Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a plant in the legume family that has found use as food and a medicine for hundreds of years. The word alfalfa is derived from an Arabic word meaning the “father of all foods” because even the ancients recognized its high nutritional value. Alfalfa is naturally high in vitamins A, D, E, K, along with B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. It is even high in protein.

History of Use

Alfalfa has been traditionally used as a nutritive, detoxifier, to help balance hormones, used for achy joints, skin conditions, headaches, and as a digestive aid. Alfalfa has reported mild diuretic properties and was used in conditions of the kidney, bladder, and prostate. The seeds were sometimes ground and use on the skin as a poultice for boils and wounds.


No research to date on bioavailability of alfalfa.

Research Review

Cholesterol: In three small, older, studies alfalfa and alfalfa seeds were able to moderately lower cholesterol levels. It appears that saponins may be the active component, blocking cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract.

  • A small study (n=3) investigated the use of alfalfa seeds to reduce total cholesterol following three weeks of ingestion. In a concurrent animal study, alfalfa seeds decreased total cholesterol, reduced intestinal absorption of cholesterol, and increased biliary excretion in experimental rats.[1]
  • Another study supplemented 40 grams of dried alfalfa seeds three times daily at mealtimes in fifteen patients with hyperlipoproteinemia (HLP), types IIA (n = 8), IIB (n = 3) and IV (n = 4). Following 8 weeks of treatment, the patients with type II HLP had a 17 percent maximal lowering of total cholesterol and an 18 percent lowering of LDL cholesterol.[2]
  • An animal study designed to test mechanisms of action concluding that the saponins present in alfalfa may be the active ingredient and reduce cholesterol by inhibiting absorption in the digestive tract.[3]

Estrogenic: Numerous estrogenic compounds have been discovered in alfalfa and alfalfa sprouts, including coumestrol, liquiritigenin, isoliquiritigenin, loliolide and others.[4],[5]


  • Pregnancy/Breastfeeding: There is some evidence that alfalfa has estrogenic properties and should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Vitamin K: Alfalfa is a good source of vitamin K and should be avoided by anyone on blood thinning medications.
  • Sun sensitivity: There are some reports of alfalfa increasing sun sensitivity. Wear sunblock whenever you are outside, especially if you are light-skinned.[6]
  • Lupus: There are reports of two patients with lupus whose symptoms worsened when they supplemented with alfalfa. Use alfalfa with caution if you have lupus or any autoimmune condition.[7]
  • Pancytopenia: A reduction in blood cells have been reported with use of ground alfalfa seeds. [8]


[1] Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, Stafford C. Alfalfa seeds: effects on cholesterol metabolism. Experientia. 1980 May 15;36(5):562-4. PMID: 7379953.

[2] Mölgaard J, von Schenck H, Olsson AG. Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis. 1987 May;65(1-2):173-9. PMID: 3606731.

[3] Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, Papworth L, et al. Effect of alfalfa saponins on intestinal cholesterol absorption in rats. Am J Clin Nutr. 1977 Dec;30(12):2061-7. PMID: 563169.

[4] Kurzer MS, Xu X. Dietary phytoestrogens. Annu Rev Nutr. 1997;17:353-81. PMID: 9240932.

[5] Hong YH, Wang SC, Hsu C, Lin BF, Kuo YH, Huang CJ. Phytoestrogenic compounds in alfalfa sprout (Medicago sativa) beyond coumestrol. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Jan 12;59(1):131-7. PMID: 21158449.

[6] MedLine Plus (accessed 8/15/2014)

[7] Roberts JL, Hayashi JA. Exacerbation of SLE associated with alfalfa ingestion. N Engl J Med. 1983 Jun 2;308(22):1361. PMID: 6843625.

[8] Malinow MR, Bardana EJ Jr, Goodnight SH Jr. Pancytopenia during ingestion of alfalfa seeds. Lancet. 1981 Mar 14;1(8220 Pt 1):615. PMID: 6110847.