Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alfalfa - Medicago sativa (Medicinal Herbs)

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), also known as Lucerne, Purple Medic and Trefoil (from Spanish Alfalfa, ultimately Arabic: البرسيم الحجازي; al-fasfasa), is a perennial flowering plant cultivated as an important forage crop. In the UK, where it is not all that widely grown, it tends to be known as lucerne.

Alfalfa is one of the most important legumes used in agriculture. The US is the largest alfalfa producer in the world, but considerable acreage is found in Argentina (primarily grazed), Australia, South Africa, and the Middle East. Alfalfa has a wide range of adaptation and can be grown from very cold northern plains to high mountain valleys, from rich temperate agricultural regions to Mediterranean climates and searing hot deserts.

Alfalfa lives from three to twelve years, depending on variety and climate. It is a cool season perennial legume, sometimes growing to a height of 1 meter. It resembles clover with clusters of small purple flowers. It also has a deep root system sometimes stretching to 4.5 metres. This makes it very resilient, especially to droughts. It has a tetraploid genome.

Alfalfa is native to Iran and neighboring regions, where it was probably domesticated during the Bronze Age to feed horses being brought from Central Asia. It came to Greece around 490 B.C. being used as a horse feed for Persian army. It was introduced from Chile to the United States around 1860. It is widely grown throughout the world as forage for cattle, and is most often harvested as hay, but can be made into silage, grazed, or fed as greenchop. Alfalfa has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops, being used less frequently as pasture. Like other legumes, its root nodules contain bacteria, Sinorhizobium meliloti, with the ability to fix nitrogen, producing a high-protein feed regardless of available nitrogen in the soil.

Its wide cultivation beginning in the seventeenth century was an important advance in European agriculture. Its symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and use as animal feed greatly improved agricultural efficiency. When grown on soils where it is well-adapted, alfalfa is the highest yielding forage plant.

Alfalfa is a plant that exhibits autotoxicity, which means that it is difficult for alfalfa seed to grow in existing stands of alfalfa. Therefore, it is recommended that alfalfa fields be rotated with other species (e.g. corn, wheat) before reseeding.

Its primary use is for dairy production, followed by beef, horses, sheep, and goats, but it is sometimes used for human consumption. Alfalfa sprouts are used as a salad ingredient in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Tender shoots are eaten in some places as a leaf vegetable. Human consumption of older plant parts is limited primarily by very high fiber content. Dehydrated alfalfa leaf is commercially available as a dietary supplement in several forms, such as tablets, powders and tea. Alfalfa is believed to be a galactagogue.

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfalfa

Technorati Tags: Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, Medicinal Herbs

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