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Alfalfa

SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Medicago sativa L. Common cultivars include Weevelchek, Saranac, Team, Arc, Classic, and Buffalo. Family: Leguminosae

COMMON NAME(S): Alfalfa

History

Alfalfa has played an important role as a livestock forage. Its use probably originated in Southeast Asia. The Arabs 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 diuresis and are useful in the treatment of kidney, bladder, and prostate disorders. Leaf preparations have been touted for their anti-arthritic and anti-diabetic activity, for treatment of dyspepsia, and as an anti-asthmatic. Alfalfa extracts are used in baked goods, beverages, and prepared foods, and the plant serves as a commercial source of chlorophyll and caroten.

Botany :- This legume grows throughout the world under widely varying conditions. A perennial herb, it has trifoliate dentate leaves with an under­ground stem that is often woody. Alfalfa grows to approximately 1 m and its blue-violet flowers bloom from July to September.

Uses of Alfalfa

The most promising value for alfalfa as a health treatment is in the area of cholesterol control. Based on empirical evidence, fibers and chemicals in alfalfa appear to stick to cholesterol, keeping it from staying in the blood or depositing in blood vessels. It is an excellent source of nutritive properties with minerals, chlorophyll and vitamins. Alfalfa is high in chlorophyll and nutrients. Treating with alfalfa preparations is generally without side effects, however the seeds contain a slightly toxic amino acid L-canavanine.

Alfalfa sprouts are used as a salad ingredient in the United States and Australia. Tender shoots are eaten in some places as a leaf vegetable . Human consumption of older plant parts is limited primarily by very high fiber content. Alfalfa has the potential to be the most prolific of all leaf vegetable crops, processed by drying and grinding into powder, or by pulping to extract leaf concentrate

Side Effects of Alfalfa

Alfalfa ingestion, especially of the seeds, has been associated with various deleterious effects, and alfalfa seeds and sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria such as S. enterica and E. coli. The FDA issued an advisory indicating that children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts. Ingestion of alfalfa preparations is generally without important side effects in healthy adults.

Dosage

Used for cholesterol reduction in adults, a recommended dose of alfalfa is 40 mg of alfalfa seed or 5,000 mg to 10,000 mg (5 grams to 10 grams) of dried alfalfa leaves and stems three times a day. Dried alfalfa may be taken as capsules, tablets, or tea made from dried alfalfa soaked in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, then strained before drinking.

Toxicology

A case of reversible asymptomatic pancytopenia with splenomegaly has been reported in a man who ingested up to 160 g of ground alfalfa seeds daily as part of a cholesterol­reducing diet. His plasma cholesterol decreased from 218 mgldL to 130 to 160 mgldL. Pancytopenia was believed to be due to canavanine. A popular self-treatment for asthma and hay fever suggests the ingestion of alfalfa tablets. There is no scientific evidence that this treatment is effective. Fortunately, the occurrence of cross-sensitization between alfalfa (a legume) and grass pollens appears un­likely, assuming the tablets are not contaminated with materials from grasses. One patient died of listeriosis following the ingestion of contaminated alfalfa tablets.

Alfalfa seeds and sprouts can be contaminated with such pathogens as Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli. Most healthy adults exposed to salmonella or E. coli will have symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramping, and fever that are self-limiting. The E. coli infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome with kidney failure or death in children or the elderly. In 1995, outbreaks of Salmonella infection occurred in the US because of the consumption of contamiated alfalfa sprouts. In 1995 to 1996, 133 patients in Oregon and British Columbia developed salmonellosis from ingesting alfalfa sprouts contaminated with S. enterica (serotype Newport). Also in 1995, > 242 patients in the US and Finland developed salmonellosis from ingesting alfalfa sprouts contaminated with S. enterica (serotype Stanley). In June and July 1997, simultaneous outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7 infection in Michigan and Virginia were independently associated with eating alfalfa sprouts grown from the same seed lot. The FDA issued an advisory indicating that children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts.

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