Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is also known as buffalo grass, lucerne, lucerne grass and purple medic. There are also a number of subspecies which all have common names on a lucerne/alfalfa/medic theme. It’s in the same family as melilot (sometimes called sweet lucerne), but they are not closely related.
Alfalfa is a perennial which reaches a height of around 3 feet (1 meter), a member of the family Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae), all of which have the ability to extract nitrogen from the air. Because of this, it is often used as a green manure. It also makes a good forage crop, its nitrogen fixing giving it the ability to grow on poor soils. Although it requires good drainage it is otherwise not fussy about situation and tolerates drought, though in common with most other green plants it will not grow in full shade.
Researchers have found that alfalfa should not be eaten or used in herbal medicine by anyone who has suffered from lupus (SLE) at any time, even if currently dormant. Not for use by anyone with any other auto immune disease (this includes some you may not realize, such as asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and more). Not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying to conceive. Even those who are healthy should not eat large amounts as it can cause liver problems and photosensitization.
Alfalfa is usually considered a salad vegetable, in the form of alfalfa sprouts, but it has many medicinal properties.
To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root or 15g (a half ounce) dried root to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a non-aluminum pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and reduce to half the quantity, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.
The standard infusion is oxytocic (promotes uterine contractions) and has an estrogenic action useful for fibroids, menopausal complaints and pre-menstrual tension. It can also be used to treat anemia and jaundice, to lower cholesterol, stop bleeding/hemorrhage, promote weight gain and as an appetite stimulant, an aid to convalescence, a diuretic, gentle laxative, stimulant and tonic. The juice is antibacterial, emetic and can be used to relieve pain caused by gravel/small stones. A decoction of the root is used to lower fevers.
Because it’s a legume which fixes nitrogen with its roots (often used as a green manure), there should be no need to use anything other than organic methods when growing alfalfa, which is important to avoid corruption of the essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic alfalfa visit the Gardenzone.