- Trigonella foenum-graecum L.
- Pea family
Parts Usually Used
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
A native to southeastern Europe and west Asia, used for forage and
formerly in medicine and having seeds used in cooking. Needs full
sun and rich soil.
Fenugreek is an annual plant widely cultivated for both medicinal
and culinary uses. A long taproot sends up a round stem with few branches.
The leaves are trifoliate, on hairy petioles, with obovate leaflets.
In June or July, axillary, sessile, yellowish flowers appear. The
fruit is a 16-seeded, compressed, malodorous legume. These are small,
pale, reddish-brown seeds with small pods.
Seeds: expectorant, demulcent, emollient, fegrifuge, carminitive,
nutritive, tonic, mucilaginous, restorative, anti-inflammatory, diuretic,
Aerial parts: antispasmodic
Biotin, choline, inositol, iron, lecithin, mucilage, volatile oils,
PABA, phosphates, protein, trigoneline, trimethylamine, and vitamins
A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, and D. Rich in phosphates, lecithin,
nucleo-albumin, iron, vitamins A and D (similar in composition to
cod liver oil).
Legends, Myths and Stories
Fenugreek is one of the oldest medicinal plants, dating back to the
ancient Egyptians and Hippocrates. The botanical name (foenum-graecum)
means "Greek hay."
In ancient Egypt, fenugreek was used to ease childbirth and to increase
milk flow. Today, it is still taken by Egyptian women for menstrual
pain and as hilba tea to ease stomach problems of tourists.
Introduced into the southern provinces of China, the beans were in
use as a medicine since the time of the Tang dynasty. Usually parched
or boiled, and given with aloes, anise-seed and other substances as
Best known in India and among the people around the Mediterranean
Sea, the seeds have a flavor somewhat like maple sugar and an extract
is used to make artificial maple flavor. Fenugreek is an ingredient
in chutneys and used in some curry blends. The roasted seeds are used
as an adulterant and as a coffee substitute.
Burkill stated, "The seeds, after roasting, are eaten in Egypt, and
in ancient Egypt were regarded as medicinal and were used in religious
rites. They contain mucilage, sugars, an alkaloid--trigonellin, which
is not poisonous--cholin and a scented compound."
A study in India involving insulin-dependent diabetics on low doses
of insulin, pulverized fenugreek seeds were shown to reduce blood
sugar and other harmful fats. The authors of the study suggest adding
fenugreek seeds to the diets of diabetics.
In recent years, fenugreek is used as a beverage. Used in Europe
in many veterinary preparations.
Used for allergies, coughs,
tonic, emphysema, flatulence,
cramps, intestinal inflammation,
cystitis, hydrocele of the
testicle, pellegra, stomach ulcers,
lungs, bronchitis, dropsy,
mucous membranes, and tea for sore
Acts as a bulk laxative.
Reduces fever, lowers cholesterol,
and lubricates the intestines. Good for the eyes.
Seeds of this annual herb are used in pickling brines and marinades,
as well as folk cures ranging from regulating insulin in diabetes
to rickets. It was an ingredient in tonic medicines (including Lydia
Pinkham's) in the nineteenth century.
Large amounts of the decoction are given to strengthen those suffering
from tuberculosis or recovering
from an illness. Sometimes thought of as an aphrodisiac. Makes poultice
of pulverized seeds for gouty
pains, neuralgia, scrofula, rickets, anemia,
debility, sciatica, swollen
(grind the seed, mix it with charcoal, and make it into a thick paste
for boils, abscesses, wounds, sores), tumors, dandruff,
sores, and skin irritation.
The pulverized seeds may be taken as a tonic for osteomyelitis or
scrofula (tubercular adenitis; secondary involvement of the cervical
Mostly used in tea, fenugreek seeds can be sprouted like bean sprouts
and used as a vegetable or a salad. The oil of fenugreek has a maple
flavor and can be used for a true maple flavoring in cookies and syrups.
Seed smells like celery but has a more bitter taste. Ground seed's
primary use is as an ingredient in curries.
Formulas or Dosages
Boil some fenugreek seed in 8 oz. warm water. Make a thick paste.
Apply the resulting hot mash to boils, abscesses, irritations, etc.
This will soften the spot and draw the pus to the surface, enabling
discharge of it.
Decoction: use 2 tsp. seed with 1 cup cold water; let stand
for 5 hours. Then heat and boil for 1 minute. Take 2 or 3 cups per
day. Improve the taste with peppermint oil, lemon extract, honey,
For flatulence: for stomach or intestinal gas, sprinkle powdered
fenugreek over food or drink a tea (1 tsp. seeds to 1 cup boiling
water, steep 15 minutes, strain) with meals.
Gargle: mix 1 tbsp. of pulverized seeds in 8 oz. of boiling
water. Steep for 10 minutes, strain. Gargle 3 times daily (every 3
to 4 hours) to relieve sore throat.
Protein, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, and D.
The aromatic oil of fenugreek is rich in iron, vitamins A and D (similar
in composition to cod liver oil).
Seed sold in whole or powder form.
Capsules: take 1 capsule for up to 3 times daily.
Tablets: 8 to 10 per day.
A uterine stimulant; should be avoided during pregnancy. The aerial
parts may be used during labor.
Insulin-dependent diabetics should seek professional medical advice
before using fenugreek as a hypoglycemic.