What is it?
Alfalfa is most commonly grown as food for livestock animals. In humans, it's often eaten as a garnish, and seems to prevent cholesterol absorption in the stomach.
People use alfalfa for high cholesterol, diabetes, indigestion, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
How effective is it?
There is interest in using alfalfa for a number of purposes, but there isn't enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.
Is it safe?
Special precautions & warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Using alfalfa in amounts larger than what is commonly found in food is possibly unsafe during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Alfalfa might act like estrogen in the body.
"Auto-immune diseases" such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Alfalfa might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have an auto-immune condition, avoid using alfalfa until more is known.
Hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Alfalfa might have some of the same effects as estrogen. If you have any condition that is sensitive to estrogen, don't use alfalfa.
Are there interactions with medications?
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Alfalfa contains large amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is used by the body to help blood clot. By helping the blood clot, alfalfa might decrease the effects of warfarin. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin might need to be changed.
- Birth control pills (Contraceptive drugs)
- Large amounts of alfalfa might have some of the same effects as estrogen. Taking alfalfa along with birth control pills might decrease the effects of birth control pills. If you take birth control pills along with alfalfa, use an additional form of birth control such as a condom.
- Large amounts of alfalfa might have some of the same effects as estrogen. Taking alfalfa along with estrogen might change the effects of estrogen.
- Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
- Alfalfa might lower blood sugar levels. Taking alfalfa along with diabetes medications might cause blood sugar to drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely.
- Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
- Alfalfa can increase the activity of the immune system. Some medications, such as those used after a transplant, decrease the activity of the immune system. Taking alfalfa along with these medications might decrease the effects of these medications.
- Medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight (Photosensitizing drugs)
- Some medications might make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Alfalfa might also make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Using these products together might increase the risk of sunburn, blistering, or rashes when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Be sure to wear sunblock and protective clothing when spending time in the sun.
Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?
- Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
- Alfalfa might lower blood sugar. Taking it with other supplements with similar effects might lower blood sugar too much. Examples of supplements with this effect include aloe, bitter melon, cassia cinnamon, chromium, and prickly pear cactus.
- Herbs that might increase sensitivity to sunlight
- Alfalfa might make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Using it with other products that also make the skin more sensitive to the sun might increase the risk for sunburn and other side effects. Examples of supplements with this effect include bishop's weed, chlorophyll, khella, and St. John's wort.
- Taking alfalfa might reduce the amount of iron absorbed by the body.
- Vitamin E
- Taking alfalfa might reduce the amount of vitamin E absorbed by the body.
Are there interactions with foods?
- There are no known interactions with foods.
How is it typically used?
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.
- Puschner B, Chen X, Read D, Affolter VK. Alfalfa hay induced primary photosensitization in horses. Vet J. 2016 May;211:32-8. View abstract.
- Mac Lean JA. Unsaponifiable substance from alfalfa for pharmaceutical and cosmetic use. Pharmaceuticals 1974;81:339.
- Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, Naito HK, and et al. Regression of atherosclerosis during cholesterol feeding in
- Ponka A, Andersson Y, Siitonen A, and et al. Salmonella in alfalfa sprouts. Lancet 1995;345:462-463.
- Kaufman W. Alfalfa seed dermatitis. JAMA 1954;155:1058-1059.
- Rubenstein AH, Levin NW, and Elliott GA. Manganese-induced hypoglycemia. Lancet 1962;1348-1351.
- Van Beneden, C. A., Keene, W. E., Strang, R. A., Werker, D. H., King, A. S., Mahon, B., Hedberg, K., Bell, A., Kelly, M. T., Balan, V. K., Mac Kenzie, W. R., and Fleming, D. Multinational outbreak of Salmonella enterica serotype Newport infections due to contaminated alfalfa sprouts. JAMA 1-13-1999;281:158-162. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R., McLaughlin, P., Naito, H. K., Lewis, L. A., and McNulty, W. P. Effect of alfalfa meal on shrinkage (regression) of atherosclerotic plaques during cholesterol feeding in monkeys. Atherosclerosis 1978;30:27-43. View abstract.
- Gray, A. M. and Flatt, P. R. Pancreatic and extra-pancreatic effects of the traditional anti- diabetic plant, Medicago sativa (lucerne). Br J Nutr. 1997;78:325-334. View abstract.
- Mahon, B. E., Ponka, A., Hall, W. N., Komatsu, K., Dietrich, S. E., Siitonen, A., Cage, G., Hayes, P. S., Lambert-Fair, M. A., Bean, N. H., Griffin, P. M., and Slutsker, L. An international outbreak of Salmonella infections caused by alfalfa sprouts grown from contaminated seeds. J Infect.Dis 1997;175:876-882. View abstract.
- Jurzysta, M. and Waller, G. R. Antifungal and hemolytic activity of aerial parts of alfalfa (Medicago) species in relation to saponin composition. Adv.Exp Med Biol 1996;404:565-574. View abstract.
- Herbert, V. and Kasdan, T. S. Alfalfa, vitamin E, and autoimmune disorders. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;60:639-640. View abstract.
- Farnsworth, N. R. Alfalfa pills and autoimmune diseases. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;62:1026-1028. View abstract.
- Srinivasan, S. R., Patton, D., Radhakrishnamurthy, B., Foster, T. A., Malinow, M. R., McLaughlin, P., and Berenson, G. S. Lipid changes in atherosclerotic aortas of Macaca fascicularis after various regression regimens. Atherosclerosis 1980;37:591-601. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R., Connor, W. E., McLaughlin, P., Stafford, C., Lin, D. S., Livingston, A. L., Kohler, G. O., and McNulty, W. P. Cholesterol and bile acid balance in Macaca fascicularis. Effects of alfalfa saponins. J Clin Invest 1981;67:156-162. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R., McLaughlin, P., and Stafford, C. Alfalfa seeds: effects on cholesterol metabolism. Experientia 5-15-1980;36:562-564. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R., Bardana, E. J., Jr., Pirofsky, B., Craig, S., and McLaughlin, P. Systemic lupus erythematosus-like syndrome in monkeys fed alfalfa sprouts: role of a nonprotein amino acid. Science 4-23-1982;216:415-417. View abstract.
- Elakovich, S. D. and Hampton, J. M. Analysis of coumestrol, a phytoestrogen, in alfalfa tablets sold for human consumption. J Agric.Food Chem. 1984;32:173-175. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R. Experimental models of atherosclerosis regression. Atherosclerosis 1983;48:105-118. View abstract.
- Cookson, F. B. and Fedoroff, S. Quantitative relationships between administered cholesterol and alfalfa required to prevent hypercholesterolaemia in rabbits. Br J Exp.Pathol. 1968;49:348-355. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R., McLaughlin, P., Papworth, L., Stafford, C., Kohler, G. O., Livingston, A. L., and Cheeke, P. R. Effect of alfalfa saponins on intestinal cholesterol absorption in rats. Am J Clin Nutr. 1977;30:2061-2067. View abstract.
- Barichello, A. W. and Fedoroff, S. Effect of ileal bypass and alfalfa on hypercholesterolaemia. Br J Exp.Pathol. 1971;52:81-87. View abstract.
- Shemesh, M., Lindner, H. R., and Ayalon, N. Affinity of rabbit uterine oestradiol receptor for phyto-oestrogens and its use in a competitive protein-binding radioassay for plasma coumestrol. J Reprod.Fertil. 1972;29:1-9. View abstract.
- Malinow, M. R., McLaughlin, P., Kohler, G. O., and Livingston, A. L. Prevention of elevated cholesterolemia in monkeys. Steroids 1977;29:105-110. View abstract.
- Esper, E., Barichello, A. W., Chan, E. K., Matts, J. P., and Buchwald, H. Synergistic lipid-lowering effects of alfalfa meal as an adjuvant to the partial ileal bypass operation. Surgery 1987;102:39-51. View abstract.
- Polacheck, I., Zehavi, U., Naim, M., Levy, M., and Evron, R. The susceptibility of Cryptococcus neoformans to an antimycotic agent (G2) from alfalfa. Zentralbl.Bakteriol.Mikrobiol.Hyg.[A] 1986;261:481-486. View abstract.
- Rosenthal, G. A. The biological effects and mode of action of L-canavanine, a structural analogue of L-arginine. Q.Rev.Biol 1977;52:155-178. View abstract.
- Morimoto, I. A study on immunological effects of L-canavanine. Kobe J Med Sci. 1989;35(5-6):287-298. View abstract.
- Morimoto, I., Shiozawa, S., Tanaka, Y., and Fujita, T. L-canavanine acts on suppressor-inducer T cells to regulate antibody synthesis: lymphocytes of systemic lupus erythematosus patients are specifically unresponsive to L-canavanine. Clin Immunol.Immunopathol. 1990;55:97-108. View abstract.
- Polacheck, I., Levy, M., Guizie, M., Zehavi, U., Naim, M., and Evron, R. Mode of action of the antimycotic agent G2 isolated from alfalfa roots. Zentralbl.Bakteriol. 1991;275:504-512. View abstract.
- Burden and causes of foodborne disease in Australia: Annual report of the OzFoodNet network, 2005. Commun.Dis Intell. 2006;30:278-300. View abstract.
- Akaogi, J., Barker, T., Kuroda, Y., Nacionales, D. C., Yamasaki, Y., Stevens, B. R., Reeves, W. H., and Satoh, M. Role of non-protein amino acid L-canavanine in autoimmunity. Autoimmun.Rev 2006;5:429-435. View abstract.
- Strapp, C. M., Shearer, A. E., and Joerger, R. D. Survey of retail alfalfa sprouts and mushrooms for the presence of Escherichia coil O157:H7, Salmonella, and Listeria with BAX, and evaluation of this polymerase chain reaction-based system with experimentally contaminated samples. J.Food Prot. 2003;66:182-187. View abstract.
- Winthrop, K. L., Palumbo, M. S., Farrar, J. A., Mohle-Boetani, J. C., Abbott, S., Beatty, M. E., Inami, G., and Werner, S. B. Alfalfa sprouts and Salmonella Kottbus infection: a multistate outbreak following inadequate seed disinfection with heat and chlorine. J.Food Prot. 2003;66:13-17. View abstract.
- Howard, M. B. and Hutcheson, S. W. Growth dynamics of Salmonella enterica strains on alfalfa sprouts and in waste seed irrigation water. Appl.Environ.Microbiol. 2003;69:548-553. View abstract.
- Yanaura, S. and Sakamoto, M. [Effect of alfalfa meal on experimental hyperlipidemia]. Nippon Yakurigaku Zasshi 1975;71:387-393. View abstract.
- Mohle-Boetani J, Werner B, Polumbo M, and et al. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alfalfa sprouts-- Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico, February-April, 2001. JAMA 2-6-2002;287:581-582. View abstract.
- Stochmal, A., Piacente, S., Pizza, C., De Riccardis, F., Leitz, R., and Oleszek, W. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) flavonoids. 1. Apigenin and luteolin glycosides from aerial parts. J Agric.Food Chem. 2001;49:753-758. View abstract.
- Backer, H. D., Mohle-Boetani, J. C., Werner, S. B., Abbott, S. L., Farrar, J., and Vugia, D. J. High incidence of extra-intestinal infections in a Salmonella Havana outbreak associated with alfalfa sprouts. Public Health Rep. 2000;115:339-345. View abstract.
- Taormina, P. J., Beuchat, L. R., and Slutsker, L. Infections associated with eating seed sprouts: an international concern. Emerg.Infect.Dis 1999;5:626-634. View abstract.
- Feingold, R. M. Should we fear "health foods"? Arch Intern Med 7-12-1999;159:1502. View abstract.
- Mackler BP, Herbert V. The effect of raw wheat bran, alfalfa meal and alpha-cellulose on iron ascorbate chelate and ferric chloride in three binding solutions. Am J Clin Nutr. 1985 Oct;42:618-28. View abstract.
- Swanston-Flatt SK, Day C, Bailey CJ, Flatt PR. Traditional plant treatments for diabetes. Studies in normal and streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetologia 1990;33:462-4. View abstract.
- Timbekova AE, Isaev MI, Abubakirov NK. Chemistry and biological activity of triterpenoid glycosides from Medicago sativa. Adv Exp Med Biol 1996;405:171-82. View abstract.
- Zehavi U, Polacheck I. Saponins as antimycotic agents: glycosides of medicagenic acid. Adv Exp Med Biol 1996;404:535-46. View abstract.
- Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, et al. Comparative effects of alfalfa saponins and alfalfa fiber on cholesterol absorption in rats. Am J Clin Nutr 1979;32:1810-2. View abstract.
- Story JA, LePage SL, Petro MS, et al. Interactions of alfalfa plant and sprout saponins with cholesterol in vitro and in cholesterol-fed rats. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:917-29. View abstract.
- Bardana EJ Jr, Malinow MR, Houghton DC, et al. Diet-induced systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in primates. Am J Kidney Dis 1982;1:345-52. View abstract.
- Roberts JL, Hayashi JA. Exacerbation of SLE associated with alfalfa ingestion. N Engl J Med 1983;308:1361. View abstract.
- Alcocer-Varela J, Iglesias A, Llorente L, Alarcon-Segovia D. Effects of L-canavanine on T cells may explain the induction of systemic lupus erythematosus by alfalfa. Arthritis Rheum 1985;28:52-7. View abstract.
- Prete PE. The mechanism of action of L-canavanine in inducing autoimmune phenomena. Arthritis Rheum 1985;28:1198-200. View abstract.
- Montanaro A, Bardana EJ Jr. Dietary amino acid-induced systemic lupus erythematosus. Rheum Dis Clin North Am 1991;17:323-32. View abstract.
- Light TD, Light JA. Acute renal transplant rejection possibly related to herbal medications. Am J Transplant 2003;3:1608-9. View abstract.
- Molgaard 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;65:173-9. View abstract.
- Farber JM, Carter AO, Varughese PV, et al. Listeriosis traced to the consumption of alfalfa tablets and soft cheese [Letter to the Editor]. N Engl J Med 1990;322:338. View abstract.
- Kurzer MS, Xu X. Dietary phytoestrogens. Annu Rev Nutr 1997;17:353-81. View abstract.
- Brown R. Potential interactions of herbal medicines with antipsychotics, antidepressants and hypnotics. Eur J Herbal Med 1997;3:25-8.
- Malinow MR, Bardana EJ Jr, Goodnight SH Jr. Pancytopenia during ingestion of alfalfa seeds. Lancet 1981;14:615. View abstract.
- McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, LLC 1997.
- Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
- The Review of Natural Products by Facts and Comparisons. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Co., 1999.
- Newall CA, Anderson LA, Philpson JD. Herbal Medicine: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London, UK: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.