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Fenugreek: A Medicinal Spice

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) is an annual herb indigenous to southeastern Europe and Asia that belongs to the pea family. Fenugreek is mostly used as a spice but some interesting medicinal properties make it popular as a herbal remedy.

Why do people use it?

Fenugreek is a very nutricious herb. It has high levels of Vitamin C, niacin, potassium and protein.

Aside from medicinal purposes, fenugreek has long been used as a spice. In India, you’ll find fresh fenugreek is often added to salad, and the seeds are often ground and used in curries.  The Greeks boil the seeds and serve them with honey, and the leaves are boiled and served with vegetables.

Folkloric medicinal uses for fenugreek have included tuberculosis, cellulitis, muscle pain, cough and baldness. The use of its seeds to induce childbirth was documented as early as 1500 BC. It has also been an ingredient in topical poultices, as well as being used to decrease serum cholesterol levels, to stimulate appetite, to improve glycemic control, and to increase lactation.

Not all of these remedies have a scientific basis, but studies have shown that fenugreek has a number of properties and compounds that make it a worthwhile herb to keep on hand.

Fenugreek Helps Lower Your Cholesterol

Fenugreek seeds contain compounds called saponins, and up to 50 per cent fiber, which together prevent absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract. In a small study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 20 patients with high cholesterol were asked to incorporate either 12.5 g or 18 g of fenugreek seed powder in their regular daily diet for a month, leading the a decrease in cholesterol levels in all patients.

Additionally, a recent animal study found that including fenugreek seeds can prevent the creation of cholesterol gallstones in the gallbladder and biliary tract.

Fenugreek For Prevention and Treatment of Diabetes

The fiber in fenugreek seeds, as well as an amino acid in the seed can play a role in decreasing glucose absorption. A number of human and animal studies have shown that daily use of fenugreek in your diet can lower blood sugar levels in sub-diabetic, moderate and severe diabetics. One study published in the Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry has also shown fenugreek use to help repair liver, kidney and pancreas damage done by diabetes.

Fenugreek To Increase Breast Milk Production

Fenugreek has long been used to  stimulate lactation, and among lactation consultants, it is the most commonly recommended herb to help increase production of breast milk for new mothers. The scientific data on the efficacy of fenugreek for this purpose is lacking, with only small studies done with mixed results.

Fenugreek To Increase Male Libido

A study performed at the University of Queensland School of Medicine in Australia found that men who supplemented their diet with fenugreek extract twice a day for six weeks saw a 28% increase in their libido. Scientists are unclear how exactly this works, but many attribute it to the saponins that are plentiful in fenugreek – the same compounds that keep your cholesterol low.

Adding Fenugreek To Your Diet

Fenugreek seeds can be purchased in the spice section of most grocery stores or purchased in bulk at health food stores. Fenugreek can grow in many climates, so you may have some luck planting the seeds as well as consuming them.

The seeds can be ground and used as a spice on salads, soups and other dishes to your taste. You can also brew the seeds into tea.

You might try to sprout some seeds much like bean sprouts in shallow water or in a wet cloth and add the young sprouts to salads or curries. If you succeed in growing fenugreek plants, you can use the greens in salads in moderation.

3 Comments

  1. Sharlene Cyrus on June 20, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Fenugreek has been used either short-term to boost milk supply or long-term to augment supply and/or pumping yields. There are no studies indicating problems with long-term usage. Per Kathleen Huggins “Most mothers have found that the herb can be discontinued once milk production is stimulated to an appropriate level. Adequate production is usually maintained as long as sufficient breast stimulation and emptying continues” *:`-

  2. Ida Alva on February 22, 2014 at 5:34 am

    I have diabetes type 2. I also have cellulitis on my right ankle. Would buying fenugreek help me? I am so tired of this cellulitis. Please help. Thank you

    • admin on February 22, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      Ida, sorry to hear about your health issues! In Germany, Fenugreek is approved as a medical remedy for skin infections, applied to the skin. You may also want to consider increasing your antioxidants – Vitamin C supplementation may be helpful. As well, additional probiotics like that contained in yogurt, kefir and fermented foods may help your body fight off bacterial infections.

      Of course, you should also seek the care and counsel of a medical doctor, in addition to any home remedies you try. Let the doctor know of supplements or herbs that you may be using, too.

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