Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), a legume that grows from the Mediterranean to China, is an ancient spice with a bitter flavor. Although rare in American cooking, the seeds are popular in India for pickles and curried dishes. Dry roasting can enhance the flavor and reduce bitterness, and the seeds may also be eaten raw or boiled. Fenugreek leaves are an important food from Western Asia to Northern India, where they’re eaten as a very tasty vegetable that can be prepared like spinach, added to salads, or dried and used as a spice, which has a maple-like smell and taste.
Did You Know?
Fenugreek seeds are popular in Indian cuisine for pickling and curries.
What is Fenugreek Used for?
- digestive complaints
- sore throats
- male reproductive tonic
- topical remedy
- breast milk production
- lower kidney stone production
- blood sugar control
Fenugreek has been used for more than 2,000 years to stimulate flagging appetites, as well as for an assortment of digestive complaints, including heartburn and gas. Studies suggest that it increases the production of pancreas enzymes, and scientific evidence also supports its use for ulcers.
Gargle with fenugreek seed tea to relieve sore throats and soothe coughs. Traditional uses for this herb include arthritis, bronchitis, and fevers, and as a general male reproductive tonic. With its anti-inflammatory properties, fenugreek has been used topically for abscesses, boils, wounds, burns, eczema, gout, and skin ulceration.
In 2018, a meta-analysis published in the journal Phytotherapy Research reported that consumption of fenugreek can significantly increase the amount of produced breast milk versus a placebo. A 2019 double-blind, randomized trial that tested an herbal tea containing fenugreek found no adverse events during the 30-day study or for the first year of an infant’s life. Certain plant compounds found naturally in fenugreek (sapogenins) can mimic or regulate human steroid hormones or hormone precursors. This may account for the herb’s traditional use for increasing breast milk production.
Some evidence indicates that fenugreek can lower certain stone-forming substances in the kidney, particularly calcium oxalate.
Recent discoveries indicate that fenugreek has antioxidant benefits, and that it increases enzyme activity in the liver, so that may be part of its cholesterol-lowering effect. One study showed significant reduction in total cholesterol and triglycerides with a dose of 8 grams of fenugreek daily for eight weeks, which can easily be taken in capsules. In some studies, the fenugreek seed was baked into flat bread or cooked into a soup.
Research also suggests that fenugreek may have anticancer activity. In one study, cancerous mice injected with an alcohol extract of the seed saw more than 70 percent inhibition of tumor cell growth compared to control animals. The extract was found to enhance immune cell counts and produce a significant anti-inflammatory effect. Since inflammation tends to stimulate cancer growth, this action may help explain the herb’s possible anticancer benefits.
Blood Sugar Control for Type 1 & 2 Diabetics
The most researched medical use for fenugreek is in diabetic blood sugar control. Studies demonstrate its benefit in both insulin-dependent (type 1) and non insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetics. Doses as low as 10 mg per day may bring about beneficial outcomes in fasting blood sugar, after-meal blood sugar elevation, and overall glycemic control.
In one study of 24 type 2 diabetics, 10 grams per day of fenugreek seeds soaked in water led to important improvements in overall blood sugar control, blood sugar elevations after a meal, and cholesterol levels. And a 2013 review of research found that, “there is good scientific evidence suggesting that fenugreek is effective in reducing blood glucose levels in diabetic patients.”
How to Take Fenugreek
At the store, you can buy fenugreek seeds in bulk, or find it in capsules, powders, tinctures, and teas. Debittered and defatted preparations are available. For topical use, mix the powder with water to form a paste.
Also experiment with this unique herb in the kitchen. With such a rich selection of healing foods to choose from, there should be little problem putting together a menu of delicious medicinal recipes containing this tasty spice. You’ll like making your cupboard into your medicine chest.
A Natural & Non-Habit-Forming Laxative
Fenugreek seeds are a a bulk laxative—they contain fibers and mucilage that swell up in contact with water, expanding bowel contents and stimulating peristaltic activity. For laxative use, take 0.5–1 tsp. of the freshly powdered herb, followed by additional 8 oz. of water, one to three times daily.