Alfalfa

Uses

Principal Proposed Uses

  • Nutritional Support

Other Proposed Uses

Alfalfa is one of the earliest cultivated plants, used for centuries for feeding livestock. This probably is true in part because it is easy to grow, thrives in many varied climates throughout the world, and provides an excellent protein-rich food source for cattle, horses, sheep, and other animals. The name alfalfa comes from the Arabian al-fac-facah , for "father of all foods." 1 Its high protein content and abundant stores of vitamins make it a good nutritional source for humans, too. Historic (but undocumented) medicinal uses of alfalfa include treatment of stomach upset, arthritis, bladder and kidney problems, boils, and irregular menstruation.

Requirements/Sources

Alfalfa sprouts appear on many salad bars and in the grocery's produce section. Bulk powdered herb or capsules and tablets containing alfalfa leaves or seeds are available in pharmacies and healthfood stores.

Therapeutic Dosages

A typical dose of alfalfa for tea is 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup, steeped in boiling water for 10 to 20 minutes. Tablets and capsules of whole alfalfa or alfalfa extracts should be taken according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Certain products are said to be free of canavanine (see Safety Issues ) and other potentially harmful constituents; these products may be preferable. 2

Therapeutic Uses

Alfalfa is high in vitamin content—providing beta-carotene ; various B-vitamins ; and vitamins C , E , and K —and can be used as a nutritional supplement. 3 However, keep in mind that high doses of alfalfa may present some health risks. (See Safety Issues below.) Numerous animal studies4-15 and preliminary human trials 16,17,18 indicate that extracts from alfalfa seeds, leaves, and roots might be helpful for lowering cholesterol levels. However, there have not been any well-designed, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials demonstrating alfalfa useful for this (or any other) purpose. (For information on why double-blind studies are so important, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-Blind Studies? ) Studies using mice to investigate alfalfa's traditional use for diabetes found that it improved some symptoms. 19,20 Alfalfa has also been investigated in the laboratory (but not yet evaluated in people) as a source of plant estrogens, which might make it helpful for menopause . 21,22,23 Alfalfa may also have some use in fighting fungi. 24,25,26 Rats fed a disease-causing fungus were able to eliminate more of the fungus from their systems when fed a diet high in alfalfa. It has been suggested that one of the saponins from alfalfa causes damage to the cell membranes of fungi. Finally, alfalfa has been proposed as a treatment for hay fever , but there is no scientific evidence that it is helpful for this purpose.

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