I can only wish that we had alfalfa plants growing wild here, but we have something almost as good: vetch.
I think the variety we have is common vetch. A European plant that was grown for fodder, it was brought to the US and then "escaped", and now grows wild in many places. Vetch is a legume that reaches deep into the ground and fixes nitrogen. Farmers often plant vetch as a green manure crop, cutting it down and sometimes tilling it under after its growing season. The nitrogen improves the soil for other crops.
Vetch is a weak vine that climbs up other weeds and along fences. As well as growing in my pastures, there are several patches down the road, where the purple flowers against the green foliage are a pretty sight. Without something to climb, vetch can reach heights of about one foot, but grows much higher with a form of support, like this fence.
We have arrowleaf clover growing in a portion of the horses' pasture, on the hillside where it is too steep and rocky to brush-hog. Vetch grows among the clover stalks. Some years we've cut this jungle down with a weed-whacker and let it dry, then fed it to the goats.
The flowers are small but I think they're showy. The branches have curly tendrils that find and cling to other plants, fences, and so on.
Can you see the green seed pod? They resemble pea pods.
I've been tearing out this fence and replacing it, which meant pulling up all the vetch that has been growing on the fencing. It has passed the flower stage and is drying out now. I give armfuls of it to the goats over the fence. They like it so much that they stand at the fenceline and cry while I'm working.
The pods shrivel up and turn black as they dry. You can see that several have opened and scattered their seeds in the photo below.
I know it's considered a nuisance weed by many, but I think it's pretty. And since the horses and goats like it, and it's a good source of protein in early summer hay, I let it grow where it may. The leaves, shoots and pods are edible by humans and livestock alike, and taste rather like peas. They can be eaten raw, but most of the information I read online says that they are also good when steamed for five minutes or so, like other leafy greens.
Common vetch is grown in many areas of the country and makes a high-quality hay when grown alone or mixed with small grains. The protein content of vetch hay ranges from 12-20%. (I finally got to the point: vetch is high in protein like alfalfa!) It can also be used in grazing, although it is best used in a rotational grazing setup since it doesn't tolerate being grazed close to the ground very well.
Disclaimer: Remember, before using this or any herb or plant, please research it fully.
Other posts in this series:
How to Harvest Yarrow
DIY Herb Field Guide
My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a