Alfalfa is the dried leaf of a well-known pea family member, with purple flowers and cloverlike leaves. It is native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region and is widely grown as fodder for farm animals.
Alfalfa leaf has been used in tea and dietary supplements to help increase appetite and vitality, reduce water retention, and as a stimulant for digestion and bowel action. It is a folk treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and preventing absorption of cholesterol from the diet. Its use for loss of energy due to indigestion, dyspepsia, anemia, loss of appetite, and poor assimilation began in the early 1900s with American physicians who specialized in herbal medicine. Dr. Ben A. Bradley of Hamlet, Ohio, wrote in 1915: 1 find in Alfalfa, after about seven years' clinical tests in my practice and on myself, a superlative restorative tonic.... It rejuvenates the whole system by increasing the strength, vim, vigor, and vitality of the patient."
Alfalfa has been thoroughly studied as an animal feed but not as an herbal medicine for humans. Animal studies suggest it can prevent high cholesterol in animals on high-fat diets. Compounds in the plant may decrease intestinal absorption of cholesterol and reduce atherosclerotic plaque.
Alfalfa is high in protein and contains vitamins A, B1, B63 B 12, C, E, and K1, along with the minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc.
Despite its widespread use as a dietary supplement, there are no human studies of its claimed benefits. Alfalfa would be a good subject for further research.
Alfalfa is available as dried leaf, tablets, capsules, extracts, health drinks, tea, and in other forms.
Moderate use of alfalfa products is not associated with side effects. A case of allergic reaction (from contamination with grass pollen) in alfalfa tablets has been reported. Eating alfalfa seeds or sprouts has been linked to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a condition characterized by inflammation of connective tissue. In two instances, alfalfa sprouts caused the recurrence of SLE in individuals who had been treated for the condition. Those diagnosed with SLE should avoid alfalfa products. Consuming large quantities of the seeds has also produced reversible blood abnormalities. The compound responsible for ill effects is canavanine.
Appetite Stimulant Nutritive