Fenugreek Health BenefitsPeter Doornbos, · Categories: Herbs, Spices
Fenugreek or Trigonella foenum-graecum is grown world wide from an annual plant of the Fabaceae family.
The plant grows to a height of around 60cm or 2 feet and produces white flowers with long yellow seed pods.
It is believed that the fenugreek plant was found originally from the Mediterranean through the Middle East to the Indian Subcontinent. Charred fenugreek seeds which show an indication of being added to cooked food have been found in Iraq which were dated to 4,000BCE. The Egyptians in their embalming process used fenugreek. Dried seeds were discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun the Egyptian boy king.
The Greeks on the other hand found fenugreek to be excellent fodder for their cattle and for this reason it became known by the Latin name foenum graecum which means Greek Hay. It is easy to see how the present name fenugreek descended from the Latin.
In medicinal terms, fenugreek was seen by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, as a soothing herb. One of its uses was to treat burns. Pedanius Dioscorides the physician and botanist who wrote the De Materia Medica, a 5 volume encyclopedia on things medical which was used for 1,500 years after it was published in the first century AD, used fenugreek to treat inflammation of the genitals.
Today fenugreek is grown mainly in Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Spain and Turkey. India is by the far largest producer of fenugreek where it is known as methi. Certain states or provinces within India are more prevalent as producers and they include: Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Of these Rajasthan is the highest producer accounting for 80 per cent of the total for India.
Fenugreek Health Benefits
As mentioned earlier, fenugreek has been known to have health benefits throughout history. As with much of natures’ pharmacy, scientists are still working to discover the efficacy of many herbs and spices and whether the effectiveness is merely popular belief or fact. Fenugreek health benefits that are supposed to be true are as follows:
- Breast Feeding Mothers – Fenugreek is given to breast feeding mothers who are experiencing difficulty with milk flow. Taken as a tea, which is readily available, fenugreek is said to stimulate this often painful compliant.
- Digestion – In France researchers have determined that fenugreek is very good for digestion. Whether it is in the meal itself or taken as a tea.
- Cholesterol – Being a rich source of steroidal saponins, fenugreek helps to prevent the absorption of cholesterol and triglycerides. This reduces the LDLs (Low density lipoprotein) which is the bad cholesterol.
- Loose Weight – Curb your appetite by chewing on some fenugreek leaves first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The natural fibres in the leaf will swell up and give you that feeling of being full and reduce your hunger feeling.
- Menstrual Discomfort – Containing diosgenin and isoflavones which have similar properties to oestrogen,
fenugreek is very effective in reducing the camps and discomforts of PMS as well as the hot flushes and mood swings of menopause. Also being rich in iron, which is a deficiency that needs to be addressed during these times, fenugreek can be included in cooking. To be very effective, be sure to include tomatoes and/or potatoes which aid the absorption of iron into the system.
- Breast Enhancement (women) – The diosgenin and isoflavones which have similar properties to oestrogen also have the effect of balancing womens hormones which encourage a slight enlargement of the breasts.
- Colon Cancer – The fibre content in fenugreek works to attach itself to toxins in the system and then flushes them out. This works to protect the mucus membrane in the colon from cancer cells.
- Skin Problems – Fenugreek is an anti inflammatory and can be effective in treating; eczema, burns and boils. Scars can also be reduced by using a paste made up of ground seeds and applied topically. To treat facial skin problems, a face pack can be made by boiling ground fenugreek seeds and applying to the effected area. Alternatively you can apply a paste of fresh fenugreek leaves for around 20 minutes.
- Hair – Make your hair look shinny and healthy by including fenugreek in your diet and/or apply it to your scalp as a paste. If you boil seeds with coconut oil and leave it overnight then massage it into your scalp every morning you will reduce excessive hair shedding and hair thinning. You will also have the benefit of no dandruff.
- Sore Throat and Fever – The nourishing effect of fenugreek helps your body to fight fever. If taken with lemon and honey it has a soothing effect to help fight sore throats and coughing.
- Heart – The galactomannan in fenugreek is a key ingredient to improving the health of your heart. In addition, fenugreek is rich in potassium which is instrumental in countering the unhealthy affects of sodium in your food.
Fenugreek in the Kitchen
The seeds and the leaves of fenugreek can be used equally well and provide a similar taste. These can be used to add a zest of spice to dishes and work well with other herbs and spices. The dry or frozen leaves retain a similar taste to the fresh leaves and therefore you can always have some on hand to spice up a dish. The flavours are a complex combination of sweetness and bitterness. To reduce the bitterness of the seeds it is advisable to roast them in the frying pan with a bit of oil to start when beginning to the meal preparation and then add the leaves toward the end of the preparation so that there is a consistent flavour throughout.
Fenugreek in the Garden
Make sure you get good quality seeds from your plant shop.
The fenugreek seed needs good fertile well drained soil. If you are starting in the winter then make sure they are either indoors or somewhere not exposed to frost. The seeds need to be just under a centrimetre deep and then well covered. The seeds should be spaced around 10cm apart and you can expect them to grow to around 30cm tall. The seedlings should emerge after a week to a week and a half. Flowering should start from about mid summer.
Once they are growing you may notice a sweet maple like smell in the garden. Fenugreek is actually used as an ingredient in synthetic maple syrup.
I hope we have been able to help you understand a bit more about fenugreek. As always we would love to hear your thoughts on fenugreek so feel free to use the comments below.
Be aware that the health benefits outlined about fenugreek are general in nature and may not work the same for everyone. If you want to use fenugreek to combat a medical complaint, your medical professional should be consulted.
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