Power Plants: Alfalfa

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Power Plants

ALFALFA (Medicago sativa)
When you think of legumes, peas and beans probably come to mind. You might not think of alfalfa: like peanuts, it’s a surprising addition to the legume family (Fabaceae). Also known as lucerne, alfalfa has a long history of dietary and medicinal uses. Native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, alfalfa sprouts have long been a popular forage for cattle and they’re now a popular food around the world.
In traditional Chinese medicine, alfalfa has been used to treat gastrointestinal problems and cough, while in India it has long been uses for supporting digestion and as a treatment of boils, water retention, and even arthritis. Native Americans used alfalfa to promote blood clotting and treat jaundice.
Today, some preliminary research suggests alfalfa can reduce cholesterol and artery plaque formation. Alfalfa also seems to have some ability to lower blood sugar. Obesity is an epidemic in North America, and it contributes to diabetes and heart disease. So this this humble little sprout may have the potential to help with some of the most important health issues of our time.
Like all legumes, alfalfa contains some protein. It is also packed with powerful antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, and K) as well as vitamins B1 and B6. It also contains calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.
Alfalfa herb (the dried leaf, as opposed to the more familiar sprouts) has a very mild flavour and can be mixed with different salads and soups without much change in taste. Alfalfa leaves contain saponins, compounds that block the absorption of cholesterol and prevent the formation of plaque. They also contain flavones and isoflavones, which are thought to be responsible for estrogen-like effects: although this has not been confirmed with human trials, alfalfa is sometimes used to treat menopause symptoms.
Difficulty: Easy
Hardiness: Annual: best grown indoors
Time to Plant: Can be grown indoors year-round
Time to Harvest: 5 to 7 days after sowing seeds or immediately after green tips emerge
Soil Type: No soil required
Alfalfa sprouts are fast-germinating, easy to grow and take up very little space: from sowing to serving can take as little as 5 days! That makes these instant gratifiers an excellent way to get kids into gardening. All you really need are some seeds, water, a Mason jar, a rubber band and cheesecloth. When growing alfalfa, healthy seeds are clean seeds: it’s very important to rinse your seeds twice daily. This reduces the risk of harmful bacteria growing in the jar.
Common Varieties: Purchase alfalfa seeds labeled “sprouting seeds” or “for sprouting.” These will be pathogen-free.
Measure a tablespoon of alfalfa seeds and place them in the bottom of a Mason jar (one tablespoon of seeds will yield about 1½ cups, or 350 mL, of sprouts). Cover the seeds with several centimetres of cool water. Cover the top of the Mason jar with cheesecloth, secure it with a rubber band, and let the seeds soak overnight.
In the morning, without removing the cheesecloth, drain the water and thoroughly rinse the seeds by adding fresh water and swishing it around in the jar. Now drain this water thoroughly and place the jar in indirect light at room temperature (about 20°C). Repeat this rinsing every 8 to 12 hours (once in the morning and again at night) for 3 to 5 days.
After 3 days, white shoots will emerge. Within 4 or 5 days, the jar will fill with a tangle of growing sprouts.
The most common cause of failure when growing sprouts is inadequate drainage! You may want to place the jar on a downward-sloping angle so any excess water drips through the cheesecloth and out of the jar.
This same process can be used for many types of sprouts: consider bean, radish, beet, pea, and sunflower sprouts. As a general rule, any plant with edible stems is a good option for sprouting.
As soon as green tips appear, the sprouts are full-grown. You can taste them for crispiness and flavour, and if they’re ready, drain and enjoy.
However, if your sprouts don’t smell right or taste right—for example, if they smell like rotten lettuce, or a mouldy towel left on a bedroom floor—don’t eat them! Sprouts grown in dirty water, or a jar not properly drained, can be contaminated with bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli.
Drain the jar and dry the sprouts on a clean paper towel, or use a fine-mesh salad spinner to remove the excess water. Use immediately or store in a clean bag or other sealed container in the refrigerator.
Plugged arteries? Drink a degummer tea!
Alfalfa leaf is available as a dried bulk herb, tablets, capsules and liquid extracts. But reaping its medicinal effects can be as easy as brewing your own alfalfa tea.
The active ingredient in alfalfa (saponins) can bind to cholesterol and prevent its absorption. Studies have reported reductions in total cholesterol and “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) after taking 10 g of dried alfalfa herb three times daily. This won’t alter your “good cholesterol” (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) levels. Alfalfa also has been looked at for its ability to reduce plaque buildup on the insides of artery walls.
If you’re growing your own sprouts, buy extra seeds to make this potent artery degumming tea. Add 1 tablespoon of alfalfa seed to a blender and pulverize. Tap the contents into a mug. Add boiling water and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain the tea through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Drink 2 to 3 cups daily.
Blood sugar spiking? Help it take a dip!
Studies report that alfalfa can reduce blood sugar levels. Why not use your alfalfa sprouts to make a healthy chip dip as a nutrient-dense snack to tide you over between lunch and dinner?
Enjoy this dip with black corn tortilla chips, which complement the flavour of the alfalfa and give you an extra dose of antioxidants. Portion control is key in the management of blood sugar, so allow yourself 10 chips per serving, which is equivalent to about 35 g of carbohydrates and 140 calories. Use no more than ¼ tsp of dip per chip.
1 cup                                  alfalfa sprouts
1                                           organic yellow pepper, chopped
½                                           cucumber, peeled and chopped
¼ cup                                 nutritional brewer’s yeast
1 cup                                  2% organic yogurt
1 tsp                                   organic soup mix
¼ tsp                                  paprika
Place all the ingredients except the paprika in a blender and blend until smooth. Add to a bowl and sprinkle with paprika. Garnish with a small bunch of fresh alfalfa.
Fast forward to the health food store and purchase Solgar alfalfa leaf capsules or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
Alfalfa can be heart-healthy with its ability to manage cholesterol, but if you’re also taking a blood thinning medication, the vitamin K found in alfalfa can be a contraindication.
Some evidence suggests alfalfa might stimulate the immune system, so it might not be a good idea if you have an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Alfalfa might reduce blood sugar levels, so if you have diabetes you’ll need to monitor your levels more closely when using it.
Since alfalfa may have mild estrogenic effects, women with hormone-sensitive conditions should avoid it. These include breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer, and endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
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