Alfalfa sprouts (Medicago sativa)

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Introduction to Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa is a legume belonging to the pea family (Papilioaceae), species Medicago sativa, and the mostly commonly grown crop in the world. Due to the high quantities of protein found in it, it is employed as food for all types of farm animals. Stems, leaves and sprouts from the seeds are all used for human consumption.

Alfalfa has many other qualities that make it a highly valuable plant besides its nutritional content. Its nitrogen-fixing abilities make it great for crop rotation to revitalize soil for other crops. Planted in partnership with grasses, it prevents soil erosion. Dried alfalfa is pulverized into meal and added to poultry and livestock feed. It is an indirect source of honey as bees collect large amounts of nectar from its flowers. It is also deemed to be an insectary, a place where insects are nurtured. Since it shelters predatory and parasitic pests it offers protection to crops planted near it. The quick harvesting plant thrives throughout the year, regardless of the temperature or climate, all over the world.

Alfalfa sprouts (also commonly called alfalfa grass) are immature shoots derived from alfalfa seeds. They are usually consumed within four to seven days after germinating. They are thin thread-like, white structures with petite green tops. The germination process for human consumption requires just water, a jar and some seeds. Just one tablespoon of seeds produces almost three cups of sprouts. Being small in size, the crunchy sprouts are jam-packed with nutrients and have only eight calories with no fat in each cup.

History of Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa has been cultivated as a forage plant since antiquity and is a native of Asia Minor and Caucasus Mountains. It was grown by the Greeks, Persians and the Romans. Lucerne, Lucerne grass, Chilean clover and buffalo grass are some of it other common names.

It is believed that the name alfalfa originated in medieval times from the Iranian language. It was known as “aspastor” or “ispist” before being altered to “al-fac-facah” in Arabic. The Arabic name translates into “father of all foods”, a reference to its high nutritional value. The final change in the name after the plant was introduced to Spain. The Spanish, being horsemen valued the plant highly and considered it to be the best horse feed. They started by calling it “alfalfez” and finally it became alfalfa. The Spanish colonizers introduced alfalfa to the Americas and the name has remained unchanged ever since.

Health Benefits of Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa has been utilized as a herbal medicine for more than fifteen hundred years. Chinese physicians used the baby alfalfa leaves as treatment for digestive tract disorders and kidneys. Ayurvedic medicine recommends alfalfa for the treatment of bad digestion. A cooling poultice was also produced from its seeds to treat boils.

Alfalfa sprouts are one of the most potent sources of phytoestrogens. These valuable substances from plant foods can help in cutting down the risk of heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. They may even be advantageous in decreasing symptoms of menopause. Dr. Michael T Murray author of The Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Foods also states that alfalfa sprouts have substances called saponins, which play a role in lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL (good cholesterol) and may enhance immunity. Saponins are also believed to enhance the immune system by augmenting the activity of T-lymphocytes and interferons, body’s natural killing machines of harmful invaders. The anti-inflammatory features of saponins aid in lowering the inflammatory progression of arthritis and chronic inflammatory ailments.

Alfalfa sprouts are a potent source of dietary protein, which raw-food advocates turn to when seeking to replace traditional protein sources. The three grams of protein in each serving make alfalfa the most consistent raw source of this essential macronutrient. One serving also provides one gram of fibre, which is equivalent to 3% of an adult’s daily requirement. People suffering from digestive problems like chronic constipation or diverticular disease can benefit greatly by including alfalfa sprouts in the daily diet. The high quantity of protein and fibre combined with no saturated fat, cholesterol or sugar and only eight calories in a 33-gram serving, make alfalfa sprouts the perfect diet food.

Other than aiding in lowering the bad cholesterol, alfalfa sprouts can help in averting and treating atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in arteries of the heart) leading to hardening of the arteries. This is a serious disease which can lead to fatal problems, so before embarking on an alfalfa supplemented diet, discuss with your doctor the best course of action. It is also believed that alfalfa sprouts can be used as a complementary treatment for type-2 diabetes as it has no sugar. The canavanine, an amino acid analogue found in alfalfa sprouts is recognized to be helpful in combating leukemia, fibrocystic breast tumors, colon and pancreatic cancers.

Nutritional Value of Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts generally tend to be very rich in nutrients since they house most of the energy the plant needs to grow and develop. They have elevated quantities of vitamins A, B, C, E and K. Sprouts are among nature’s most concentrated suppliers of vitamin K. Vitamin K is critical for optimal platelet function and it helps to inhibit excessive bleeding (check with your doctor if you are taking anticoagulants as vitamin K may hinder the drug’s efficiency).

Alfalfa sprouts also contain free amino acids, organic acids, non-protein amino acids like canavinine, strachydrine, isoflavonoids, coumarins, saponins, in addition to steroids like b-sitosterol, stigamsterol, campeterol etc. Minerals like potassium for healthy muscles, calcium to build bones and magnesium along with chlorophyll and carotene are all part of the health benefiting nutritional make-up of alfalfa sprouts.

How to Use Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts can be used in a number of ways. They can be incorporated into soups, sandwiches or salads. Sprouts may be consumed raw or blended into smoothies. Juice of sprouts is mild flavoured so it can easily be combined with other favourite juices to make a healthy, refreshing drink. A few quick ways of getting full benefit of alfalfa sprouts includes:

  • Divide pita bread in half and separate into two parts. Chop up one tomato, ½ a cup of alfalfa sprouts and ½ a cup of lettuce, and mix all ingredients in a bowl. Season with your favourite salad dressing and stuff into the bread, for a hardy nutritious snack.
  • Mix alfalfa sprouts with scrambled eggs immediately before serving.
  • Toast alfalfa sprouts by spreading them on a cookie sheet and placing them in an oven for 1-2 minutes. This will give the sprouts a crispy texture while eliminating any bacteria that may be there. Sprouts prepared may be added to salads, wraps or sandwiches.

Growing your own sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts are easy to grow with a small quantity of seeds producing a lot of sprouts, approximately in a ratio of 1 to 7.

  • Add one tablespoon of seeds into a large jar.
  • Add enough water so it is approximately one inch above the seeds.
  • Cover the jar with a cheese cloth and secure using a rubber band.
  • Allow the seeds to soak overnight, draining the water in the morning.
  • Rinse the seeds twice a day for the next 4 – 5 days, while keeping the jar away from direct sunlight.

Clinical Trials with Alfalfa Sprouts

Some preliminary studies indicate that alfalfa sprouts may be beneficial in helping to normalize serum cholesterol levels in patients suffering from type II hyperlipoproteinemia.  Preparations of alfalfa extracts neutralize the cholesterol while it is still in the stomach and before it reaches the liver, in this way excreting it from the body without any harmful effects.

Numerous trials have been carried out in laboratories which indicate that the plant estrogens in alfalfa might be helpful for menopausal women.

In rats fed a disease-causing fungus, Alfalfa in the diet helped the rats to remove more of the fungus from their bodies. It is theorized that this happens because one of the saponins from alfalfa damages cell membranes of the fungi.

Why not check out our fabulous Berry Sprouted Smoothie, starring the Alfalfa sprout.

About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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