“Greetings Mr Fenugreek, I hear that you are such a handy and capable fellow”, said an earnest looking man as Mr Fenugreek was busily working. “Yes I am, very much so in fact,” replied Mr Fenugreek. “I have been helping many folk for a very long time, and I’m sure I can help you too.”
You know, we find different peoples around the place, but strangely enough, no matter how different they seem to be, they can have similar strengths and abilities, and this is comparable to three other friends to Mr Fenugreek and they are Mr Comfrey, Mr Garlic and Mr Irish Moss.
Fenugreek can be used in place of Comfrey when dealing with healing, especially with bones and Fenugreek can be used instead of or in conjunction with Garlic, in which it boosts the benefits of garlic, and the seeds are comparable to Irish moss.
Fenugreek, and its botanical name – Trigonella foenum-graecum is one of the oldest used herbs known to man, and it has also been very beneficial to animals as well, even before it was used for humans, such as, cattle, pigs, and chickens as apparently they liked the taste of it, its supposed to increase milk supply, improve their coats and even enlarge the egg size of chickens.
The word ‘Trigonella’ is used to describe its three-lobed or three-angled leaves and the term ‘foenum-graecum’ basically means Greek hay. Fenugreek has certainly been around for a very long time, as it is recorded that the Pharaoh, King Tut, had it in his tomb after he died in 1323 B.C. Long before it was used by the Greeks and Romans as a medicine it was used to feed livestock. Here, it was mixed with insect damaged or mouldy hay to encourage their livestock to eat it, and then it turned out that if the animals were sick, they would only pick out the fenugreek and eat it, and wouldn’t eat anything else. And we called them dumb animals? I have read where veterinarians still give fenugreek to encourage sick animals to eat.
Originally from the European Mediterranean coast, it spread all round the Mediterranean and was grown from Morocco to Turkey and ultimately from India and to China.
The Indian physicians used it to treat tummy upsets, bronchitis and even arthritis, and to improve milk supply in their women, and the Chinese doctors used it to treat muscle pains and hernias, from fevers to gallbladder issues and impotence, and the earliest mention of Chinese doctors using it I can find is in 1057 A.D. for the treating of kidney complaints. (If you have or believe that you may have a hernia, please go and see your doctor.)
It was used by Arabian and African women gain weight and enlarge their breast size, and as it was mentioned in one piece of Arabian medical literature, it is “for alluring roundness of the female breast” and also the women from Syria to Libya, roasted the seeds also to gain weight and enlarge their breasts as well.
I have read that these effects are due to fenugreek slowing down the rate at which the liver enzymes break down oestrogen, but this does not appear to affect women when lactating.
Herbs should be used for healing, but apparently according to the Historian Flavius Josephus, when the future Roman Emperor Vespasian commanded his troops to climb the walls of Jerusalem, the Jewish defenders mixed fenugreek to the oil so that the attackers could not easily climb their ladders.
John Gerard, the superintendent of Lord Burleigh’s Gardens in the 16th century wrote when speaking of Colewort, “The same being applied with pouder of Fenugreeke, taketh away the paine of the gout”.
And finally, did you know that fenugreek is one of the major ingredients to the contraceptive pill, possibly due to it containing precursors to progesterone, which may mean it can be a help to peri-menopausal women.
How to use Fenugreek
Fenugreek can be used in a number of ways and two of the most well known methods are as a tea, which is quite simple to make, and can be made several different ways depending on what you are trying to achieve, and the other is sprouting the seed to include in different meals. Culinarily the seeds and it’s powdered form can be used in those famous Indian curries, but it can also be used in marinades, chutneys, pastries, pickles, and brines, and it has a spicy, somewhat pungent and bitter celery or maple aroma. If you lightly roast the seed, it gains a sweet maple syrupy like flavour. If you want to make your own fenugreek powder, just make enough to use each time, as it can lose it flavour quickly.
Commercially, it is used as a source of imitation maple flavouring, plus it is used in flavouring vanilla essence, caramel and butterscotch creations.
Fenugreek Herbal Teas
Fenugreek teas are very easy to make with an unusual bitter maple flavour.
The simplest fenugreek tea
- Take 1/2 a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds and put them into a cup
- Pour in boiling hot water
- Allow to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add sweetener if required such as raw honey or stevia
- And enjoy.
- A simple addition to the tea is light squeeze of lemon juice
A more therapeutic version of fenugreek tea
- Crush 1 to 2 teaspoons of fenugreek tea
- Place them into a small saucepan
- Add just over a cup of water
- Bring it to a boil
- Gently simmer for 15 minutes
- Take it in two lots of half a cup, 1/2 in the morning and 1/2 in the afternoon
- And for extra boost eat the seed when you finish the drink
If you gently and slowly roast the seeds it can be used as a coffee substitute.
Culinary uses of Fenugreek
It appears to have been the Egyptians who may have been the first used fenugreek as a culinary herb, but we do know that the Indians added it to their curries, but it is also used in Persian, and Ethiopian dishes. The Jewish and Arab communities call it Halbah or Helbah and use it in a sweet called ‘halva’. I won’t add or suggest any Indian curry recipes that include fenugreek simply due to the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of them out there that are simply just so delicious, but I do encourage you to find one you like and give it a try. And let me know how you wen’t and I’d love to see a photo of it!
But two ideas I would like to suggest are how to make fenugreek berries and how to sprout fenugreek yourself, which actually has higher nutritional value than the seeds, plus added fibre.
Depending on the size of the salad or meal soak for 24 hours 2 to 4 tablespoons of fenugreek seeds in water. Depending on the weather, this make take a little longer. After the soaking period drain off the water, then add the jelly like soft berries to a tossed salad or any other dish you wish to add them too.
How to sprout Fenugreek
- A glass jar that holds a bit more than two cups
- A piece of gauze, old stocking, curtain netting or similar
- A large rubber band to fit firmly over the top of the jar
- 3 tablespoons of Fenugreek seeds
- A supply of fresh pure water
How to do
- Place the seeds into the glass jar
- Add approximately 2 cups of water
- Place the mesh over the top of the jar and fasten on with the rubber band
- Allow to soak overnight or at least for 8 hours
- After the soak, drain off the water through the mesh
- Wash the seeds with fresh water and tip that off
- Stand the jar with the seeds upside down and leave on a good angle to drain. (This can be done in the kitchen sink dish drainer)
- Twice a day, wash the seeds with fresh water and repeat the process above
- After each rinse, roll the jar to loosen up the seeds
- Depending on the weather, your sprouts should be ready in about 2 to 4 days, or, about 1 to 3cm / 3/8 to 1 1/4″ long
- If you’re not going to use them all immediately, then store them in the fridge, but allow them to breathe
Once they have reached your preferred length, they can be simply eaten raw used in your lunches, in sandwiches or in different types of salads such as green, summer, potato and pasta. But don’t forget fruit salads with Papaya or mangos, let alone on toast with avocado, cream cheeses, or ginger jams or marmalades and lemon butter. As well as many vegetable dishes, stir-fries or just a garnish to decorate your meals.
If you grow the fenugreek in pots or close by in your garden, you can also harvest the leaves, which can be used in salads, sandwiches, as a steamed green vegetable, plus in stews and soups. These leaves should be picked young and used fairly quickly to enjoy their freshness, which have a similar flavour to fresh peas.
Fenugreek’s medicinal uses
Fenugreek has many medicinal virtues helping with all sorts of upper respiratory issues, inflammation inside and outside the body and digestive problems such as an inflamed gastrointestinal system, plus peri-menopause, a possible aphrodisiac to lowering cholesterol or improving milk production in mothers to breast enlargement, or even helping with bad breath by just chewing on a few seeds (be careful they can be hard, allow them to soften a bit). The simple beauty of many of the complaints it can help with, can be provided by drinking its tea specifically, or eating the sprouts or leaves.
Because fenugreek is a vulnerary, (it promotes healing of bodily damage) it can assist in the healing of wounds, and the suggestion I would like to make, is that you can use it as a poultice or a compress, which is similar, to draw out toxins from the body, helping with ulcers, skin irritations, bruises, boils and abscesses on the skin, as well as simple things such as speeding the healing of wounds and other skin problems.
Lots of other herbs and not just fenugreek, can be used either as just the herb itself or mixed with other herbs to gain further benefits that each added herb may give, so this type of preparation or technique below, can be used with other herbs.
- Either obtain as much fenugreek powder or grind up enough whole seed either in a mortar and pestle or use an electric coffee grinder until you have enough to cover the desired area with a thick smear, say 6mm/ 1/4″
- If you want to increase the blood circulation then you can use a hot poultice at no more then 41C / 105F or if you want to cool inflammation you can make a cold poultice
- Here you could use a herbal decoction for the liquid or even a vegetable oil or raw honey, plus add a few drops of essential oil to gain extra benefit
- You can add a little charcoal too
- Mix in enough liquid to make it into a thick paste
- Smear it thickly over the area to be treated
- Cover the area with plastic such as ‘cling wrap’
- Then wrap around with a cloth or towel
Examples of a herbal decoction could be chamomile or dandelion and an example of oil could be olive, castor or coconut oils. The best time to apply a poultice is just before going to bed, but if you need it through the day, and sometimes you may need to, and require mobility, wrap around with plastic cling wrap, then a linen cloth and tie off without cutting off circulation or creating pain, or you may need a 10cm/4″ bandage wrapping from the thinner part of the limb to the thicker part.
Sometimes you can place the thick paste onto a linen cloth and fold it and then apply this to the area, or you can put it into muslin bag and place this onto the area as well. Many do it this way.
So why the difference between hot and cold poultices?
Let’s say you’ve got a month old injury, you’ve had a fall and hurt your knee and now it is still swollen, some what sore at times, and when you feel the swollen area its like thick gravy under plastic, but cold. This is when you would use a hot poultice, because you want to remove the stagnation and free up the fluid underneath. This can happen so much so that the bruise that would have occurred a few days after the accident can finally come through, and even hurt, so be aware.
A cold poultice is designed to ‘calm’ down’ the inflammation similar to a cold pack you would put on a sprain, numbing and reducing pain. This is done by reducing fluid leakage by constricting vessels. This reduces swelling, pressure, inflammation and muscle spasms, that are common sources of pain.
The two main uses for fenugreek water is for diarrhoea and dyspepsia. One of the principles behind the effectiveness of fenugreek is the mucilaginous substance, which is 1/3 of the seed. So wherever it goes throughout the body, it creates a protective layer between ‘where it hurts’ and what’s around it.
- Simply add 35 grams/ 1 oz of fenugreek seeds to a saucepan
- Bring to a boil, then turn back to gently simmer for 15 minutes
- Turn off and allow to cool
- Strain and drink whilst the condition continues
- For a massage oil you can add a few drops to a carrier oil to soothe the skin
- Fenugreek oil can be used as a calming and aromatic experience
- As a gargle, place one to two drops of oil to a glass of water
- For your hair and scalp, add a few drops to your shampoo and conditioner
The seed can be used as a yellow dye.
Gardening with fenugreek
Fenugreek has a variety of uses in the garden, the best would be growing it for culinary uses, as the young leaves are the best, which can be cooked or steamed or used fresh like a spinach and added to a potato salad or curry. The seed can be used in curries and other spicy dishes, teas and to flavour foods and beverages, as well as making sprouts and growing your own microgreens.
It is a well known fodder crop for many animals such as pigs, horses, chickens and buffalo, cattle/dairy cows, rabbits, sheep and goats, and even fish (seed).
It can be used as a nitrogen fixer, but apparently it needs the right bacteria to do this, which is Rhizobium melilot to improve your soil, or you can grow it as a cover crop and plow it back into the ground to add humus to your soil or just chop and drop to increase mulch or grow it for erosion control.
How to Grow
Fenugreek – Trigonella Foenum-graecum is a half hardy annual, that has a ‘trifoil’ -three-angle leaves that are obovate that alternate and it grows to approximately 60cm/ 2′ and has a spread of about 23cm/9″. The flowers are a white to yellow that are a pea flower.
Fenugreek likes a soil that is approximately neutral, but it can be either lower or higher, from 6.5 to 8.2 pH, but doesn’t mind a little lime. It grows in full sunlight, or it needs at least 4 to 5 hours of good sun and can tolerate some shade and the colder you go, you’ll need to have more sunlight.
It likes the soils to be slightly moist but it doesn’t like sitting in water and don’t let it dry out. Poor care does tend to lead to more pests and diseases.
Seed is really the only way to grow and cultivate fenugreek, as it is just so quick and easy to grow.
- Planting is anywhere from spring to early autumn
- Don’t plant if frost is still around
- Soak the amount of seeds you wish to plant overnight
- Place the seeds into drills or holes that are about 6mm/1/4″ deep and 5cm to 2″ apart
- Cover over and lightly water in
- Germination is usually from 2 to 7 days
- It reaches full maturity in about 2 to 4 months
- Let some grow to seed so that you’ll have some for next planting
If you are growing for the leafy vegetable, then you can plant them much closer together, in a wide container that doesn’t have to be very deep. Keep this pot or container close to your kitchen for easy harvesting.
So long as you keep it watered just enough, and give it plenty of sun and fresh air, and generally things should go well. It doesn’t have a high demand for fertiliser, but you can make sure it is well manured at the time of planting or just add a little liquid fertiliser once every one to two weeks.
Pests and diseases
Fenugreek doesn’t have a lot of issues with pests and diseases but it can get a few, here below are some to watch out for.
- Pests are aphids, slugs, snails and grasshoppers/crickets
- Diseases can be powdery mildew, plus charcoal and root rot
If you are looking for a leafy vegetable crop it should be ready in about 20 to 30 days, don’t cut off at the base, just cut them off 3 to 5 cm above the ground. Then allow the stems to regrow and sometimes you can get a leaf crop every two weeks four times in a season.
Simply place the leaves on clean paper towelling or on clean dry kitchen towels in a well ventilated room until completely dry.
Typically the leaves are used fresh, but when thoroughly dry, place them into sealable airtight glass jars, label and date, and store in a cool, dry and dark place. If they become mouldy then throw them out.
The information below is for informational and education purposes only. So please do not “self-treat”. When seeking any ‘therapeutic’ advice always see a Qualified Health Care Professional first.
Greek hay or hayseed, Bird’s foot, Foenugreek, Fenigreek, Hilba, Trigonella, Cow’s horn, and Goat’s horn
Seed therapeutically, but can use sprouts and leaf for more nutrition
Daily minimum to maximum dosage: 2.0 – 4.0 grams
Hypoglycaemic, hypocholesterolaemic, hypolipidaemic, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, galactagogue, and orexigenic
Diabetes, dyspepsia, gastritis, gastrointestinal inflammation, anorexia, debility, convalescence, and difficult lactation, plus, the seed powdered for hypocholesterolaemia or high triglycerides
Steroidal saponin, mucilage, flavonoids, sterols, essential oil, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, trigonelline, bitter principle, arabinose, gentianine, phytosterols, coumarins, lecithin, and diosgenin
Saponins, can aggravate or cause gastro-oesophageal reflux, higher doses may cause body odour changes. Do not use if pregnant. Caution with those highly anaemic as it competes with iron. Don’t go over 100g/day.
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
The way you think you are, You probably are — Herbal Panda