A farmer in an alfalfa field at harvest checking the crop.

Alfalfa was grown as far back as early Mesopotamian civilization. As a member of the pea family, alfalfa is a legume. This popular sprout is grown all over the world and commonly used in sandwiches, salads and wraps. With tiny green leaves, these thin white shoots have a flavor that's described as neutral or slightly sweet. When buying alfalfa sprouts at the grocery store, or growing the plant on your own, it's important to recognize signs of bad alfalfa.


Good alfalfa sprouts are moist and clean. The shoots should appear crisp; leaves should look perky and fresh. You can buy alfalfa in small, plastic containers in the produce section of a grocery store, but you can also grow alfalfa at home, harvesting within seven days. Hydroponically grown alfalfa can be grown at any time of the year, without using pesticides. Consuming alfalfa sprouts has many health benefits. Alfalfa is a cancer-fighting food that staves off osteoporosis in addition to lowering cholesterol. It also provides a boost of vitamins A, C, K and E, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and potassium.

During Growing

When growing alfalfa hydroponically at home, there are a few indicators to determine whether the plant or roots have gone bad. Hydroponic alfalfa is grown using water instead of soil. The sprouting seeds are soaked in water overnight, allowing roots to form. However, in order for alfalfa to form successfully, the container must be drained at least twice a day. When alfalfa is soaked for too long, this damages roots and causes them to go bad. Bad alfalfa roots appear broken and rotten. Diseases also cause alfalfa to go bad during growing. A common disease called crown rot can occur when alfalfa is grown in soil, and is caused by fungi. Crown rot appears in the upper portion of the plant as yellowing or wilting. Toxins from crown rot can weaken and even kill the plant. Alfalfa that's weakened by crown rot is more susceptible to winter kills.

When Purchased

It's also important to recognize signs of bad alfalfa after buying it at the grocery store. This prevents you from consuming rotten alfalfa that can make you sick. Bad alfalfa in the container shows signs of rotting that include browning or yellowing in the leaves or shoots, as well as unpleasant and foul odors. Though alfalfa is moist, bad alfalfa may have excessive water. The sprouts may also appear limp or wilted. When buying alfalfa sprouts, always buy containers that have been refrigerated, and refrigerate them immediately after purchase. Sprouts that are not refrigerated have a much greater chance of being rotten.


In addition to looking for signs of bad alfalfa, certain considerations will keep you from accidentally consuming rotten alfalfa. As a rule, alfalfa typically keeps for four to five days in the refrigerator. Always smell and examine alfalfa sprouts before using them on sandwiches or salads. Always rinse alfalfa before consuming to wash away any potential germs and bacteria.