Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Superfoods Technical Fact Sheet
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Parts used: Plant
Alfalfa has been known for centuries as a nutrient-rich wonder food and has been called ‘the king of all foods’.
Alfalfa is naturally high in many essential vitamins and minerals as well as being a good source of protein, higher than most plant foods. It is often used for feeding animals as it has the highest nutritional value of all the forage crops. Taken for human consumption usually as a tea, dried herb or as sprouted seeds it has a mild, fairly bland, flavour and can be easily mixed with other foods.
In addition to almost a full complement of the important B vitamins and important nutrients, it contains phytonutrients in the form of flavones, isoflavones, sterols, saponins and coumarin derivatives.
Due to the fact its roots go down 20 – 30 feet into the ground it is considered one of the richest land sources of trace minerals, as it can tap into minerals which are not available on the surface. It is also a source of chlorophyll, containing four times more than ordinary vegetables.
In addition, every 100 grams of sprouted alfalfa contains:
Calcium 32 mg
Iron 0.96 mg
Magnesium 27 mg
Phosphorus 70 mg
Potassium 79 Mg
Sodium 6 mg
Zinc 0.92 mg
Copper 0.157 mg
Manganese 0.188 mg
Selenium 0.6 µg
Vitamin C 8.2 mg
B1 0.376 mg
B2 0.126 mg
B3 0.481 mg
B5 0.563 mg
B6 0.034 mg
Folate 36 mg
Choline 14.4 mg
Betaine 0.4 mg
Vitamin A 8 µg
Vitamin E 0.02 mg
Vitamin K 30 µg
Protein 3.99 g
*Source: USDA National Nutrient Database.
Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens in the form of isoflavones and coumestins, and therefore appears to be useful in helping with hormonal balance, particularly hypo and hyper-oestrogen. Phytoestrogens are not true oestrogens, but are molecularly similar to oestrogen. As such they are able to lock onto oestrogen receptors on cells. If there are high oestrogen levels they block access to stronger oestrogens, and if there is low oestrogenic activity, by binding to the receptor sites they stimulate oestrogenic activity.
As such they have been used for helping with menopausal symptoms, and symptoms of hormone imbalance such as fibrocystic breasts, and PMT.
Studies are showing that alfalfa appears to lower cholesterol levels, particularly triglycerides and LDL (low density lipoprotein), without reducing HDL (high density lipoprotein) levels, improving the total cholesterol/HDL ratios significantly. It is thought that this might be due to alfalfa blocking the reabsorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Both the sterols and saponin content are thought to be part of the mechanism.
Animal studies in mice have found the alfalfa helps to improve certain aspects of the condition. No human studies have been carried out by alfalfa is associated with 0 Glycaemic Index and good levels of fibre and will therefore not increase a person’s blood sugar.
According to the National Institutes of Health, certain compounds in alfalfa may help to prevent atherosclerosis. No large-scale human studies have yet been carried out. IN addition alfalfa has been linked to improvements in blood pressure. Again, further studies are waiting to be carried out.
The saponin content, as well as the rich nutrient load in alfalfa might also help to boost the immune system.
Physicians in India practising Ayurvedic medicine use alfalfa to improve poor digestion as well as helping with constipation and to flush the bowel of built up toxins. It is also recommended for aiding with stomach ulcers and problems with gastritis.
Other uses of this herb which have yet to be studied include:
Tonic in cases of malnutrition, debility and prolonged illness
Arthritis and joint problems
To increase lactation
Aiding with kidney problems and as a diuretic
Blood cleanser and purifier
Prevention of hair loss – combined with lettuce and carrot juice.
To treat anaemia – alfalfa is iron rich.
Historic and Traditional Uses
Tradition has it that alfalfa was first discovered centuries ago by Arabian horsemen who noticed how it improved their livestock’s performance and energy. Indeed, the name comes from the Arabic. It is believed to have first been cultivated in Persia.
It was first introduced into Spain in the 8th century as an animal feed, and taken to America by Spanish colonists. North and South America now grows much of the world’s crop.
Use as a herbal medicine has been recorded for over 1500 years. Chinese physicians used young alfalfa leaves to treat kidney and digestive disorders, kidney stones, arthritis, and for blood purifying and detoxification purposes. Ayurvedic medicine has long made use of the herb and both Greek and Roman herbalists recorded its use.
 Kurzer Ms, Xu X, Dietary phytoestrogens. Annu Rev Nutr 1997:17:353-381; Shemesh M, Lindrer HR, Ayalon N. Affinity of rabbit uterine oestradiol receptor for phyto-oestrogens and its use in a competitive protein-binding radioassay for plasma coumestrol. J Reprod Fertil 1972 :29:1-9; De Leo V, Lanzetta D, Cazzavacca R et al. Treatment of neurovegetative menopausal symptoms with a phytotherapeutic agent.Minerva Ginecol 1998:50:207-211
 Story JA. Alfalfa saponins and cholesterol interactions. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:917–29.Molgaard J, von Schenck H, Olsson AG. Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis 1987;65:173–9.
 Swanston-Flatt SK, Day C, Bailey CJ, et al. Traditional plant treatments for diabete. Studies in normal and streptozotoxin diabetic mice. Diabetologia 1990:33:462-464; Gray AM, Flatt PR, Pancreatic and extra-pancratic effects of the traditional anti0daibetic plant medicago stevia Br J Nutr 1997:78:325-334.