Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is one of those words that has always fascinated me. As it turns out, this plant, which is also known as Greek hay, bird’s foot, and bockshornsame (which is a pretty cool name too!) has many interesting characteristics to go along with its name. I’d like to share them with you.
To start, fenugreek is at least as old as 1500 BC, when it was mentioned in Egyptian papyrus writings. Today it is grown in many areas of the world, reaching from the United States to France, India, North Africa, and throughout the Mediterranean. Although fenugreek is typically thought of as an herb, it is also a legume. The hard, brownish seeds are encased in long pods and have a bitter taste and pungent fragrance.
Health benefits of fenugreek
Boosts sex drive. Evidence that fenugreek may boost sex drive in women comes from a study recently published in Phytotherapy Research. The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study involved 80 healthy, menstruating women (20-49 years) who took either 600 mg daily of a fenugreek seed extract of placebo over two menstrual cycles.
The researchers measured sexual desire using a standard interview for sexual function and female sexual function questionnaires. They also measured levels of specific hormones before and at eight weeks, including progesterone, testosterone (free and total), estradiol, luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, and sex hormone binding globulin.
The bottom line? The women who took the fenugreek showed a significant increase in free testosterone and estradiol along with an increase in sexual desire and arousal when compared with the women in the placebo group.
Helps diabetes. Fenugreek has been used for diabetes throughout Asia for centuries, but scientists wanted the facts. So a 2014 review of 10 clinical trials that involved the use of fenugreek in people with diabetes set out to see what this plant could do.
All of the studies involved fenugreek compared with a control. The reviewers found that fenugreek significantly improved fasting blood glucose levels, 2-hour post-load glucose, and hemoglobin A1C levels when compared with controls. In conclusion, the authors noted that “results from clinical trials support beneficial effects of fenugreek seeds on glycemic control in persons with diabetes.”
Fenugreek seeds contain the amino acid isoleucine, which is believed to help reduce the rate of sugar absorption in the intestines, which in turn lowers blood sugar levels.
Fights cancer. Several studies have suggested fenugreek can fight cancer. Thus far all the studies have been conducted in the lab. One such research effort involved the treatment of breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer cell lines with fenugreek seed extract. They found that the extract killed the cancer cells but did not harm healthy cells.
Lowers cholesterol. Several studies in animals have suggested fenugreek can lower bad (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. One way the herb seems to provide these benefits is by increasing the excretion of fecal bile acids that also transport toxins out of the body.
Soothes digestive tract. Fenugreek is high in fiber, which can assist with diarrhea and constipation. Traditionally, fenugreek has been used to soothe gastritis and gastric ulcers. Some animal studies have indicated that the herb can be beneficial in the treatment of gastric ulcers.
Increases milk production. Much anecdotal evidence supports the use of fenugreek to increase milk production in breastfeeding moms. A fairly recent (2012) review of the literature revealed that experts are still cautious about the use of fenugreek for this purpose, citing a lack of sufficient safety and efficacy data. These doubts have not stopped women from using this natural approach. Fenugreek should not be used by pregnant women, however, because it may cause uterine contractions.
Fenugreek culinary delights
Along with fenugreek’s medicinal powers, don’t forget its power in the kitchen.
- Ground fenugreek seeds can spark up just about any main or side dish, and they are often used in Indian recipes.
- Some people like to roast the seeds and make coffee or add it to conventional coffees.
- The shoots and leaves can be added to salads or sandwiches.
- Fenugreek extract is sometimes added to marinades
Nutritional value of fenugreek
Fenugreek seeds are a rich source of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, and zinc. There’s also room for vitamins A and C as well as several of the Bs: thiamin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, and folic acid. One tablespoon of seeds contains 36 calories, 2.6 grams of protein, and a mere 0.7 grams of fat.
Isn’t it time to make fenugreek a part of your life?
Bahmani M et al. A review on ethnobotanical and therapeutic uses of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graceum L). Journal of Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine 2015 Apr 27
Chaturvedi U et al. A mechanism-based pharmacological evaluation of efficacy of Trigonella foenum graecum (fenugreek) seeds in regulation of dyslipidemia and oxidative stress in hyperlipidemic rats. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology 2013 Jun; 61(6): 505-12
Forinash AB et al. The use of galactogogues in the breastfeeding mother. Annals of Pharmacotherapy 2012 Oct; 46(10): 1392-404
Khil’ko TD et al. Glycoproteins of mucus of gastric and duodenal wall surface during ulcerogenesis and the impact of fenugreek. Fiziol Zh 2013l 59(4): 74-79
Neelakantan N et al. Effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L) intake on glycemia: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Nutrition Journal 2014 Jan 18; 13:7
Rao A et al. Influence of a specialized Trigonella foenum-graecum seed extract (Libifem) on testosterone, estradiol and sexual function in healthy menstruating women, a randomized placebo controlled study. Phytotherapy Research 2015. DOI:10.1002/ptr.5355
Shabbeer S et al. Fenugreek: a naturally occurring edible spice as an anticancer agent. Cancer Biology & Therapy 2009 Feb;8(3): 272-78