by Paula Perretty and Steven Horne
Best known as a plant cultivated for animal feed, alfalfa has a long history of dietary and medicinal uses. Found in recorded history as early as 500 BC, alfalfa was considered the “father of all foods” by the Arabs who discovered it in the Middle East. The Arabs fed it to their horses, claiming it made them swift and strong.
A legume related to beans and peas, alfalfa is very nutrient-rich. The plant is high in vitamins and minerals, containing A, D, E, B6, and K; folic acid, niacin, carotene, flavonoids, calcium, magnesium, chlorophyll, phosphorus, iron, potassium, trace minerals, mucilage, several digestive enzymes and other beneficial compounds. Alfalfa is reported to send roots deep into the ground (sometimes over 40 feet) so it can pick up minerals other plants can’t reach. These properties make alfalfa a storehouse of nutrients for both animals and people.
In China, alfalfa has been used since the sixth century to treat kidney stones and to relieve fluid retention and swelling. According to Chinese medicine it is for use in the treatment of blood, stomach and spleen Qi deficiencies. It can help with anemia, debility and weight loss, gastrointestinal disorders, hyperacidity and ulcers. It clears the body of toxins, reduces pain associated with inflammation, strengthens blood vessels, promotes urination and protects the liver.
In Western herbalism, alfalfa is used to both cleanse and rebuild the blood, to improve digestion, promote lactation and as an aid for the glandular system. Many years ago, herbalist LaDean Griffin, author of Is Any Sick Among You? figured out that alfalfa aided the pituitary while trying to find answers for health problems in a child with a pituitary defect. By aiding the pituitary, alfalfa indirectly helps with the release of hormones responsible for metabolism and growth, blood pressure, water regulation, breast milk production and thyroid function. Alfalfa also contains phyto-estrogens making it useful in treating problems around menstruation and menopause, as well as in the prevention and treatment of breast and cervical cancer.
Alfalfa is a high-fiber herb (21 % crude fiber, 42% dietary fiber), so alfalfa tablets have often been used to aid bowel function. They have been used for reducing cholesterol, binding toxins in the colon and protecting against colon cancer.
Alfalfa can help build the blood in cases of anemia. Pregnant women with anemia who have taken 12 alfalfa capsules and 4 yellow dock capsules daily have seen a rapid increase in blood iron levels. This program works much better than ordinary iron supplements, which can also be constipating.
Part of the reason alfalfa is helpful for the blood is because of its high chlorophyll content. In fact, liquid chlorophyll is extracted from alfalfa. Chlorophyll stimulates bone marrow to produce hemoglobin, the blood cell that carries oxygen to all cells and tissues in the body.
High in antioxidant flavonoids and vitamins, alfalfa helps in the prevention of arthritis and other conditions associated with inflammation. A highly alkalizing plant, it neutralizes waste acid. Alfalfa is sometimes included in respiratory formulas. The chlorophyll and vitamin K it contains can help in the treatment of hay fever and can soothe irritated mucus membranes.
Besides being available as a single, alfalfa is found in over 20 NSP formulas.