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Fenugreek

  • Trigonella foenum-graecum L.
  • Leguminosae
  • Pea family



Common Names

herbsFenugreek seeds
herbsHu-lu-ba (Chinese name)
herbsHu-lu-pa (Chinese name)
herbsK'u-tou (Chinese name)
herbsMethi (Sanskrit name)


Parts Usually Used

Seeds


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.


Where Found

Cultivated


Medicinal Properties

Seeds: expectorant, demulcent, emollient, fegrifuge, carminitive, nutritive, tonic, mucilaginous, restorative, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, stimulant

Aerial parts: antispasmodic


Biochemical Information

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 a tonic.

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.


Uses

Used for allergies, coughs, colds, flu, inflammations, fevers, dyspepsia, tonic, emphysema, flatulence, headaches, toothache, migraines, menstrual cramps, intestinal inflammation, cystitis, hydrocele of the testicle, pellegra, stomach ulcers, lungs, bronchitis, dropsy, mucous membranes, and tea for sore throat gargle.

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 glands, wounds, furuncles, abscesses, (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 lymph nodes).

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, or sugar.

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.


Nutrient Content

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).


How Sold

Seed sold in whole or powder form.

Capsules: take 1 capsule for up to 3 times daily.

Tablets: 8 to 10 per day.


Warning

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.

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