A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
Fenugreek (botanical name, Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) comprises dried out mature seeds of a little herb native to southern Europe belonging to the family Fabaceae. Fenugreek is differently denoted as a Greek hayseed or trigonella. The seeds of this herb enclose high amounts (as much as 40 per cent) of mucilage that makes them valuable as an ingredient to be used in ointments and poultices for external applications. In addition, owing to its mucilage properties, fenugreek is also taken internally to cure stomach disorders. Researches undertaken with fenugreek on small animals have demonstrated several potential remedial applications of fenugreek seed. Fenugreek seeds are employed to treat cancer, baldness, high levels of blood cholesterol, inflammations, diabetes, fungal and microbial contagions as well as stomach ulcers.
People in India have traditionally used fenugreek seeds for treating diabetes. Numerous researches have discovered that various extracts of fenugreek seed have hypoglycaemic (abnormally low blood sugar) actions in rats, rabbits and dogs. This action of fenugreek seed extracts has been attributed to several elements enclosed by the seeds, for instance nicotinic acid, defatted seed faction, trigonelline and coumarin. In addition, fenugreek also encloses several steroidal sapogenins, counting diosgenin and yamogenin, which may add to some of the conventional remedial applications of this herb. Many small and mainly uncontrolled studies undertaken on humans have demonstrated that fenugreek has the aptitude to lower the intensities of plasma glucose as well as insulin responses in diabetic patients who are not dependent on insulin. However, the manner in which these components of fenugreek seed work is yet to be ascertained. A research conducted recently demonstrated that fenugreek seeds facilitate in lowering the serum cholesterol levels significantly (14 per cent reduction) in a 24-week study involving 60 diabetic patients who are not dependent on insulin.
Fenugreek seeds have a flavour that makes people recall the taste of maple sugar to some extent. In effect, the taste of fenugreek seeds is responsible for their use in the form of a spice as well as a flavouring agent, particularly while imitating maple syrup. It may be noted that fenugreek is comforting, tasty as well as nourishing. While fenugreek is not an especially strong medication, when used normally, it is generally safe and does not result in any side effects.
Aerial parts, seeds.
In several places, such as the Middle East, North Africa and India, fenugreek is frequently used in the form of an herbal medication and is held in high esteem as a natural medication for treating a wide assortment of medical conditions. The seeds of fenugreek contain plenty of nourishments and are employed during recuperation as well as to promote weight gain, particularly in people enduring anorexia (lack of appetite or inability to eat). In addition, fenugreek is also effective in lowering fevers and a section of authorities in herbal medication compare its aptitude to that of quinine. The seeds also have a calming impact that makes them useful to treat gastric ulcers and gastritis. Moreover, fenugreek seeds are also employed to stimulate child birth as well as to augment production of breast milk in nursing mothers. The seeds are also considered to be anti-diabetic as well as effective in lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Fenugreek seeds are also applied topically in the form of a paste to cure boils, abscesses, and ulcers as well as heal burn injuries. In addition, fenugreek seeds are also used in the form of a douche to treat excessive vaginal discharge. The seeds are also used to refresh bad breath as well as to reinstate a bland sense of taste. People in China use fenugreek in the form of a pessary (a vaginal suppository) to cure cervical cancer.
It is interesting to note that the rate of arthritis incidences is comparatively low in India; especially people in this country consume plenty of fenugreek. It is said that drinking one cup (250 ml) of fenugreek tea prepared with the leaves of the herb every day provides relief from the distress caused by arthritis.
Other medical uses
Apart from being used therapeutically, fenugreek - both the seeds and leaves of the herb - has widespread culinary uses. For instance, you may add recently sliced young fenugreek leaves to vegetable bean soups, salads, stews as well as potato and cauliflower dishes. It is important to note that these leaves should be used in moderation, since the leaves of the herb are somewhat bitter.
You may also use powdered fenugreek seeds to add essence to your favourite curry dishes. In fact, the pulverized fenugreek seeds form a vital element of many oriental sauces, curry powders, spice mixtures as well as 'halvah' - a delectable sweetmeat prepared by the Jews. Pickles, and chutneys, particularly those prepared with mangoes, can be flavoured with ground or whole fenugreek seeds.
In addition, sprouted fenugreek seeds may be added to sandwiches and salads. In order to sprout the seeds, just cover the base of a container with a thin stratum of fenugreek seeds. Wash the seeds and allow them to remain in a bowl of cold water throughout the night. In the subsequent morning, place the seeds in a plastic container with warm water and keep the container in a dark place. It is important to wash the sprouts at least twice every day with a view to keep them fresh. Following every rinse, keep the container in its warm place. In about four days' time, you will have fresh sprouted fenugreek seeds for consumption. Here is a word of caution. In case you detect any fungal growth on the seeds or the sprouts, throw them away at once.
Commercially, fenugreek seeds or extracts obtained from them are employed to add essence to pickles, candy, baked goods, chewing gum, condiments, pudding, soft drinks, ice cream, gelatins, icing as well as syrups, for instance, vanilla, maple, butterscotch and caramel.
People in India also roast fenugreek seeds and use them as an alternative for coffee.
Habitat and cultivation
Fenugreek is indigenous to North Africa as well as the countries in the eastern Mediterranean region. This species grows freely in open areas and is extensively cultivated in India.
A well-drained, rich soil having a medium texture is ideal for the proper growth of fenugreek, which has the aptitude to endure pH range between 5.3 and 8.2. This herb possesses bacterial nodes on its roots that absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere. Hence, this leguminous plant (a flowering plant that possesses legumes or pods) requires little or no nitrogen fertilizer, but it helps to make the soil richer.
Fenugreek requires total sunlight and the plants need to be watered during the dry spells.
Although fenugreek can be grown without any difficulty, the most commonly available cultivars of this species require a growing season that spans between four to five months. However, there are a number of cultivars whose seeds ripen in only three months from the day of sowing the seeds. Fenugreek is a brief-day plant and begins to bear flowers when the days become shorter in the later part of summer.
Fenugreek is propagated by its seeds which are sown directly in the garden during spring immediately as the threat of the last anticipated frost has passed. The seeds need to be sown about 6 mm (1/4 inch) below the soil and usually germination occurs between seven to 10 days from the date of sowing. While sowing the seeds, ensure that the plants grow about 10 cm (4 inches) away from each other. In order to obtain a regular supply of young plants for use in salads, you need to sow the seeds once in every three weeks. The fenugreek plants are generally free from invasion/ swarming by pests, but they are vulnerable to a fungal infection called Cercospora leaf spot.
Experiments conducted on animals have demonstrated that fenugreek has the aptitude to slow down development of liver cancer and, at the same time, promote contractions of the uterus.
It has been found that fenugreek seeds have rich content of polysaccharide galactomannan. In addition, fenugreek seeds are also a rich resource of several saponins, including yamogenin, diosgenin, tigogenin, gitogenin and neotigogens. Additionally, fenugreek encloses also bioactive elements, such volatile oils and choline.
Owing to the rather bitter flavor of fenugreek seeds and, hence, seeds that have been got rid of their bitter flavor or capsules containing the powdered seeds are the preferred products. The standard dosage of fenugreek is 5 grams to 30 grams with every meal or 15 grams to 90 grams taken all one time with one meal every day.
Side effects and cautions
It may be noted that fenugreek also possesses the ability to lower the blood sugar levels and, hence, it has also been experimentally employed in the form of a substitute for oral insulin. In the event of an individual suffering from diabetes, he/ she ought to be conscious that ingesting fenugreek may possibly get in the way of their insulin therapy.
According to a section of authorities on herbal medicine, fenugreek contains high amounts of mucilage and this might possibly coat the stomach as well as lower the absorption of prescription drugs by the body. Hence, it is advisable that you consume fenugreek in limited amounts provided you are taking other medications.
The aerial parts as well as the seeds of the herb are used for therapeutic purpose. While the aerial parts of fenugreek are used in the form of decoction, tincture, capsule and a poultice, the seeds are generally used as an infusion.
Collection and harvesting
The whole fenugreek plants should be picked fresh for using them in salads when they are approximately 5 cm (2 inches) in height. The plants should be cut off from their roots. When the seeds have ripened, uproot the plants and hang them to dehydrate. Once the seeds are absolutely dried out, thresh and isolate them from the plant. If necessary, pulverize the seeds. You may store the whole dried out seeds or the pounded fenugreek seed powder in sealed containers for use when needed.