Back in September, I went to this amazing little event called The Great American Seed Up. A large room in a local church was filled with popcorn buckets and people. After paying a small fee to enter, you could peruse buckets and buckets of seeds, paying by the scoopful. While the seeds weren’t designated “organic,” they followed organic growing practices and were open pollinated. This is when I discovered an area labeled “cover crops” and, more specifically, alfalfa. I’ve been gardening for about 10 years and was ready to try something other than adding organic fertilizer to my soil. Cover crops sounded like the perfect solution. These are plants that typically fix nitrogen in the soil or loosen up soil with their strong roots. What could be better?
Alfalfa like…alfalfa sprouts?
Yes, THAT alfalfa. While I’ve had it in sandwiches, I really didn’t know anything about it. Is it a bean, a green? Doesn’t it just taste like water? It can’t possibly have any nutritional benefits, right? With space in my garden at a premium, it would be great if I could grow a cover crop AND be able to eat it, too. The more research I did on alfalfa, the better it got.
- Easy to grow
- Tolerates drought conditions (I live in the desert)
- Deep roots break up tough soil
- It’s a legume (like beans) so it helps fix nitrogen in the soil and attract beneficial microbes (desert soil is notoriously devoid of organic matter)
Excited as I get about little things like seeds, I was on board. I sprinkled a handful of seeds into a section of garden I was allowing to “rest” and raked them in. I watered daily until the sprouts appeared very quickly.
Do I eat them now?
Most of us know alfalfa because we’ve eaten alfalfa sprouts on a sandwich or a salad. Maybe you’ve had a window garden and grew them to add on top of your lunch. But I wondered…what about the PLANT? All of the research I could find about alfalfa talked about it either as a cover crop, a livestock feed or as a nutritional supplement. As far as human consumption went, it seemed that alfalfa was either eaten as sprouts right away or the leaves were processed, dried and put into capsules.
If you can get past all of the Pinterest-friendly infographics, this page has a great summary on the benefits of alfalfa. I found that alfalfa contains phytoestrogens, which is why many women take it as a supplement during menopause when estrogen levels decrease. It is also full of beneficial nutrients derived from roots that can go 20 to 30 ft deep.
The phytonutrients in the plant include phytoestrogens, saponins, flavonoids, alkaloids, coumarins, phytosterols, amino acids, vitamins, terpenes and digestive enzymes.Yuri Elkaim
I’m not a nutritionist or an herbalist or a doctor but from what I can see, this all looks pretty good so far. My question was: why don’t we eat the plant? Here, I was growing this nice, healthy batch of alfalfa in my garden and couldn’t find any reason why I shouldn’t eat it. All I could find was that people DON’T eat it.
So…I started eating it
It’s right there, looking beautiful, healthy and green. As I would go outside to pick veggies for my lunch, I started picking alfalfa, too. (I also started occasionally grabbing handfuls of the soil it was growing in to sniff. I could tell by the smell that it is full of good biological activity. You know that good soil smell that you just inhale deeply? Just me? I once read it can be an anti depressant.)
I picked the clover-like leaves and added it to my soup or a salad. I’d go for a run later in the day and notice I had a little bit more energy or that my body just felt easier. I started to notice that after eating a little alfalfa, I felt a little less stressed out…things didn’t seem to bother me as much. Was this all just in my head? I kept searching online to see if maybe I just missed an article that discussed how this inexpensive, easy-to-grow, highly nutritious and potentially highly beneficial plant wasn’t the newest health trend.
I found nothing.
Now, I’m in the midst of my first-ever diet experiment. Each day I eat about 1/4 cup of alfalfa leaves and have been tracking numerous factors such as:
- stress level
- sleep previous night
- daily doings
- fluid intake
- pain levels
So far, things are looking good. Despite an incredibly stressful end-of-year period with simultaneous projects for six clients, laying down some serious discipline on my almost-5-year-old, and holiday craziness I feel pretty balanced. I even convinced a fellow garden-lover friend of mine to give it a try and report back.
I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about this new (yet ancient) discovery. I’m taking on the attitude of: if it’s good enough for cow, why not me? Another upside is how luscious alfalfa seems to make my garden soil. I already have plans of rotating out sections of my garden with it once it’s time to move to spring and summer plantings. I can’t wait to see how it does in our unforgiving Phoenix heat.