Alfalfa is said to be the most flavorful and nutritious of all the forage crops. Originating in Iran, it was discovered by Arabs who fed it to their horses because they believed it made them fast and strong. It has been described in writings as early as 490 BC and was first brought to this country by the colonists in 1736. As a crop, it has a much higher yield potential compared to other forage crops.
Alfalfa has the ability to fix nitrogen levels, improve soil structure, and control weeds in consequent crops, and therefore is an integral component of many crop rotations. Used primarily as a hay crop, it has the highest feeding value of all commonly grown hay crops when harvested. It can be made into silage, pellets, meal, or cubes. It can also be used successfully as a past crop.
It is low in fiber and high in energy when cut prior to early bloom, and is also an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Because of this it is prized as a primary component in dairy cattle rations and important feed for horses, beef cattle, sheep, and milking goats. Out of every livestock feed, alfalfa produces the greatest amount of protein per acre.
While Alfalfa is primarily fodder for farm animals, it has a long history of health and medicinal uses by humans as well. Alfalfa leaf has been used in tea and dietary supplements to help increase appetite and vitality, reduce water retention, and as a stimulant for digestion and bowel action. It is also a folk treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Some food makers use alfalfa extract as a source of chlorophyll and carotene, both have valid health claims.
Natural compounds in Alfalfa may decrease intestinal absorption of cholesterol and reduce atherosclerotic plaque. Alfalfa is high in protein and contains vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, E, and K1, along with the minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Since its widespread use as a dietary supplement, there are no human studies of its claimed benefits. It would certainly be a good candidate for further research. As a supplement, it is available as dried leaf, tablets, capsules, extracts, health drinks, tea, and various other forms.
Its use for loss of energy due to indigestion, dyspepsia, anemia, loss of appetite, and poor assimilation began in the early 1900s with American doctors who specialized in herbal medicine. Dr. Ben A. Bradley of Hamlet, Ohio, written in 1915: I find in Alfalfa, after about seven years of clinical tests in my practice and on myself, a superlative restorative tonic. It rejuvenates the whole system by increasing the strength, vim, vigor, and vitality of the patient.