precautions

Not for use during pregnancy. If you have a medical condition or take pharmaceutical drugs please consult your doctor prior to use. There is some evidence that a substance in aflalfa seed and sprouts (L-canavanine) may contribute to lupus flares. L canavanine is not found in the mature alfalfa leaf, which is the plant part commonly used in herbal medicine.

Additional Resources

Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 13-5.

Story JA. Alfalfa saponins and cholesterol interactions. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:917-29