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Alfalfa

Medically reviewed on Jun 7, 2018

What is Alfalfa?

The legume alfalfa is cultivated throughout the world under widely varying conditions. Common cultivars include weevelchek, saranac, team, arc, classic, and buffalo. It is a perennial herb with 3 serrated leaves and an underground stem that is often woody. Alfalfa grows to approximately 1 m with 5 to 15 stems. The most common colors of flowers are purple, yellow, white, and cream, which produce spiral-shaped seed pods once pollinated. It is the most cultivated legume in the world, with the United States being the largest producer. California, South Dakota, and Wisconsin are the leading states for alfalfa production.

Scientific Name(s)

Medicago sativa

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Alfalfa has played an important role as a livestock forage. Its use probably originated in Asia. The Arabians fed alfalfa to their horses, claiming it made the animals swift and strong, and named the legume "al-fal-fa" meaning "father of all foods." The medicinal uses of alfalfa stem from anecdotal reports that the leaves cause excessive urination and are useful in the treatment of kidney, bladder, and prostate disorders. Leaf preparations have been solicited for the prevention and relief of arthritic symptoms and antidiabetic activity, for treatment of stomach problems, and as an antiasthmatic. Alfalfa extracts are used in baked goods, beverages, and prepared foods, and the plant serves as a commercial source of chlorophyll and carotene.

General uses

Alfalfa may be useful in lowering cholesterol and treating menopausal symptoms. It also may have blood pressure-lowering and anti-inflammatory effects.

What is the recommended dosage?

A general dosing regimen is 5 to 10 g of the dried herb taken 3 times daily. For the treatment of high cholesterol, the seeds may be taken at a dose of 40 g 3 times daily.

Contraindications

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory indicating that children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts because of frequent bacterial contamination. Use should be avoided in people with a personal or family history of lupus because of possible effects that regulate the immune system.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Avoid use. Documented adverse effects of alfalfa during pregnancy include possible stimulation of the uterus. Although alfalfa has been recommended to stimulate milk production, evidence is lacking.

Interactions

Because of its high vitamin K content, alfalfa may reduce the effects of warfarin. Alfalfa may interact with drugs, such as cyclosporine, because of its effects on the immune system.

Side Effects

Alfalfa seeds and fresh sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria. The FDA issued an advisory indicating that children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts. Ingestion of dried alfalfa preparations is generally safe in healthy adults. Because of its high potassium content, alfalfa may cause high potassium in the blood.

Toxicology

Alfalfa tablets have been associated with the reactivation of lupus in at least 2 patients.

References

1. Alfalfa. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; November 2013.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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