Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for musculoskeletal health. It supports the absorption of calcium which is necessary for strong bones.
The body can only produce this vitamin when exposed to sunshine, so it’s necessary for people who live in the Northern Hemisphere to supplement with vitamin D or to consume herbs high in vitamin D.
Although many foods are fortified with vitamin D, very few plants naturally produce this nutrient. So which plants and herbs contain the elusive vitamin D?
In this article, we’ll go over a list of herbs with vitamin D, as well as the health benefits of vitamin D.
Table of Contents
Vitamin D Overview:
Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is vital for calcium absorption, bone health, and immune system support.
This nutrient comes in two different forms, vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. It should be noted that both sources are biologically interchangeable.
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) comes from plant sources and is poorly absorbed.
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) originates from animal sources (fish and animal byproducts) and is also made by the body when exposed to the sun.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means it dissolves in fat and oils.
It’s important to get adequate levels of vitamin D for the body to function at peak capacity. Since this nutrient is not highly accessible through herbs and plants, being aware of which herbs contain vitamin D will make it easier to reach the body’s daily requirements.
1. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa, popularly known as buffalo grass, is a hardy legume found in temperate and tropical areas of North America, North Africa, and Europe. It’s considered a highly nutritive plant with large amounts of protein and numerous vitamins, like K, A, B, and C.
Alfalfais one of the few herbs with vitamin D found in nature. It’s estimated to contain anywhere from 0 – 95 micrograms/gram, with many studies averaging somewhere in the middle at 48 micrograms/gram of vitamin D.
This herb is one of the oldest and most commonly grown crops in the world and is frequently used for livestock consumption.
Alfalfa gets its vitamin D content from sun exposure, averaging around .63 micrograms of D3 and 48 micrograms of D2 per gram. An adult would need to eat around 15 grams of alfalfa to receive their daily requirement of vitamin D3.
Capsules, tinctures, and infusions are the most accessible forms of alfalfa available. Adding alfalfa to your diet is a great way to get your daily dose of nutrients and vitamin D support.
Summary:Alfalfa is one of the few plants that is rich in vitamin D.
2. Wild Mushrooms
Mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for millennia. While you may not think of mushrooms when you hear vitamin D, wild mushrooms are known to absorb vitamin D from the sun.
Wild mushrooms, like oyster, button, chanterelle, and shiitake mushrooms, are rich in vitamin D2 and ergosterol, a precursor compound to the synthesis of vitamin D. Research has shown that wild mushrooms retain around 60% – 88% of their vitamin D content after cooking.
The vitamin D concentration in dried wild mushrooms ranges from 34.6 micrograms/gram to 119 micrograms/gram.
Wild mushrooms can be baked, pan-fried, or boiled, but pan-frying them without oil allows for the highest vitamin D retention.
Summary:Wild mushrooms are a good natural source of vitamin D.
Microalgae is another herb high in vitamin D. This herb contains vitamin D2, vitamin D3, and ergosterol.
It’s believed that fish get their high vitamin D levels from eating microalgae. Since microalgae are found near the surface of the water, researchers suggest that these micro-organisms get their vitamin D from the sun.
Although the average amount of this essential nutrient varies in different microalgae species, some types contain upwards of 3,900 micrograms of vitamin D/100 g.
Microalgae is best taken as a supplement, but it can be eaten with rice or added to soups, like miso soup. Microalgae is one of the only herbs high in vitamin D!
Summary:Microalgae promote higher levels of vitamin D due to this herb’s high vitamin content.
4. Waxy-Leaf Nightshade (Solanum glaucophyllum)
The waxy-leaf nightshade is a plant in the Solanaceae family, which is one of the only plant families that contain vitamin D.
Native to South America, this plant is known for its popularity among grazing animals and has created over-calcification issues in cattle and horses. Although there have been issues with toxicity, waxy-leaf nightshade leaves have been used medicinally by humans and for animals.
Recent animal studies suggest that the plant is rich in vitamin D3 and increases calcium absorption.
Waxy-leaf nightshade is estimated to contain an average of 200 micrograms of vitamin D per gram.
Summary:Waxy-leaf nightshade increases vitamin D levels through vitamin D3 content and increased calcium absorption.
5. Potential Herbs with Vitamin D
Plants in the Solanaceae Family: Plants in the Solanaceae family are known to contain vitamin D3 in their leaves. Although high doses of these leaves are considered toxic due to their alkaloid content, research suggests that the leaves have therapeutic qualities.
Popular plants in this family include:
Wattleseed (Acacia victoriae): Studies show that raw wattleseed, a grain popular in Australia, contains low amounts of vitamin D2 (about 0.05 micrograms/gram).
Tasmanian mountain pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata): Tasmanian mountain pepper berries and leaves are known to contain around 0.06 – 0.05 micrograms/gram of vitamin D. This herb has high levels of calcium as well, suggesting there’s a connection between calcium and vitamin D content.
Summary:Wattleseed, Tasmanian mountain pepper, and plants in the Solanaceae family are additional herbs that may work to promote vitamin D levels.
Health Benefits of Vitamin D:
Vitamin D plays an essential role in many physiological processes. It is considered a hormone that supports immune cells and insulin production, and may reduce gastrointestinal inflammation.
One of the most common benefits of vitamin D is its ability to support the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous, which are necessary for strengthening bones and teeth.
The most prominent source of vitamin D comes from sun exposure and is produced in the skin. Since there aren’t many natural plant sources of vitamin D, healthcare professionals recommend vitamin d supplements or nutrient-fortified foods, like bread, cereal, and milk to meet the required daily intake of vitamin D.
Receiving adequate amounts of vitamin D not only supports the musculoskeletal system, but research shows that it may improve mood, reduce the risk of heart disease, and improve immune function.
How Much Vitamin D Per Day?
Your daily vitamin D requirements differ based on age but remain relatively the same throughout your life.
Below is a helpful chart.
|Age Group||RDA (mg/day)|
|Infants (0 – 12 months)||.02 mg (20 micrograms)|
|Children (1 – 3 years) and Teens||.015 mg (15 micrograms)|
|Adults||.015 mg (15 micrograms)|
|Adults over the age of 70||.02 mg (20 micrograms)|
|Pregnant Women||.015 mg (15 micrograms)|
|Breastfeeding Women||.015 mg (15 micrograms)|
It is important to note that these are the recommended daily allowances, which are the minimum amount of a nutrient that a person needs to avoid a vitamin D deficiency. Some individuals may need more or less depending on their individual needs and health conditions.
Taking herbs and foods with vitamin D and responsibly receiving sun exposure are great ways to implement this vital nutrient into your diet.
While some fish and fortified foods can be rich in vitamin D, it’s great to have natural herbal options, like alfalfa, microalgae, and wild mushrooms to choose from as well.
Do you know of other herbs rich in vitamin D? Let us know!
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