Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a common plant from the pea family and is one of the oldest and most cultivated crops in history. References to alfalfa date back to early Roman, Greek and Chinese cultures. It is believed to have played an important role in these and other early civilizations.
Alfalfa has been used a food and a medicinal herb for centuries. It is believed to treat digestive disorders, arthritis and kidney problems. It is a main source of food for livestock including horses, goats and dairy cows, and is also considered to be a galactagogue, helping to increase the breast milk supply for nursing mothers.
Health Benefits and Uses of Alfalfa
- Alfalfa is highly nutritious. It contains many vitamins and minerals and it's rich in antioxidants. It is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and a good source of protein and fiber.
- It is a primary source of food for dairy animals so it is an important part of the production of milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products.
- It is used by breastfeeding mothers to make more breast milk.
- It has been used to stimulate digestion.
- It is believed to decrease inflammation in the body.
- It has been used to treat high blood pressure.
- It is thought to regulate blood sugar levels.
- It may lower cholesterol.
- It has been used as a diuretic.
- Chlorophyll found in Alfalfa is believed to clean, heal and detoxify the blood.
Alfalfa and Breastfeeding
Alfalfa has a long history of use in women's health. It has been consumed by nursing mothers for many years to help with the production of breast milk. When taken in moderation, alfalfa is considered safe and nutritious.
If you choose to add alfalfa to your diet during pregnancy, it should be stopped a few weeks before the birth of your baby to help prevent an overabundant milk supply.
Alfalfa does enter the breast milk and is safe for the baby, however, too much alfalfa can cause you or your baby to develop diarrhea. This can be prevented by introducing alfalfa into your diet gradually.
How to Take Alfalfa
Alfalfa is available as a food, a tea and in tablet or capsule form. Talk to your doctor of lactation consultant about adding alfalfa to your diet.
Tablets or Capsules: () You can typically start with one tablet or capsule 4 times a day, gradually increasing the amount up to 8 per day. Your doctor or lactation consultant will instruct you on the dose that is best for you.
Warnings and Side Effects:
Alfalfa is generally safe if taken in moderation, however, it is an herb that has been used as a medication for many years. Medications and herbs can have side effects and potentially dangerous drug interactions. Always discuss the use of herbal supplements with your doctor and your baby's doctor.
Side effects of alfalfa tend to be mild. Diarrhea could occur in you or your baby if you begin taking a high dose of alfalfa too quickly. To prevent gastric problems, start with a low dose and slowly work your way up to the higher dose.
Alfalfa, like other green leafy vegetables, contains vitamin K which can interfere with anticoagulant medication.
Alfalfa can trigger auto-immune disorders or make them worse. Do not use alfalfa if you suffer from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or another auto-immune condition.
Alfalfa is a common and nutritious herb that is believed to be safe when used in moderation. Packed with vitamins and minerals, it's a healthy addition to your diet as long as you don't overdo it.
Humphrey, Sheila. The Nursing Mother's Herbal. Fairview Press. Minneapolis. 2003.
Jacobson, Hilary. Mother Food. Rosalind Press. 2004
Jennings, John. Alfalfa for Dairy Cattle. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service Printing Services. Little Rock. Accessed August 5, 2012: http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-4000.pdf
MedlinePlus. Alfalfa. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Medicines Comprehensive Database. 2012. Accessed August 5, 2012: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/19.html
Putnam, D.H.; Summers, C.G.; Orloff S.B. 2007. Alfalfa Production Systems in California. IN (C.G. Summers and D.H. Putnam, eds.), Irrigated alfalfa management for Mediterranean and Desert zones. Chapter 1. Oakland: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 8287: Accessed August 5, 2012: http://alfalfa.ucdavis.edu/IrrigatedAlfalfa/pdfs/UCAlfalfa8287ProdSystems_free.pdf