About Fenugreek


(Trigonella foenum-graecum) Native to both Europe and Asia. Both the seeds and tender sprouted leaves are eaten. The seeds, which are flat, oblong, mustard brownish and about 3 mm long with a deep furrow along their length, are an important component of Indian curry powders, but should not be used with too much enthusiasm as they have a bitter flavor. In Sri Lanka, a few fenugreek seeds are used whole in certain dishes, in particular fish and seafood curries. When soaked overnight the seed coat becomes soft and jelly-like, and in this state is one of the chief ingredients of a paste of bitter herbs called halba or hilbe, popular with people of Middle Eastern origin. The other ingredients are fresh coriander herb, garlic, salt and lemon juice and a small hot chili if liked. Once ground in a blender the vivid green, viscous mass is used as a dip for flat loaves.

The young plants are used as a vegetable, being harvested when about 20 cm high and tied in bundles like mint or parsley. The stems can be quite tough so only the tender top portion is used. It is recommended that home gardeners grow the seeds themselves and harvest them when about half the size of the commercial plants in order to enjoy them when tender. Cooked with potatoes or spinach they add a pleasantly bitter tang. Raw, they make a flavorsome addition to salads but should be picked at the two-leaf stage. Some commercial sprout mixtures include fenugreek sprouts, and there is no mistaking their pungent flavor.

Indian shops usually sell dried fenugreek herb, good for flavoring spinach and other vegetables. It is advisable to strip the leaves from the thicker stalks as these will not become tender even with long cooking. Use sparingly, as a little dried fenugreek goes a long way.

Medicinal uses : An ancient medicinal herb, prescribed in India and the Middle East for a range of conditions from constipation to sore throats, and in particular for tuberculosis and bronchitis. In European herbal medicine, it is a powerful expectorant and used as an infusion, tincture or extract to break up respiratory congestion. The seed is a carminative (taken to relieve flatulence). Like many bitter-tasting foods, it is used as a treatment for diabetes.

The mucilaginous texture of the soaked seeds makes them a very effective demulcent. For inflamed conditions of the stomach and intestines, a decoction of 30 g of seeds in 500 ml of water is administered. Modern research provides increasing evidence that fenugreek lowers blood cholesterol and blood sugar. It may be taken in the form of an infusion or included in cooked food. The problem with fenugreek is that it makes its presence evident in the smell of the breath, sweat and urine.

Externally, the seeds are used as a poultice for abscesses, boils and carbuncles. Also recommended in old herbal books as a wash for the scalp, 'for it taketh away the scurfe, scales, nits and all other suchlike imperfections'.....

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