Alfalfa is a flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as an important forage crop in the US, Canada, Argentina, France, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, and many other countries. It is known as lucerne in the UK, France, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and known as lucerne grass in south Asia. It superficially resembles clover, with clusters of small purple flowers.
Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume which normally lives 4–8 years, but can live more than twenty years, depending on variety and climate.The plant grows to a height of up to 1 metre (3 ft), and has a deep root system, sometimes stretching more than 15 metres (49 ft).This makes it very resilient, especially to droughts.It has a tetraploid genome. Alfalfa is a small seeded crop, and has a slowly-growing seedling, but after several months of establishment, forms a tough 'crown' at the top of the root system. This crown contains many shoot buds that enables alfalfa to re-grow many times after being grazed or harvested. This plant exhibits autotoxicity, which means it is difficult for alfalfa seed to grow in existing stands of alfalfa.Therefore, it is recommended that alfalfa fields be rotated with other species (for example, corn or wheat) before reseeding.
Phytoestrogens in alfalfa
Alfalfa, like other leguminous crops, is a known source of phytoestrogens, including spinosterol. Grazing on alfalfa has been suspected as a cause of reduced fertility in sheep.
Alfalfa has been used as an herbal medicine for over 1,500 years.Alfalfa is high in protein, calcium, plus other minerals, vitamins in the B group, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
In early Chinese medicines, physicians used young alfalfa leaves to treat disorders related to the digestive tract and the kidneys. In Ayurvedic medicine, physicians used the leaves for treating poor digestion. They made a cooling poultice from the seeds for boils. At the time, alfalfa was also believed to be beneficial to people suffering from arthritis and water retention.