Native to the Mediterranean region, western Asia, and Europe, fenugreek is an herb used for medicine and cooking. It’s similar to a clover in appearance, with small white flowers and golden brown seeds inside a pod.
The fenugreek seeds are similar in smell and taste to maple syrup and make them the perfect option for adding to recipes where a hint of sweetness is desired. The seeds are the most commonly used part of the fenugreek plant, but the leaves are also eaten as a vegetable in India.
The thickening properties of the fenugreek plant has made it a popular ingredient in many beauty products. Certain cosmetic companies add fenugreek extract to products such as shampoos, hair masks, and conditioners.
There are a lot of theories and traditions around the use of the fenugreek plant. In ancient Chinese medicine, fenugreek has been used for centuries. Unfortunately, whether any of its benefits are reliable is hard to say. There have not been enough quality studies of this herb to make a definitive decision on its medicinal properties.
Although there is no good scientific evidence that the medical uses of fenugreek are legitimate, many cultures worldwide use it as a natural medicine. Fenugreek is sometimes taken by mouth for those with diabetes to lower blood sugar levels, menstrual cramps in women, high cholesterol, and other health conditions.
The fenugreek seed is sometimes used to increase milk supply in women who are breastfeeding. A small study showed that breastfeeding mothers who drank fenugreek tea increased their milk production, allowing their babies to gain more weight. Another study showed women who drank the tea were able to produce double the amount of milk compared to mothers who didn’t drink the tea.
One of the side effects of fenugreek is an increase in perspiration (sweating). Its ability to increase milk supply is thought to be linked with how fenugreek affects the sweat glands.
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
A few small clinical studies have found that adding fenugreek powder to hot water or bread recipes can benefit people with diabetes. Doctors recorded several vital signs of those in the study before and after adding fenugreek to their diet. Among those vital signs was blood sugar level. The participants showed lower blood sugar levels after taking the fenugreek powder.
In smaller studies, people with diabetes reported lower sugar levels and noted better insulin response when they took one gram of fenugreek daily.
Although they were small studies, a few indicated that taking fenugreek seed pills or drinking the tea made from the seeds could reduce and shorten the duration of menstrual pain, such as cramps. These women were then able to reduce the number of additional painkillers needed during their menstruation.
Increased Sex Drive and Sexual Performance in Men
In Australia, a small study found an interesting link between fenugreek extract and testosterone levels in men. After six weeks of receiving fenugreek extract, the men reported enhanced libido (sex drive) and sexual performance.
The same properties that are thought to cause this change in testosterone levels are the same properties that lower cholesterol and anti-cancer properties.
Nutrients per Serving
One serving (100 grams) of fenugreek seed, contains:
Things to Watch Out For
Like many seeds, there is a fair amount of protein in the fenugreek seed. While there are many other essential vitamins and minerals in fenugreek, there are side effects too. These side effects might indicate that you are ingesting too much:
Fenugreek is a legume plant and could potentially cause issues for someone with a peanut allergy. Likewise, some medications may react with fenugreek, so check with your doctor before taking it.
Fenugreek supplements are available as a tablet or capsule that you can take daily. Some supplements contain additional ingredients. Be sure to confirm the other components will not be harmful to your specific diet.
How to Use, Eat, or Drink Fenugreek
Fenugreek can be found in a powder form where you can add it to things such as:
●Water (hot or cold)
●Bread or other baked goods
The leaves of the fenugreek plant are almost impossible to find in the United States. Asian markets are sometimes known to have frozen fenugreek leaves, but even they can be difficult to find.
If you find them, adding them to soups and curries can be a great way to add another layer of flavor and nutrients to your dish.