Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), also known as Lucerne, Purple Medic and Trefoil is a perennial flowering plant cultivated as an important forage crop.
Alfalfa is one of the most important legumes used in agriculture. The US is the largest alfalfa producer in the world, but alfalfa is important in Europe, Australia, South America, South Africa, China and the Middle East. Hay, led by alfalfa hay is the third most important crop in the United States in value, surpassed only by corn and soybeans. It is particularly important to the dairy industry. The leading Alfalfa growing states are California, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The upper Midwestern states account for about 50% of US production, the North eastern states 10%, and western states 40% of US production, the latter mostly under irrigation. Alfalfa is not very important in the Southeastern states. However, alfalfa has a wide range of adaptation and can be grown from very cold northern plains to high mountain valleys, from rich temperate agricultural regions to Mediterranean climates and searing hot deserts.
Alfalfa lives from three to twelve years, depending on variety and climate. It is a cool season perennial legume, growing to a height of 1 meter. 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. It has a tetraploid genome.
Its primary use is for dairy production, followed by beef, sheep, horses and goats, but it is sometimes used for human consumption. 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. Human consumption of older plant parts is limited primarily by very high fiber content. Dehydrated alfalfa leaf is commercially available as a dietary supplement in several forms, such as tablets, powders and tea. Alfalfa is believed to be a galactagogue.
uses: helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and plaque; may help reduce cancer causing substances in the intestines; useful for people with allergies.