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Alfalfa Review
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.

One of the joys of working with and prescribing herbs in all their forms is that often, any additional effects of an herb are beneficial, unlike the common negative side effects of drugs. An herb that has traditionally been used as cattle feed, and one that is more recently getting more attention is Alfalfa, or Medicago sativa. The origin of the word alfalfa comes from the Arabic word"al-fasfasah" which means "the best fodder". The Arabs fed it to their animals and horses to give them superior strength and speed, and considered it an excellent food for themselves as well.

Alfalfa is a nutrient dense herbal food, a member of the pea family, containing high levels of Vitamins A, B-Complex, C, D, E, K, and trace minerals, in particular, boron, known to aid in prevention of osteoporosis. The root system of the alfalfa plant is extremely deep, enabling it to absorb many nutrients from the soil. Alfalfa is also a significant phyto-estrogen and hormone balancer and historically was considered a blood purifier due to its extremely high chlorophyll content. Alfalfa has the unique property of balancing estrogen levels and therefore other hormonal activities bringing the body back into balance. It can be safely used for conditions of hypo- or hyper-estrogen conditions and there is no toxicity associated with its use.

Alfalfa contains the alkaloids asparagine and trigonelline; the isoflavones formonoetin, genestein, and coumestrol, which give it the estrogenic qualities. It also contains some steroidal saponins, and proteins. Recent studies have shown that alfalfa also has anti-tumor properties, as well as cholesterol lowering activity. In fact, these studies suggest that alfalfa may cause regression and dissolution of atherosclerotic plaques! This is quite a repertoire for such a humble herb.

The forms in which one can utilize the healing gifts of alfalfa are quite varied. It is important to note that we are speaking of the alfalfa plant, and not the sprouts. In fact, alfalfa seeds and sprouts, although highly nutritious, contain a compound called canavanine, which if ingested in large amounts, can cause lupus-like symptoms, or aggravate an already existing lupus syndrome. The herb may be taken fresh or dried in an infusion (or tea), one teaspoon, per cup of boiling water, and this tea may be drunk once or twice daily, or in a tincture, up to 15 mls per day, or as a solid or liquid extract (much stronger) 1/4 teaspoon one to three times daily.

The hormone balancing properties of alfalfa could very successfully be applied with menopausal conditions, eliminating hot flashes, but this herb works wonders for PMS symptoms as well. Premenstrual breast tenderness virtually disappears and fatigue, food cravings, and cramping are significantly decreased. As newer research continues, we can expect to see even more uses in natural medicine for this ancient and humble herb.

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