19 November 2009

Herb of the Week: Alfalfa

Herb of the Week: Alfalfa (Medicago Sativa)

Parts Used: Above ground portions of the plant

Properties: Alterative, anti-pyretic, anti-thrombotic, anti-spasmodic (smooth muscles), culinary, diuretic, hypocholesterolemic, hypoglycemic, nutritive, stomachic, thermogenic, tonic

About: When most people think of Alfalfa, they think of either animal feed or Alfalfa sprouts depending on where they grew up. It has been known as an animal food for thousands of years and Mark Pederson, author of Nutritional Herbology, states that the origin of the word was traced back to an Iranian word that means horse fodder. But is this herb good for human health as well?

Alfalfa has long been regarded as a blood purifier due to its detoxifying effects, and is correspondingly high in chlorophyll. It is considered a bitter and soothes digestion with the betaine enzyme it contains to help properly digest your food. Ulcers are also healed due to the high levels of vitamin A (b-carotene) this herb contains, especially when mixed with plantain, marshmallow, or slippery elm to form a mucilaginous coating.

Cholesterol and blood sugar levels are reduced when adding Alfalfa to your daily tonic tea, and it makes a great addition to any tonic taken for raising iron levels in those who are temporarily deficient (like during menstruation and after giving or losing blood) or anemic. Correspondingly, Alfalfa raises energy levels. Since the flavonoids Alfalfa contains relaxes smooth muscles, this is also wonderful to take during menstruation to ease cramping. Alfalfa is a double hitter like many herbs!

Speaking on a purely nutritional standpoint, you can’t go wrong by drinking Alfalfa tea or consuming Alfalfa sprouts and I heartily recommend this herb as a base along with Nettles for vitamin tonics for all ages, especially infants or anyone with a weak immune system. Alfalfa also helps to regulate the natural flora contained in your intestinal tract, so consume this to enhance the effects of any probiotic yogurt, cheese, kefir, whey, or OTC supplement you may be taking.

I do, however, advise that you grow sprouts yourself as they are usually the most contaminated of any vegetable available and many people get sick from eating commercially grown Alfalfa sprouts. Buy organically harvested seeds if at all possible and grow them in a sprout jar. Mountain Rose Herbs sells sprouting seeds of all sorts that are either completely organic or cultivated without chemicals. If you are interested in sprouting Alfalfa, you can go to their site and pick up some seeds to start yourself on the path to vibrant health.

Alfalfa contains sufficient or high levels of the following vital nutrients:

· Calcium
· Chlorophyll
· Fiber
· Folic acid
· Iron
· Magnesium
· Niacin
· Phosphorus
· Potassium
· Protein
· Riboflavin
· Vitamin A
· Vitamin C
· Vitamin B-1
· Vitamin B-6
· Vitamin B-12
· Vitamin E
· Vitamin K
· Zinc

Warnings:  None known for moderate use, however, do exercise caution if you are allergic to grass pollen since there is usually some grass that gets into Alfalfa. does have this to say though regarding the over-use of Alfalfa:

“However, some disturbing results from the use of alfalfa herbal remedies has come from animal test subjects, indeed when animals ingested large amounts of the seeds or the alfalfa sprouts, it was seen that the test animals were more likely to be affected by the sudden onset of systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE. The condition known as SLE can affect humans and animals, this disorder is a dangerous autoimmune illness marked by symptoms such as the sudden development of inflammation in the joints and the probability of suffering long term damage to the kidneys. A chemical compound called canavanine is believed to be the agent that induces these deleterious effects within the body. For this reason, it is suggested that alfalfa products must be avoided by all individuals affected by SLE and such products must also not be used by those with a known history of SLE in the family.”

Dye Colors: I’m sure that grass stains don’t count unless you’re very creative.

Habitat: Open fields, meadows, pastures . . . Wherever the seeds fall pretty much. It’s not a picky plant. It likes sunshine, fresh air, and room to grow.