- Family Leguminosae
- Trigonella foenum-graecum
- Greek Hay Seed, Bird’s Foot, Trigonella
- Do not take medicinal doses during pregnancy.
- Insulin-dependent diabetics should seek professional advice before using fenugreek as a hypoglycemic.
- The herb also contains substances that can interfere with blood-thinning drugs, MAO inhibitors, and some diabetic medications.
Native to North Africa and countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean, fenugreek is a strongly aromatic annual, growing to about thirty-two inches, producing trifolate leaves that look like clover, small, yellowish-white, pealike flowers, and sickle-shaped pods. It grows wild in open areas; but it is also widely cultivated, especially in India, Africa, and parts of the US. The seeds are collected during the autumn.
The Egyptian Ebers papyrus (c. 1500 BCE) records a prescription for burns that included fenugreek seeds. They were also used to induce childbirth.
In the 5th century BCE, the Greek physician, Hippocrates, considered fenugreek a valuable soothing herb. His fellow countryman in the 1st century CE, Dioscorides, recommended fenugreek as a remedy for all types of gynecological problems, including infection of the uterus and inflammation of the genitals.
Through history, fenugreek has been prized not only as a spice but also for its medicinal flowers and as cattle feed. In the past, fenugreek was considered a cure for many ailments and was the major ingredient in Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, a popular 19th century patent medicine used for menstrual problems.
- antispasmodic (aerial parts)
- digestive tonic
- lowers blood cholesterol
- promotes milk flow
- uterine stimulant
- steroids (diosgenin and progesterone)
- alkaloids(including trigonelline and gentianine)
- volatile oil
- saponins (based on diosgenin)
- mucilage (about 27%)
- protein (about 25%)
- fixed oil (about 8%)
- vitamins A, B1, C
Seeds, aerial parts
Trigonelline converts to niacin when heated or comes in contact with acids.
Research has shown fenugreek to inibit liver cancer, stimulate uterine contractions, and to have antidiabetic action.
Diosgenin and tigogenin (saponins) are chemically similar to estrogen and steroidal hormones. These help balance female hormone levels and perhaps help compensate for the lack of them after menopause.
The mucilage absorbs large amounts of water, swelling to form a soft mass in the intestine and thereby preventing constipation. Mucilage also has a soothing effect on inflamed mucous membranes and, when used as a mouthwash or gargle, can relieve a sore throat and mouth ulcers.
Soluble fiber helps control blood sugar levels, making it useful for diabetics.
French researchers have reportedly found that the seeds contain substances that stimulate the pancreas to release digestive enzymes, thereby aiding in digestion.
Decoctions are used as warming drinks for menstrual pain, stomach upsets, and to stimulate milk flow for breast-feeding mothers. The bitter taste can be disguised with a little honey.
Tintures are used for reproductive disorders and conditions involving kidney weakness, and with other herbs for diabetes.
Capsules are used to control glucose metabolism in late onset diabetes.
Poultices or ointments from the powdered seeds are applied to boils and cellulitis.
Infusions of the aerial parts or sprouted seeds are used for abdominal cramps, labour, and menstrual pain.
Fenugreek is an esteeemed medicine in North Africa, the Middle East, and India, being used for a wide variety of conditions. The nourishing seeds are given during convalescence and to encourage weight gain, especially in anorexia.
Helpful in lowering fever, it is compared to quinine by some authorities.
The seeds’ soothing effect makes them of value in treating gastritis and gastric ulcers.
They are used to induce childbirth and to increase breast-milk production.
They are also used to lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.
Externally, the seeds are applied as a paste to treat abscesses, boils, ulcers, and burns, or used as a douche for excessive vaginal discharge.
The seeds freshen bad breath and help restore a dulled sense of taste.
The oil in the seeds is used as a skin softener and emollient.
In China, the seeds are used as a pessary to treat cervical cancer.
In the Middle East and the Balkans, the aerial parts are a folk remedy for abdominal cramps associated with both menstrual pain and diarrhea or gastroenteritis. They are also used to ease labour pains.
Herbalists in Asia and the Mediterranean often recommend fenugreek to stimulate contractions in delayed or sluggish labour.