Fenugreek (Trigonella Foenum-graecum)
Greek Hay (or Hay-seed)
Fenugreek is an Annual plant that resembles clover with tender stems and leaves.
It flowers are white and pea-like only ½ in long with hairy calyxes. They occur singly or in pairs at the leaf axils.
The leaves come in sets of three and are tear drop shaped ranging from 3/4-2 in long.
The fruit is curved seed pods 2-3 in long containing 10-20 smooth brown seeds inside.
It can grow to heights of 1-2 feet tall.
It’s known to flower Midsummer season and it is Native to Western Asia and the Mediterranean while it has been Naturalized in North America.
This plants hardiness zone is 6. It likes rich soil and full sun. When planting you want to spread the seed thickly in a rich soil that has been deeply plowed. Once soil temperatures reaches 55*F seeds can be sown. If sown in cold and wet soil it can develop root rot.
When harvesting you want to do it when the pods are ripe but not before they start to shatter. Remove the seeds from the pods and dry them in the sun.
In the past Fenugreek was known first for its use as fodder. Foenum-graecum means ‘Greek hay’ in Latin and it was sometimes used to disguise the smell of moldy fodder. It’s medicinal powers were later exploited in ancient Egypt, and later brought to Western Europe by Benedictine monks during the ninth century.
In the past it has been used to ‘cure’ nearly everything under the sun all around the world. It has been recommended as an expectorant, laxative, febrifuge, and stomachic. When used in a poultice (a soft, moist mass of material, typically of plant material or flour, applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation and kept in place with a cloth.), it has been said to help soothe boils, wounds and ulcers. It was even the primary ingredient of Lydia Pinkham’s health tonic which was popular once.
For the old time remedies mentioned above, research suggests that some of them do hold merit. The seeds contain up to 30 percent mucilage (a polysaccharides substance extracted as a viscous or gelatinous solution from plant roots, seeds, etc., and used in medicines and adhesives) which does make it a good poultice. When used as a poultice it has been said to help with rheumatic pains or boils. Also because of this it may be what makes Fenugreek tea valued as a laxative and aid in curing ulcers and other stomach problems. The tea has also been said to help soothe sore throats and possibly aid as a fever reducer, and help with bronchitis.
Also it has been known to help with reproductive disorders. It has therapeutic possibilities in this area because of it’s steroidal saponins, these closely resemble the human bodies own sex hormones. Because of this it can be used as an aphrodisiac and it has gained the reputation for increasing the flow of milk in nursing mothers. In China it is prescribed for impotence in men and also recommended for menopausal sweating and depression. Also known as a source of vitamins and minerals, most specifically calcium.
It is important to note that Fenugreek does have a stimulating effect on the uterus and should not be used as a medicine during pregnancy.
Cooking and Diet
Now Fenugreek has a nutty flavor mixed between celery and maple. You can add whole Fenugreek seed to pickling brine. Add sprout seeds to salads. However be warned because to much can cause food to become bitter.
This plants seeds have been used either whole or ground in several different cuisines in places like East India, Pakistan, and Africa and is used in chutney and halvah. It enhances meats, poultry, marinated vegetables and curry blends. It’s also used for flavoring in confectionery.
It is also used by the Arabs by roasting the seeds and using them as a kind of ‘coffee’.
If you would like to make your own tea from Fenugreek here is one way to do it:
Take 1 ounce of seeds and seep in 1 pint of boiling water. To help with odor and taste you can add some honey and/or peppermint extract(or leaves I would imagine would also help).
Uses: Its said to bring money into the household by putting a few fenugreek seeds to the mop water or use a small amount of fenugreek infusion instead of the seeds. Another option is to take a small jar and half fill it with fenugreek seeds, then every couple of days add a few seeds to the jar until it is full. Once full empty the jar and start over, returning the spent herb to the ground.
Sources for Information: Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs 2003, The New Age Herbalist 1988, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs1998.