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All about “Alfalfa”

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Health profile

The alfalfa is a perennial plant used for centuries to feed livestock. In human food, we usually eat its raw sprouts, very refreshing in a sandwich or salad. Although alfalfa is often seen as a symbol of health food, a portion contains relatively few vitamins and minerals. However, it contains other natural substances which are promising for health.

Active ingredients and properties

For vegetables in general

Several epidemiological studies have shown that high consumption of vegetables and fruits lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other chronic diseases , 2 . Some mechanisms of action have been proposed to explain these protective effects; the presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could play a role 2 .

For alfalfa

Antioxidants . Antioxidants are compounds that protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals . These are very reactive molecules that are implicated in the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other diseases linked to aging 3 . Little is known about the identity and potential effect of antioxidants in alfalfa. However, researchers have measured its total antioxidant activity using an index called FRAP: according to this study, the FRAP index of untreated alfalfa seeds would be 34.5 μmol / g 4. This rate of antioxidant activity is relatively high: for comparison, researchers measured the FRAP index of other foods and the highest of the vegetables studied was spinach, with an index of 26.9 5 .

Phytoestrogens . Alfalfa is one of the few foods containing coumestrol , a plant compound that plays a role similar to that of estrogen: this is why this compound is called phytoestrogen. According to data from a review of the scientific literature, coumestrol can decrease bone loss in vitro and stimulate its mineralization 6 . An epidemiological study has also shown that an average consumption of at least 1 g of germinated alfalfa per day was associated with a lower risk of cancer of the thyroid gland , a type of cancer influenced in part by hormonal factors 7. However, the overall data on coumestrol and alfalfa remain limited and sometimes contradictory, requiring more studies in humans.

Saponins . Saponins are substances naturally present in many plants and for which we begin to discover beneficial effects. A study was conducted in people with high cholesterol (too high blood cholesterol) who consumed 40 g of cooked alfalfa seeds daily for eight weeks. The results show that these seeds can lower certain parameters of blood cholesterol 8. Researchers attribute this effect to the saponins in alfalfa, which bind to cholesterol and thus decrease its absorption by the body. A review of the scientific literature also reports that saponins provide several beneficial effects such as a decrease in blood cholesterol, an antioxidant effect and a decrease in the progression of cancer cells 9 .

Other properties

Is alfalfa antioxidant? We know that alfalfa is antioxidant, but we don’t know its TAC index.
Is alfalfa acidifying? Data not available.
Does alfalfa have a high glycemic load? Data not available.

Most important nutrients

See the meaning of the nutrient source classification symbols

 Vitamin K . Alfalfa is a source of vitamin K for women only, the needs of men and women being different. Vitamin K is necessary for the synthesis (manufacture) of proteins which collaborate in the coagulation of the blood (as much in the stimulation as in the inhibition of the blood coagulation). It also plays a role in bone formation. In addition to being found in food, vitamin K is manufactured by bacteria present in the intestine, hence the rarity of deficiencies in this vitamin

What is a “portion” of alfalfa worth?
Weight / volume Alfalfa, sprouted seeds, raw, 17 g (125 ml)
Calories 5
Protein 0.7 g
Carbohydrates 0.7 g
Fat 0.1g
Dietary fiber 0.4 g

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File , 2005

Precautions

Lupus erythematosus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease whose causes are still little known. Its symptoms are varied and can include fatigue, fever, weight loss, muscle and joint pain, and skin rashes. People with lupus are advised to avoid consuming large amounts of alfalfa because it contains L-canavanine , an amino acid that may help worsen the symptoms of the disease. It is also recommended that people with lupus reduce their alcohol consumption and avoid consuming large amounts of mushrooms and tartrazine (yellow dye # 5), a food additive.

Alfalfa and foodborne illness
Consumption of raw sprouts, including alfalfa, is sometimes associated with cases of foodborne illnessfood caused by microorganisms such as Salmonella or E. Coli. To this end, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has developed recommendations regarding the agricultural and hygienic practices of companies producing and handling sprouted seeds. For the consumer, the CFIA also provides some practical advice. In particular, she suggests making sure that the germinated seeds are refrigerated at the merchant’s and upon arrival at home; use tweezers or gloves when buying germs in bulk; avoid blackened, softened, moldy germs or whose expiration date has expired; rinse the sprouts under running cold water before consuming them; and finally, always wash your hands before and after handling germinated seeds.

Alfalfa over time

Appeared in 1566 in the French language, the term ”  alfalfa  ” comes from the modern Provençal luzerna , which means ” glowworm “, from the Latin lucerna “lamp”, because the seeds of this plant are brilliant. Its Latin name, medicago , means “herb of Media”, in reference to the fact that it would have been introduced in ancient Greece by the Medes, people of a country of ancient Asia, located in the North-West of Current Iran. In France, it is also called alfalfa , a word that various languages, including English, have borrowed from Arabic and which means, according to interpretations, “father of all foods” or “the best of fodder”.

The use of the word ”  germ  ” is confusing since we do not properly consume the germ present in the latent state in the seed, but rather the young shoot that results from the process of germination. However, as the expression ”  alfalfa germs  ” has passed into popular language, we are using it in this fact sheet.

Native to Southwest Asia, alfalfa is believed to have been domesticated more than 9,000 years ago in the highlands of the Caucasus, as well as in Iran and Turkey, from where it spread throughout the whole world. It is one of the legumes richest in protein (25% and more). However, its high fiber content makes it a little digestible food for humans, while ruminants find it perfectly suitable. As a result, it has long been one of the most sought-after forages by livestock producers, who devote much of their fertile land to it wherever possible.

It is cultivated in almost all latitudes, from the equatorial regions to the edge of the Arctic Circle, but especially in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Japan, Australia, New – Zealand and Africa. In total, alfalfa occupies nearly 32 million hectares, more than a third of which is found in North America.

Traditionally, apart from fodder, alfalfa was cultivated for its melliferous (bees literally gorging themselves) and medicinal properties. In the XVII th  century, it was in a large medical in Central Europe, where it was seen as a panacea. This reputation has followed her to the United States, where there are still clinical “live feed”, which were especially popular in the first half of the XX th  century in which we serve the sick juice alfalfa and grasses. Today, alfalfa is sold as a dietary supplement in health food stores in North America, while it is little known for this use in Western Europe.

The consumption of spring shoots of various plants has existed since time immemorial, in all cultures and in all climates. Alfalfa is no exception to this tradition: its young shoots, tender and not very fibrous at this stage of their growth, have been appreciated for a long time in Asia. Eager to have this precious food available all year round, the Chinese have perfected the technique of germinating its seeds above ground, as well as those of the mung bean, an essential element of many Chinese dishes.

In the West, alfalfa sprouts did not appear on grocery stalls until around the 1960s or 1970s, in the wake of the movement back to the land and to a more natural diet.

In addition, the food and pharmaceutical industries derive many products from alfalfa, in particular chlorophyll, proteins intended for human and animal consumption and vitamins A and K. Among its other uses, its fiber is used to make paper, while oil from its seed goes into the making of paints. Finally, thanks to its power to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, it is used as green manure, especially in China and, in the West, on the farms of organic farmers.

The genus Medicago includes several species, two of which are found under the name “alfalfa”, namely Medicago sativa and Medicago falcata . By crossing, these two species gave birth to a very wide range of hybrids, capable of adapting to very varied environments, which favored the establishment of this plant all over the world.

Culinary uses

Choose well

Young shoots sold in grocery stores

The base of the shoots should be white, and the tip green. They must be firm and fresh. Avoid yellow or wilted shoots, or those partially bathed in liquid.

Self-growing sprouts

In the 1990s, cases of salmonellosis poisoning were observed in people who consumed alfalfa sprouts in the United States and Canada. Authorities have since established rules of good production practice for those who cultivate it commercially, and since February 2001 the Canadian sprout industry has not experienced a single outbreak of poisoning. which would be attributable to this type of food.

For safety reasons, it is recommended that people who wish to grow their own sprouted seeds themselves:

  • get seeds from organic farming. Organic certification bodies have strict rules for the use of manure and seed storage in order to avoid contamination by birds or rodents. Otherwise, they will be bought from a reputable producer, offering security guarantees (systematic analyzes of seed lots for their content of pathogenic microorganisms);
  • whatever the source of supply, always buy seeds intended for human consumption, never seeds intended for the culture, because in this last case, the sanitary requirements are less strict;
  • refrigerate sprouted sprouts as soon as they are ready. To avoid any risk of cross-contamination, thoroughly clean the work surface and utensils that have been in contact with other food products (especially eggs, dairy products and meat) before using them to prepare sprouts .

Happy mixtures

There are commercially available seed mixtures that make it possible to germinate, at the same time and in the same germinator, some plants with different flavors. You can also compose your own mixes, remembering that you have to choose plants that take the same number of days to germinate (four to six) and whose seeds are roughly the same size (avoid, for example, to germinate alfalfa with chickpeas).

Here are some suggestions of mixes, the proportions of which can be varied at will, depending on whether you want a more or less spicy product (radish, mustard and watercress are more spicy):

  • alfalfa, clover, radish, canola, broccoli;
  • alfalfa and red cabbage;
  • alfalfa, radish and fennel;
  • alfalfa, red cabbage and mustard or watercress;
  • alfalfa, clover, radish, lentils and mustard.

We can also germinate these seeds with dill, coriander or caraway, just to bring an aromatic touch to its salad of young shoots.

Culinary dishes

Add alfalfa sprouts:

  • at soups , at the end of cooking;
  • in salads  : they are splendid in a radish salad and amazing in a fruit salad;
  • replacing lettuce in burgers , tacos , fajitas , sandwiches (they get along surprisingly well with peanut butter);
  • in an omelet , just before folding it to finish cooking;
  • in bread preparations by adding them to water or milk;
  • stuffing in pancakes with fromage blanc and herbs; or in the spring rolls , with mint, grated carrots, tofu, minced white or black radish and, if desired, cooked chicken or small northern shrimps.

They can also be passed through a centrifuge with vegetables. Drink this juice immediately.

Conservation

A few days in the refrigerator in their original container or in a perforated plastic bag.

Organic gardening

Above ground You don’t
have to be a seasoned gardener to successfully grow alfalfa sprouts. The germinator could be a simple glass jar provided with a mosquito net retained by an elastic band. There are also semi-automatic sprinklers with integrated timer. Several models are offered on the market.

First rinse the seeds and soak them overnight (or a minimum of five hours). Rinse them again and put them in the germinator, taking care not to overload it. Count from one to four tablespoons of seeds for a pot of one liter or more. Keep the germinator at room temperature and away from the sun.

Rinse the sprouts two or three times a day for 30 to 60 seconds and make sure they are always moist. If the air is too dry, you may need to water more often.

You can start “harvesting” your germs after three days, and continue until the seventh day. Rinse them one last time before consuming them and keep the surpluses in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or container, making sure to drain them first.

Full soil
It is not for its food germs that alfalfa is grown in the open ground, but for the important role it plays in controlling erosion, as well as as green manure.

Whatever the size of your garden, you will gain by growing it in rotation with vegetable plants. It adapts to all soils, unless they are too acidic (pH 6.0 or less) and poorly drained. Sow on the fly early in the season at a rate of 85 g to 170 g of seeds per hundred square meters. To take full advantage of its nitrogen-fixing properties, it is preferable to leave it in place at least two years before burying it. Otherwise, an annual variety will be chosen.

Ecology and environment

In California, we are on the verge of marketing a genetically transformed variety of alfalfa that is resistant to glyphosate, one of the most commonly used herbicides in agriculture. This may result in a significant increase in herbicide applications (one herbicide resistant plant can withstand much more herbicide spraying than another before it is destroyed – this is called five times more) and, therefore, soil and water pollution. In addition, the introduction of this variety, and others that may follow, will have serious consequences for organic producers, who risk having their fields contaminated.

In the case of alfalfa, this risk is very high, because it is a plant that is pollinated by bees, which do not differentiate between one organically grown plant and another. Nothing will therefore prevent them from transferring pollen from a genetically modified alfalfa plant to one that is not. As organic certification programs do not allow farmers to feed their livestock with genetically modified grain or fodder, contamination of their alfalfa fields with a transgenic variety would be catastrophic for them.

Especially since it is not only bees that carry pollen (which contains the genetic makeup of the plant, including the genes that have been artificially inserted into it): wind, animals, humans and farm equipment can also take it from place to place. In addition, it is not uncommon for batches of seeds of genetically modified varieties to be introduced, accidentally or voluntarily, in places where they should not have ended up, as has been seen in Europe for maize and soy. However, once contamination has occurred, it is irreversible.

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