Home Spices Fenugreek


Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) of the pea family (Fabaceae).

Also Known as: Greek hay.

This legume originated in the Mediterranean region and Asia and is among the oldest of medicinal herbs. Its seeds were a favorite cure-all in ancient Egypt and India and later among the Greeks and Romans. Modern research has confirmed its ability to relieve gas pains, lower blood sugar, and, when used externally, soften the skin, thus providing relief for a variety of skin ailments. Fenugreek sprouts should be short when harvested or the pleasant spicy taste turns bitter.

Fenugreek is native to southern Europe, the Mediterranean region, and Western Asia. It is cultivated from western Europe to China for the aromatic seeds, and is still grown for fodder in parts of Europe and northern Africa. It is an indispensable ingredient in Indian curries.

Fenugreek has a long history as both a culinary and medicinal herb in the ancient world. It was one of the spices the Egyptians used for embalming, and the Greeks and Romans used it for cattle fodder (hence the Latin foenum graecum meaning Greek hay). It was grown extensively in the imperial gardens of Charlemagne.

Uncooked fenugreek seeds have an unpleasant, bitter taste, so the seeds are usually roasted and ground before use to mellow the bitterness. The seeds are very hard, and difficult to grind, a mortar and pestle working best. Fenugreek is a favorite in Northern African and Middle Eastern dishes, and is one of the few spices that is usually used in powdered form even in Indian curries.

Seed extract is used in imitation vanilla, butterscotch and rum flavorings, and is the main flavoring in imitation maple syrup. Also used in breads in Egypt and Ethiopia. Ground seeds and/or leaves, can give a nice lift to some bland vegetarian dishes. Also good in marinades. Generally, a nice unusual flavor to experiment with to achieve some different effects. Use very young shoots with only a few leaves and some watercress for a nice salad addition. Fenugreek seeds are also used in candy, baked goods, ice cream, chewing gum and soft drinks. The seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

Formerly used as a yellow dye. The leaves are dried and used as an insect repellent in grain storage. In various areas of North Africa the seeds (ground into a paste) were traditionally eaten by women to gain weight, in combination with sugar and olive oil. The seeds are still used for weight gain in Libya and other areas. They are also an important source of diosgenin, which is widely used in the production of steroids (which probably accounts for the weight gain), sex hormones, oral contraceptives and veterinary medicines.

Fenugreek is a herb that is often used by nursing mothers to increase their supply of breastmilk.The most common reasons for low milk supply are illness, fatigue, stress and returning to work. Often a decrease in supply is temporary but if you need a boost Fenugreek may help you. Although Fenugreek has been used for centuries by lactating mothers to increase milk supply its use in the United States is more recent and there are no controlled studies available about its use.

Fenugreek is one of the world's oldest medicinal herbs. It has a variety of uses, including increasing breastmilk production.

The seeds are also soaked and then powdered and used to make lip balm and tonic. The seeds can be used to make tea, which can reduce fever and menstrual pains, or they can be used in an ointment to treat skin infections. The seeds have also been used to increase libido in men and serve as an aphrodisiac. Ground seeds are often used to give a maple flavor to sweets and candies.

Ground seeds are also used to flavor cattle food, including different vegetable meals and hays. Fenugreek's leaves, which are high in iron, are used in salads. Taken internally, fenugreek is used to treat bronchitis, coughs, respiratory problems, sinus conditions and to increase milk supply (see more below).

Fenugreek seeds contain hormone precursors that increase milk supply. Scientists do not know for sure how this happens. Some believe it is possible because breasts are modified sweat glands, and fenugreek stimulates sweat production. It has been found that fenugreek can increase a nursing mother's milk supply within 24 to 72 hours after first taking the herb. Once an adequate level of milk production is reached, most women can discontinue the fenugreek and maintain the milk supply with adequate breast stimulation. Many women today take fenugreek in a pill form (ground seeds placed in capsules). The pills can be found at most vitamin and nutrition stores and at many supermarkets and natural foods stores. Fenugreek can also be taken in tea form, although tea is believed to be less potent than the pills and the tea comes with a bitter taste that can be hard to stomach.

Fenugreek is not right for everyone. The herb has caused aggravated asthma symptoms in some women and has lowered blood glucose levels in some women with diabetes.

Fenugreek sprouts contain choline (a fat controller) and are rich in protein, iron, and vitamins A, D and G.

Fenugreek is a strongly scented herb of the pea family. It is reported to be helpful for digestive problems including ulcers. Also acts as an herb for dissolving mucus in the body when taken as a tea.

Rich in vitamins and minerals, and because it is a seed and a legume, it is high in protein. (Which makes it very useful in vegetarian diets).



Fenugreek seeds

Scientific Name: Trigonella foenum-graecum

Nutrient Units Value per
100 grams of
edible portion
Water g 8.84 57 0.238
Energy kcal 323 0
Energy kj 1352 0
Protein g 23.00 81 0.311
Total lipid (fat) g 6.41 82 0.163
Ash g 3.40 80 0.073
Carbohydrate, by difference g 58.35 0
Fiber, total dietary g 24.6 0
Calcium, Ca mg 176 25 5.862
Iron, Fe mg 33.53 25 5.431
Magnesium, Mg mg 191 3 61.683
Phosphorus, P mg 296 21 15.326
Potassium, K mg 770 4 80.673
Sodium, Na mg 67 4 16.362
Zinc, Zn mg 2.50 1
Copper, Cu mg 1.110 0
Manganese, Mn mg 1.228 0
Selenium, Se mcg 6.3 3 0.924
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid mg 3.0 10 0.316
Thiamin mg 0.322 8 0.028
Riboflavin mg 0.366 12 0.021
Niacin mg 1.640 21 0.141
Vitamin B-6 mg 0.600 2
Folate, total mcg 57 1
Folic acid mcg 0 0
Folate, food mcg 57 1
Folate, DFE mcg_DFE 57 0
Vitamin B-12 mcg 0.00 0
Vitamin A, IU IU 60 0
Retinol mcg 0 0
Vitamin A, RAE mcg_RAE 3 0
Fatty acids, total saturated g 1.460 0
Cholesterol mg 0 0
Phytosterols mg 140 0
Amino acids
Tryptophan g 0.391 0
Threonine g 0.898 0
Isoleucine g 1.241 0
Leucine g 1.757 0
Lysine g 1.684 0
Methionine g 0.338 0
Cystine g 0.369 0
Phenylalanine g 1.089 0
Tyrosine g 0.764 0
Valine g 1.102 0
Arginine g 2.465 0
Histidine g 0.668 0
Alanine g 1.020 0
Aspartic acid g 2.708 0
Glutamic acid g 3.988 0
Glycine g 1.306 0
Proline g 1.198 0
Serine g 1.215 0

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 15 (August 2002)