What is Fenugreek: Fenugreek is one of the oldest cultivated medicinal plants native to southern Europe and Asia. The name itself has an exotic ring, and it should, as widely traveled as it is. A very popular plant grown throughout Mediterranean regions, Argentina, North Africa, France, India, and the U.S., fenugreek is mentioned in detail in Egyptian papyrus writings circa 1500 B.C. Because it’s been used in so many cultures, this is one herb with a lot of different monikers: bird’s foot, Greek hay, and bockshornsame are a few.An annual plant about two feet tall, this herb is also considered a legume. It produces light green leaves similar to clover, small white flowers, and long pods each containing 10 to 20 small, hard, golden-brown seeds. The seeds have a pungent aroma and fairly bitter taste, described as similar to burnt celery.
While it’s also known for dying textiles, fenugreek’s many food uses – not to mention curative aspects – indicate how versatile this plant and its derivatives can be. The tender leaves and shoots can be added to salad greens, and the extract is used for marinades as well as imitation vanilla, butterscotch, rum, and maple syrup flavoring.Ground to a fine powder, fenugreek seeds are a favorite ingredient in Indian curries, but can add tasty pizzazz to any bland dish. Fenugreek seeds also make it onto the ingredient list in everything. They’re even roasted and ground to make coffee.After purchasing, fenugreek can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to six months.
Benefits of Fenugreek:Fenugreek seeds are rich in minerals such as iron, potassium, calcium, selenium, copper, zinc, manganese and magnesium. In the vitamin department, it contains thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), niacin, and vitamins A and C. There are also polysaccharides: saponins, hemicellulose, mucilage, tannin, and pectin, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by discouraging bile salts from absorbing into the colon, while at the same time binding to toxins so they can be escorted from the body. The amino acid 4-hydroxy isoleucine in the seeds helps lower rate of glucose absorption in the intestines, which lowers blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes.
It’s notable that 100 grams of fenugreek seeds contain about 323 calories, and that the fiber content is quite high, which may have something to do with one traditional use for this product in the Middle East – to gain weight. Areas of the Middle East and North Africa are noted for grinding the seeds into a paste to be taken with sugar and olive oil. The seeds also add to digestive bulk, which helps prevent constipation. The paste is also applied topically to fight infection and inflammation in wounds, and the herb portion is used to treat diarrhea and stomach ulcers.Fenugreek contains choline, which studies show may not only help slow mental aging, but also calm PMS and symptoms of menopause. Fenugreek is also considered an aphrodisiac, and plenty of studies tout its ability to increase libido in men.
There are also those who attribute to fenugreek the ability to promote breast growth in women, although no studies prove it decisively. But another key compound, diosgenin, has been shown to increase milk flow, which makes this herb very popular among breastfeeding mothers. However, fenugreek can cause uterine contractions, so it’s advised that pregnant women avoid fenugreek in any form.Research also indicates that the diosgenin in fenugreek may play an important part in inhibiting several types of cancer.