Alfalfa seeds, also known as lucerne seeds or simply alfalfa, are a popular choice for sprouting. Alfalfa sprouts taste delicious as an addition to most any salad.
Alfafa seeds can be eaten raw. They have a slightly sweet flavor that is reminiscent of peas.1 However, it is advisable to sprout the seeds before eating. This is because they contain a natural protective substance called canavanine (a harmful amino acid2) that is broken down during the sprouting process and under exposure to light.3 For more information, see the Dangers/Intolerances section below. In addition, the sprouting process increases the nutrient content of the seeds.
The sprouts go well with a wide range of foods, particularly as an ingredient in salads, smoothies, summer rolls, wraps, and dips. Garnishing starters, soups, or sides with sprouts can turn such dishes into true eye-catchers and add additional flavor. Alfalfa microgreens are another option. They are grown in soil (preferably hydroponically) and can be harvested after 8–12 days.3
Alfalfa sprouts are very delicate and therefore collapse if cooked or blanched. This is why it is best to eat them raw.
Alfalfa can also be found growing wild. Both the young shoots (April to June) and the flowers and seeds are edible. The shoots are spicy (with a stronger flavor than other clovers) and are delicious added to raw salads or salad dressings — or to cooked meals such as soups, gratins, or spinach dishes. When cooked, wild alfalfa loses its bitter aftertaste.4 The vibrant-colored flowers (blue or violet) produce a beautiful, edible garnish, for example, for salads, sandwiches, or vegetable dishes.1 The dried flowers are often used to add a bright color contrast to tea blends.
|Not only vegans and vegetarians should read this: |
A Vegan Diet Can Be Unhealthy. Nutrition Mistakes.
Alfalfa sprouts are available fresh and ready to eat. You can buy them in online shops, at the grocery store, or directly from farms. Alternatively, you can purchase seeds at the grocery store, nursery, or health food store and grow your own sprouts. Make sure to buy organic seeds and that the seeds are intended for growing sprouts. If this is not indicated on the label, the seeds may be for fodder plants and would have then been chemically treated.
Alfalfa is very versatile and can grow everywhere from on sandy soils to deep clay soils; you can find it growing wild up to 1300 meters.
It is quite easy to grow your own alfalfa sprouts. First, soak the seeds for four to six hours. Then place them in a sprouting tray or jar. During the sprouting process, the alfalfa seeds will increase their volume eightfold to twelvefold. For this reason, you shouldn’t use more than 2 tablespoons of seeds.
Place the sprouts in a bright spot (not direct sunlight); ideally the temperature will be 18–22 °C. At the beginning, you will see fine fiber roots form; this is normal and isn’t a sign of mold. Rinse the sprouts with water at least once a day, pour the water off, and close the jar or tray. It’s even better if you can rinse or spray the sprouts with water 2–3 times a day and then dry well. After seven days, the sprouts should be ready, but you can let them grow a few days longer if you like.3
If you can’t eat the sprouts directly, store them in the refrigerator at 5 °C. Under clean conditions, this temperature will inhibit the growing of foodborne pathogens on the sprouts.
Alfalfa sprouts contain phytoestrogens, flavonoids, saponins, and photosensitizing substances. They are rich in protein, vitamins (especially vitamin K and carotene), calcium, and chlorophyll.1 They contain about as much iron as meat (1 mg/100 g). In addition, alfalfa contains vitamin C,5 which is important for iron absorption. See also the nutrient tables below this text.
Alfalfa has the ability to replenish minerals, and thanks to the combination of iron and vitamin C it contains, it also has antianemic and revitalizing properties.5 In addition, the chlorophyll in alfalfa is believed to have positive effects on the immune system. And the saponins may help lower cholesterol.4
Consuming large amounts of alfalfa can cause symptoms of chronic inflammatory connective tissue disease (systemic lupus erythematosus = SLE, an autoimmune disease) or a particular temporary form of anemia (pancytopenia).4,6
The porphyrins found in alfalfa can interfere with liver function or cause hypersensitivity to sunlight. However, this would only occur if you consumed very large amounts of alfalfa. If you eat alfalfa in moderation, the effects will remain positive.6 The leaves, in contrast, should only be served as a side (i.e., in small amounts) as they contain ingredients that have estrogenic effects.4
The canavanine in the raw, unsprouted seeds is only toxic in very high concentrations. However, eating seeds that haven’t been sprouted can cause lupus-like symptoms and other immunological diseases. But if you stop eating the unsprouted seeds, the symptoms can be reversed.7 Canavanine is almost completely broken down during the sprouting process.3
Thanks to their estrogenic active ingredients, alfalfa leaves help with menstrual problems and symptoms of menopause. In the case of slow recovery, anemia, bleeding, or fibroids, it can be helpful to take alfalfa leaves as a dietary or nutritional supplement.6 With arthrosis, the plant can slow down the course of the disease.5
Caution: Not recommended for patients with autoimmune diseases or rheumatoid arthrosis. Possible interactions may occur with birth control pills, estrogens, antidiabetes medications, immunosuppressants, and medications that may increase sensitivity to sunlight.7
Alfalfa has mild laxative and diuretic effects. In traditional medicine, it is traditionally used as a remedy against stomach complaints, ulcers, loss of appetite, and gas and bloating.1
Alfalfa is a deep-root plant that thrives in deep, calcareous soils with moderate nutrient and humus content. It is a high-yield fodder plant, which is why it is cultivated all over the world. In the early 2000s, seed alfalfa was the most cultivated forage legume. According to Wikipedia, global production in 2006 was 436 million tons.7 The main producer is the United States, where genetically modified varieties are now commonplace.
Alfalfa originated in the southwest part of Central Asia. Apparently, the Persians were the first people to cultivate the plant and use it as animal feed. When they invaded Greece around 490 BCE, they brought alfalfa with them. From there, it was introduced to Italy in the first century. And with the Moorish invasion, the plant then made its way to Spain, from where it spread to Mexico and South America in the sixteenth century and later to North America.8
To date, alfalfa has proven itself as a productive crop in temperate to subhumid tropical regions.2
When the plants are young, it is easy to confuse alfalfa with sweet clover. Medicago ×varia, also known as variegated alfalfa, is a hybrid of the two sister species of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and yellow alfalfa (Medicago falcata).4 These are the main types grown in Central Europe.9
The genus medick or burclover (Medicago) is divided into 14 sections, some of which are divided into several subsections, and according to Small (2011) it contains 87 species. Alfalfa is listed in the section Medicago and then in the subsection Medicago with eleven species.
The alfalfa species has other subspecies, whose common names often lead to confusion. For example, Medicago falcata is called yellow lucerne, sickle alfalfa, yellow-flowered alfalfa, yellow alfalfa, sickle medick, and yellow medick.
The Arabic name “alfalfa,” (literally, the best feed) is used in North Africa and the southern regions of Spain. The plant is a species of the genus medick or burclover (Medicago) in the subfamily Faboideae and within the legume, pea, or bean family (Fabaceae).
Alfalfa’s ability to bind nitrogen improves the performance of agricultural soils. The flowers are pollinated almost exclusively by bumble bees.
Alfalfa seeds are a source of chlorophyll, carotene, and vitamin K.