Latin name: Trigonella foenum-graecum
Fenugreek is one of the oldest medicinal herbs around. It was used by the ancient Egyptians as early as the 16thcentury BCE, and then later in ancient Greece, though mainly as a spice; a spice that just happened to help digestive disorders.
Fenugreek experienced resurgence in America when it was discovered that it manipulated and balanced female hormones and helped to enlarge a woman’s breasts.
But way back in ancient Egypt it was also used in the mummification and embalming process.
Arab traders brought fenugreek to India where it was quickly incorporated into their cooking. The ground up seeds are found in most curries and chutneys, and the leaves, which are high in protein, are found in many dishes. It is also an Indian pickling spice, but in Indian cooking, pickles are quite different from what we call pickles. From A Taste of India’s web site, I found this: “A pickle is a fresh marinated relish that is usually eaten in small amounts to add flavor and to accent a meal. There are hundreds of pickles made and eaten in India. No meal is complete without them.”
Getting back to the hormonal influence, unlike flax and soy that contain phyto-hormones, fenugreek seeds contain hormone precursors; hormone precursors that increase a nursing mother’s milk supply; a fact that has scientists scratching their heads because no one has yet to figure out how. I learned from one web site that “Some believe it is possible because breasts are modified sweat glands, and fenugreek stimulates sweat production.” Once milk production is up (could take 2 to 4 days), the mother can stop taking the fenugreek supplement.
Oh, and get this. The side effect of taking fenugreek supplements is your urine and sweat might start to smell like maple syrup. However, taking too much can cause hypoglycemia and diarrhea. Mothers who have asthma or peanut allergies are cautioned against taking fenugreek.
Now, who caught that too much can cause hypoglycemia? Because this is where it gets good.
Quite a few studies show that fenugreek lowers blood sugar levels. In fact, people with type two diabetes showed such significantly lower blood sugar levels than the control group, that diabetics (and pre-diabetics) are encouraged to take 500 mg at least twice a day, just prior to eating.
Coincidently, because fenugreek contains a lot of mucilage, it is recommended for heartburn and acid reflux. You could take fenugreek as a supplement, simply sprinkle it on your food, or drink down one teaspoon in water or juice before a meal.
And since we touched on the hypoglycemic affect, for you dieters who would use it to keep your blood sugar from spiking after a meal we’ve got still even better news: Fenugreek has been shown to increase muscle strength and muscle production while reducing fat and increasing testosterone levels in men. In that same study, it also improved performance in weight lifters. [October 2010 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition]
Knowing this, is there any surprise that fenugreek also affected the libido of participants in these studies? Another study found that “fenugreek extract had a significant influence on sexual arousal, energy and stamina, and helped to maintain a normal testosterone level in the participants.” [February 2011 Phytotherapy Research]
The seeds, which make up the spice, are quite bitter and are roasted lightly to remove the bitterness. They are high in protein (they’re legumes, actually) and contain vitamin c, niacin, potassium, and diosgenin (an estrogen precursor). It also contains lysine and L-tryptophan and a host of steroidal saponins (building blocks to steroids, hence the results of studies listed above showing muscle gain and fat burning).
Fenugreek is contraindicated (should not be used) for pregnant woman since it has a history of inducing labor. Additionally, fenugreek has been used historically lessen the effects of both PMS and menopause. In China it has been used to treat arthritis (it is anti-inflammatory), bronchitis, and asthma, while everywhere it’s been used on skin problems such as rashes, wounds, and boils.
Finally, fenugreek tea (with lemon and honey) has been used as a home remedy to reduce fever.
The dosage seems to be universal: 500 mg twice a day, before meals.
As a spice, you will probably NEVER run across a recipe calling for fenugreek, unless you are into exotic Indian foods (and we have a few recipes here at our site). But as a supplement, you can take it before meals.
We buy our fenugreek spice at Sunburst Superfoods.