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Medicago sativa (alfalfa)

This beautiful and economically important crop plant is grown mainly for forage, but is also consumed by humans. Alfalfa also has a number of medicinal uses.
Medicago sativa in flower

Medicago sativa in flower

Species information

Scientific name: 

Medicago sativa L.

Common name: 
alfalfa, lucerne
Conservation status: 

Widespread in cultivation.

Habitat: 
Alfalfa grows best in deep well-drained soils which are neutral to slightly alkaline. It is a relatively drought-tolerant crop. However, the crop’s yield is reduced in times of water shortage. The optimum temperature range is 15-25°C.
Key Uses: 

Fodder, grazing, hay, human food, medicinal.

Known hazards: 

Raw alfalfa seeds and sprouts contain the amino acid canavanine which can have a toxic effect in primates, incl humans, and can result in lupus-like symptoms in susceptible individuals. The effects can be reversed by stopping the consumption of alfalfa.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Rosanae
Order: 
Fabales
Family: 
Leguminosae/Fabaceae - Papilionoideae
Genus: Medicago

About this species

Alfalfa, also called lucerne (Medicago sativa) is an important forage crop in many countries throughout the world. Alfalfa belongs to the plant family Leguminosae, also known as Fabaceae and, like all legumes, it has the ability to fix nitrogen from the air. As a result, alfalfa is incredibly high in protein. Beyond its use in animal feed, the seeds of alfalfa can be sprouted and eaten by humans. 

Genus: 
Medicago

main info

Courses at Kew

Kew offers a variety of specialist training courses in horticulture, conservation and plant science.

Students learn about plant taxonomy and identification

Why People Need Plants

A compelling book from Kew Publishing that explores the crucial role that plants play in the everyday lives of all of us.

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