The name “alfalfa” comes from the Arabic “Al-fac-facah”, which means “father of all foods.” It’s highly nutritious, and is a good source of vitamins A, D, E and K as well as calcium, potassium and magnesium.
While alfalfa is native to the Middle East, herbalists in England and America have been cultivating it for medicinal use since the early part of the sixteenth century. It’s used in traditional medical systems to treat a variety of ailments, including indigestion, arthritis, bladder problems, allergies and menstrual difficulties.
Alfalfa contains a class of phytoestrogens known as “coumestans”—although these have not been extensively studied w/respect to their effects on human health or prevention of disease.
Likewise, alfalfa contains potentially health-promoting flavonoids, such as quercetin, apigenin and luteolin, although its unclear how much alfalfa might contribute to the diet vs. other, better known food sources.
Thus, while alfalfa contains a range of bioactive compounds, claims that it can “detoxify the body,” normalize blood sugar levels, reduce fatigue, alleviate menopausal symptoms and/or relieve joint/muscle pain are poorly supported by clinical research at this time.
On the flip side, alfalfa also contains a range of compounds known as “saponins” which have cholesterol-lowering properties. Feeding studies on rabbits and primates have demonstrated alfalfa saponins can reduce serum cholesterol, although more research is needed before they can be recommended for therapeutic use in humans. Nonetheless, alfalfa consumption could conceivably be recommended as part of an overall cholesterol-lowering diet.
Alfalfa can be consumed in dried or fresh form. The leaves can also be steeped to make tea. If you eat raw sprouts, be sure to rinse them carefully to remove molds or other microbial contaminants that may be present.
Are There Any Alfalfa Side Effects? Who Should Not Use Alfalfa?
Though there is no specific established therapeutic dose for alfalfa, tablets and capsules are usually sold in 500 mg or 1000 mg doses with a recommended intake of 1 or 2 tablets or capsules per day.
In liquid form, a common amount is 1–2 ml three times per day. It’s an affordable supplement to experiment with—we recommend iHerb.com if you’re looking for a credible retailer (use the coupon code FAT259 to receive $5.00 off your first order).
While alfalfa may offer benefits, there are some who should not use it. Pregnant women and women who have a history of premenstrual syndrome should avoid alfalfa, for example.
In addition, people with hay fever may suffer adverse effects from alfalfa, and those with autoimmune disorders, particularly lupus, should avoid taking it.
Further, people who take blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) should not use alfalfa, since the vitamin K that in the herb will counteract the effects of these medications.