Trigonella foenum-graecum

Fenugreek is an herb with a long and esteemed history both in medicine and the culinary arts. Some authors suggest that fenugreek originated in India and North Africa, while others suggest that it is indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean region. One of the earliest recorded uses of Fenugreek comes to us by way of Egypt, where it was used in incense making as well as in the process of embalming mummies. Fenugreek, as the name suggests, was widely utilized by the ancient Greeks, for whom it was a staple food. The name foenum-graecum, which literally translates as ‘Greek hay’, refers to the practice of mixing fenugreek with inferior quality hay in order to increase and enhance its scent.

Fenugreek Image by Krzysztof Ziarnek

Nutritional and Medicinal Value

As part of its nutritional profile, fenugreek contains considerable amounts of vitamin B and phosphorous compounds (e.g. lecithin), making it a culinary herb with a special affinity for the nervous system (lecithin is a mixture of neutral lipids and phospholipids, which are important constituents of the central nervous system and play a role in promoting and maintaining the health of the brain’s functional pathways). Fenugreek is often added to curries, where it serves to aid and promote healthy digestive function but also helps to prevent gas, bloating, cramping, indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux in susceptible individuals. Fenugreek contains considerable amounts of iron, and may be well employed in some cases of iron-deficiency anemia: fenugreek helps the body in the process of blood formation. Continuing with the nutritional properties of the herb, Dorothy Hall remarks: “As it also manufactures in its growth vitamin A and a vegetable-form of vitamin D, it is supportive of liver function too, and protective of all mucous-lined body organs. There is much sulphur present; and also choline, and support for cholesterol metabolism” (Hall: 1988, 159). Fenugreek is an herb to consider when dealing with a hypo-functioning liver. In Ayurvedic medicine, fenugreek is recognized as “a good herbal food for convalescence and debility, particularly that of the nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems” (Frawley & Lad: 2001, 190)

Concerning the use of fenugreek as a medicinal herb, Hall provides us with the following overview:

“Its properties may best be summed up as supportive of liver function, protective to mucous- linings all through the body, and giving renewed nervous energy. There is a fourth benefit, however, and one which is becoming more and more necessary today: Fenugreek clears and promotes the drainage of the body by the lymphatic system. As lymphatic vessels and lymph- fluid movement are essential parts of our immune system, Fenugreek may become a valuable plant for the future.” (Hall: 1988, 159)

Fenugreek is likely the most frequently employed herbal galactagogue, meaning that it helps to promote the production of breast milk. It is also widely used in the treatment of diabetes type 1 and 2, where it helps to increase the body’s tolerance for carbohydrates, reduces blood sugar and total LDL cholesterol levels. Fenugreek can be used by men who experience seminal debility (i.e. issues with the quality and quantity of sperm), as well as for erectile dysfunction and low libido (fenugreek contains furostanolic saponins, which have been linked to increased testosterone production). Fenugreek is a lung tonic and has its place in the treatment of asthmatic complaints, as well as lung and sinus congestion. A paste made from fenugreek seeds can be used topically for ailments such as boils, ulcers, burns, and poorly healing sores (Frawley & Lad: 2001, 191). Other traditional indications include: tuberculosis, gout, and generalized body pain.

On the level of herbal energetics, fenugreek is: bitter, pungent, sweet/heating/pungent. It affects the plasma, blood, marrow, nerve and reproductive tissues and has an affinity for the digestive, respiratory, urinary, and reproductive systems (Frawley & Lad: 2001, 191). Fenugreek is a stimulant, especially for a slow-draining lymphatic system and where there are issues with edema and fluid retention. Fenugreek possesses diaphoretic and mild diuretic actions. It also possesses tonic, expectorant, rejuvenative, and aphrodisiac properties.

Works Cited:

Hall, Dorothy. Dorothy Hall’s Herbal Medicine. Melbourne: Lothian Publishing Company, 1988.

Frawley, David & Lad, Vasant. The Yoga of Herbs. Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 2001.


Image Credits:

Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz: Mildly colour edited version of their original Fenugreek image.