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Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is also commonly known as Lucerne, Purple Medick and Trefoil.
Alfalfa is a member of the pea family and is native to western Asia and
the eastern Mediterranean region, where it was probably domesticated
during the Bronze Age to feed horses being brought from Central Asia. It
came to Greece around 490 B.C. being used as a horse feed for Persian
First discovered by the Arabs, they dubbed this valuable plant the "father of all foods". They fed alfalfa to their horses claiming it made the animals swift and strong. It is widely grown throughout the world as forage for cattle, and is most often harvested as hay.
Alfalfa has been used by the Chinese since the sixth century to treat kidney stones, and to relieve fluid retention and swelling. It is a perennial herb that grows throughout the world in a variety of climates.
Alfalfa is a cool season perennial flowering plant which grows to about 3 feet and has blue- violet flowers that bloom from July to September. Alfalfa lives from five to twelve years, depending on variety and climate. It resembles clover with clusters of small purple flowers. It also has a deep root system sometimes stretching to 4.5 metres. This makes it very resilient, especially to droughts.
Its wide cultivation beginning in the seventeenth century was an
important advance in European agriculture. In the United States, the
leading Alfalfa growing states are Wisconsin and California. Alfalfa,
called the "Queen of the Forages," is the fourth most widely
grown crop in the US behind corn, wheat and soybeans and double the cotton
Alfalfa can be sown spring or fall, and does best on well-drained soils with a neutral pH of 6.8-7.5. The soil which is low in fertility should be fertilized with fertilizer as Alfalfa requires a great deal of potash. In most climates, alfalfa is cut three or four times a year.
It is cultivated as an important and highest yielded forage crop because of its symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and thus greatly improve agricultural efficiency , producing a high-protein feed regardless of available nitrogen in the soil.
Alfalfa is one of the few plants that exhibit autotoxicity i.e. they will kill their own seeds. Alfalfa seed will not grow in existing stands of alfalfa because of this. Therefore, alfalfa fields must be cleared or rotated before reseeding.
The parts of the plant used is as whole herb and leaf. Alfalfa sprouts
are used as a salad ingredient in the United States and Australia. Tender
shoots are eaten in some places as a leaf vegetable. Alfalfa has the
potential to be the most prolific of all leaf vegetable crops, processed
by drying and grinding into powder, or by pulping to extract leaf
Alfalfa has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops, being used less frequently as pasture.
The leaves of the alfalfa plant are rich in minerals and nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and carotene. It contains vitamins A, D, E, K, U, C, B1, B2, B6, B12, Niacin, Panthothanic acid, Inocitole, Biotin, and Folic acid. The leaves also contain flavones, isoflavones, sterols, and coumarin derivatives. The leaves contain approximately 2-3% saponins.