Glorious Greens, with Notes on Alfalfa

I once read that people who regularly ate leafy greens other than lettuce were, on average, 11 years slower to develop cognitive problems than their non-greens eating peers. This would be easy to check out in scientific literature, but I never have, for this simple reason: I prefer to believe that it’s true and don’t want to discover that it isn’t. I love greens and take it on faith that they’re a wonder-food, and what I do know for a fact is that some of the longest-lived and healthiest peoples in the world eat a lot of them. So chow down.

Most of my spring harvest comes from perennial plants. I will specifically mention scorzonera, shown above, because it is easy to start from seed, long-lived, drought resistant, the leaves are mild and acceptable to almost everyone, and the young flower stalks are another delicious food. I never see any mention of it in books about permaculture  and I will never understand that, because it is one of the most easy and useful things that I grow. In seed catalogs it is sold as a root vegetable, but to my palate the roots are pretty uninteresting and I stick to the above-ground parts.

Nettles, dock, dandelions, and others are well known perennial sources of nutritious greens in the spring. But today I want to say something about a plant that is seldom thought of as a food plant for people: alfalfa. In the picture at the top of this post, you see a huge clump of it about 18 inches across. It’s a tough drought resistant plant that is good for feeding animals,fixes nitrogen and improves soil, makes wonderful bee fodder, and grows easily from seed, so I have a lot of it around my yard. I have sometimes thrown tender tips in stirfries or put a few of them in a smoothie, but I haven’t really explored alfalfa as a human food. There are varying reports about whether it can cause any problems. My assessment after a lot of reading is that eating the seeds is a bad idea, and sprouts can be problematic, but for healthy people eating some of the greens is probably not an issue. Do your own research, and don’t trust your safety to a stranger on the Internet, ever. I don’t write about what is safe for you personally to eat, just about what I have eaten.

I wrote in a recent post about my experiments with leaf ales, and we enjoyed them so much that we regretted running out. Then it occurred to me that some of them had been made from kale, and clearly they could be made from any leafy greens that don’t have too strong a flavor (and even some that do, thanks to the magic of fermentation.) And here I am with large amounts of alfalfa, so I am experimenting with alfalfa ale. To make a 2 gallon batch I proceeded as described in the leaf ale post, using a generous gallon of loosely packed  alfalfa shoots about 6” long and 2.5 gallons of water to make the brew, and I had been given a large bag of oranges that had minor bad spots, so I used the juice from them as the acidic element. The general method was the same as in that post. It’s still in primary fermentation so I don’t have a report yet, but can say that even at the initial stage it had no strong or objectionable flavor. The orange juice wasn’t very acidic, and I had to add a tad of malic acid. I used plain table sugar as the sweetener, aiming for a finished alcohol content of 3.5-4%, meaning one pound of sugar per gallon of water. I didn’t add any flavoring to the initial cooked brew, and am going to try “dry-hopping” it in secondary fermentation with bronze fennel or a little rosemary. I’ll post results several weeks from now, but wanted to throw this idea out there to get people thinking about new ways to use spring’s abundance. If you don’t want to fool with alfalfa, what do you have a lot of in your garden? Is there some unexpected way to use it?


 

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