(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'.....