Herb: Fenugreek

Latin name: Trigonella foenum-graecum

Family: Leguminosae

Medicinal use of Fenugreek:

Fenugreek is much used in herbal medicine, especially in North Africa, the Middle East and India. It has a wide range of medicinal applications. The seeds are very nourishing and are given to convalescents and to encourage weight gain, especially in anorexia nervosa. The seeds should not be prescribed medicinally for pregnant women since they can induce uterine contractions. Research has shown that the seeds can inhibit cancer of the liver, lower blood cholesterol levels and also have an antidiabetic effect. The seed and leaves are anticholesterolemic, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, carminative, demulcent, deobstruent, emollient, expectorant, febrifuge, galactogogue, hypoglycaemic, laxative, parasiticide, restorative and uterine tonic. The seed yields a strong mucilage and is therefore useful in the treatment of inflammation and ulcers of the stomach and intestines. Taken internally, a decoction of the ground seeds serves to drain off the sweat ducts. The seed is very nourishing and body-building and is one of the most efficacious tonics in cases of physical debility caused by anaemia or by infectious diseases, especially where a nervous factor is involved. It is also used in the treatment of late-onset diabetes, poor digestion (especially in convalescence), insufficient lactation, painful menstruation, labour pains etc. The seeds freshen bad breath and restore a dulled sense of taste. Externally, the seeds can be ground into a powder and used as a poultice for abscesses, boils, ulcers, burns etc, or they can be used as a douche for excessive vaginal discharge. The leaves are harvested in the growing season and can be used fresh or dried. The seeds are harvested when fully ripe and dried for later use. Compounds extracted from the plant have shown cardiotonic, hypoglycaemic, diuretic, antiphlogistic and hypotensive activity. One of its constituent alkaloids, called "trigonelline", has shown potential for use in cancer therapy. The seed contains the saponin diosgenin, an important substance in the synthesis of oral contraceptives and sex hormones, whilst saponins in the plant have been extracted for use in various other pharmaceutical products.

Description of the plant:


60 cm
(2 feet)

June to


Habitat of the herb:

Field verges, uncultivated ground, dry grasslands and hillsides.

Edible parts of Fenugreek:

Seed - cooked or sprouted and eaten raw. It has quite a strong spicy flavour, not unlike lovage or celery. When ground into a powder, the seed is a principal ingredient of curries and mango chutney, it is also used in pickles and spice mixes, as a flavouring in bread etc. The seed is usually lightly roasted before use in order to reduce the bitterness. The seed is about 3mm long, about 10 - 20 seeds being produced in each pod. A good source of many essential elements such as iron, phosphorus and sulphur, the seed contains about 6% moisture, 23% protein, 10% carbohydrate, 8% fat, 10% fibre and 4.3% ash. The ground seeds are used to give a maple syrup flavour to foods. The seed can be soaked for 12 hours in warm water and then allowed to sprout for 3 - 5 days. These sprouted seeds have a spicy flavour and can be added to salads or cooked. An essential oil obtained from the seed is used as a food flavouring in imitation maple syrup, vanilla compositions, liquorice, pickles etc. It also has medicinal virtues. The ground up seeds can also be used as a substitute for maple syrup. Leaves - raw or cooked. Very aromatic, in small quantities they can be added to salads, otherwise they are used as a potherb, a flavouring for root vegetables, an ingredient of curries etc. Seedpods - cooked. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute. A soothing tea is made from the leaves and the seed.

Other uses of the herb:

An essential oil is obtained from the seed - used as a food flavouring and medicinally. The dried plant has a strong aroma of hay. The crushed seed, mixed with oil and massaged into the scalp, is recommended for glossy hair. An infusion of the seed, used as a skin lotion, is said to be good for the complexion. A good green manure crop, it is fast growing and vigorous, producing a lot of bulk and fixing a large quantity of atmospheric nitrogen. A yellow dye is obtained from the seed.

Propagation of Fenugreek:

Pre-soak the seed for 12 hours in warm water and then sow in spring in situ.

Cultivation of the herb:

Field verges, uncultivated ground, dry grasslands and hillsides.

Known hazards of Trigonella foenum-graecum:

The seed contains 1% saponins. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.