Alfalfa1

Drought-hardy, nitrogen-fixing perennial with edible and medicinal leaves. A great fruit tree companion, bee attractor and source of biomass.

Description

  • Botanical Name: Medicago sativa
  • Common Names: Lucerne
  • Plant Family: Fabaceae (Bean)
  • Form: Herb
  • Lifecycle: Perennial
  • Use 1. Nitrogen Fixer/mineral accumulator:  In symbiosis with soil bacteria, alfalfa is able to fix nitrogen, making it a great companion plant for trees and other plants. Its tap root can go as deep as 6 metres.
  • Use 2. Biomass: This plant produces a huge amount of biomass which can be chopped and dropped 2 -3 times a season.
  • Use 3. Culinary: Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and are high in protein, vitamins A, B, C and K, and bioactive plant compounds but should only be consumed in small quantities. Seeds can be used for sprouting.
  • Use 4. Medicinal: This plant has been used as a nutritive tonic to promote weight gain. It also has an oestogenic action and may be useful in treating some menstrual and menopausal  issues.
  • Use 5. Stock Fodder: This is in fact the most well known use of this plant!
  • Use 6. Dye Plant: The seed yields a yellow dye.
  • Growing Conditions: Tolerant of most soil types but prefers good drainage. Full sun required. Very drought hardy.
  • Height: 80cm when in flower
  • Hardiness: Hardy. Winter dormant.
  • Flowering time:  Early through to late summer
  • Pollination: Self-fertile
  • Biodiversity value: Attracts bees, butterflies, predatory wasps, ladybirds and hoverflies
  • Native to: Central Asia
  • Food Forest Fit: Herbaceous layer. Key player due to its multi-functionality. We plant at least 2 plants to every tree in our food forest.
  • Fun Fact: Alfalfa relies on bees for pollination and has a trick supposedly to ensure this – the keel of  the flower trips when bees land on it, striking them on the head and transferring pollen to them. However as bees do not seem to enjoy this process the older ones learn to avoid it and draw nectar from the side of the flower, but no pollen. Hence it is only young bees who have not learned the trick who actually cause the pollination of the plants!
  • Pot size: 9cm