Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a crop that is also known as the "Queen of the Forages." It is primarily grown in northwestern states such as Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Washington and some parts of Nevada and California.1 Historically, the alfalfa plant was discovered by Arabian horsemen who noticed that their horses gained a boost in energy and performance once it was eaten. People who ate alfalfa also received similar benefits, which helped spread its reputation around the world.
What does alfalfa look like? Fully grown, it produces flowers that have one-sided clusters, with each cluster having 10 to 20 purple petals with a leguminous shape. Alfalfa can also grow up to a meter tall, and their roots can stretch up to 15 meters downwards, making them resilient to droughts. The leaves are scattered among the stem, consisting of three leaflets that look like a clover.2
Most parts of the alfalfa plant are edible, such as the roots, leaves and young shoots. Alternatively, alfalfa sprouts can also be grown, which are then added to various dishes for garnishing or used in place of salad greens.3
The Agricultural Uses of Alfalfa
Alfalfa is known throughout the agricultural world as hay, which is fed to livestock such as horses, cows and chickens. To make hay from alfalfa, the plants are allowed to grow until the early bloom period, where they are then harvested. Afterwards, they are dried and cured before being fed to the animals. Alfalfa is also economically important to the U.S., because it is exported to other countries for livestock consumption.4,5
Among farmers, alfalfa is popular because it adds nitrogen to the soil, which helps negates the need to use nitrogen fertilizer.6 When crops are rotated, the nitrogen that the alfalfa left in the soil will be absorbed by the new crops, which can help improve harvest quality. It can also save farmers lots of money because they don't have to purchase fertilizer anymore.7
Alfalfa is classified as an insectary, which is a plant that attracts beneficial insects. Since there are plenty of parasitic insects that feed on crops, this can reduce the quality and quantity of the harvest. Planting alfalfa right bedside these crops can divert the parasitic insects into being consumed by the beneficial insects. Pesticide use can be avoided through this method as well.8
The Various Health Benefits of Alfalfa Sprouts
People can take advantage of alfalfa by consuming alfalfa sprouts, which, despite their small size, contain a concentration of various vitamins and mineral that can help provide the following health benefits:9
• Improve Digestive Health
Alfalfa sprouts contain healthy amounts of dietary fiber, which can help improve your bowel movement. In addition, it can reduce gut inflammation, which can reduce your risk for indigestion, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
• Reduce Inflammation
Research has shown that alfalfa sprouts contain high levels of vitamins C and B, as well as various compounds that can help reduce systematic inflammation throughout your body, prevent chronic disease and oxidative stress.
• Enhance Kidney Function
Alfalfa is known for helping treat kidney conditions thanks to its diuretic capabilities. Consuming this food can help you urinate more frequently, which can help eliminate toxins from your body.
• Improve Cardiovascular Health
High amounts of potassium and iron are found in alfalfa, and both nutrients provide their own benefits. Potassium acts as a vasodilator, which releases tension in your arteries, thereby lowering blood pressure.
Iron, on the other hand, helps boost red blood cell production, which improves blood circulation throughout your body.
• Faster Wound Healing
Alfalfa contains protein, which can help improve your body's ability to repair open skin wounds. The other nutrients also work together to help stimulate blood flow and help decrease the time it takes for wounds to close.
How to Grow Alfalfa Sprouts
Planting or growing alfalfa sprouts isn't very difficult, since you're only growing seeds until they sprout. Another advantage to growing your own sprouts is you can avoid any diseases and pesticides that come from purchasing commercially grown sprouts.
To start, you need to three items: alfalfa seeds, a seed tray and organic potting soil. Once you have acquired them, follow this procedure:10
- Soak the seeds in a bowl filled with water. This will help start the germination process.
- Add soil into the tray evenly until it reaches a thickness of 1 inch, then lightly dampen with water using a watering can. Gently press down on the top of the soil so the seeds will stay at the top.
- Spread the seeds evenly around on top of the soil, then cover with another tray to seal in the moisture.
- Keep the soil damp for the next few days to ensure the seeds don't dry out.
- Once the sprouts emerge after around four days, place them in a spot with indirect sunlight to help them produce a green color.
- Cut the sprouts above the soil. Wash them gently in cold water to remove any dirt.
How to Store Alfalfa Sprouts
Once your alfalfa seedlings have grown into sprouts, storing them is quite simple — all you need is a freezer. However, before you store your sprouts, give them one final rinse and let them dry for eight to 12 hours, and make sure that they are dry to the touch.11 After your sprouts are dry, transfer them into a glass or plastic container and tightly seal it. This will help keep moisture out, because water can destroy the quality of the sprouts and reduce their shelf life.12
The great thing about alfalfa sprouts (and other sprouts in general) is their very long shelf life, if your freezer meets the right conditions. It should have a 70 percent humidity, and a temperature of 32-35 degrees Fahrenheit. If these conditions are met, along with proper storage, your sprouts can actually last up to four years.13
Alfalfa Sprouts Recipe: Cumin-Spiced Lettuce Roll
Lettuce rolls (or wraps) are popular because they're easy to prepare, and the potential flavors are endless. You can pick whatever ingredients you like, and simply wrap them in a lettuce. This recipe will show you how to use various healthy ingredients, along with alfalfa sprouts, to create a nutritious dish perfect after a tiring day at work.
Cumin-Spiced Lettuce Roll
- Cut out the lettuce cores, then separate the leaves.
- Top the leaves with some minced scallions and a few pieces of red pepper.
- Add some sprouts and roll the leaf carefully, then secure with toothpick.
- Continue the process with the remaining lettuce roll ingredients.
- To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, ground cumin, cayenne pepper and salt. Add olive oil.
- Serve the lettuce rolls with dressing on the side.
This recipe makes four to five servings.(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type)