A Brief History Of Fenugreek- The Benefits Of Adding Fenugreek In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Fenugreek– Fenugreek Side Effects – Are There Any?
Medicinal plants are gaining popularity these days. Aside from its accessibility, more and more people are turning towards these as a form of alternative medicine. After all, its supposed to be safer and with minimal side effects, right?
Plus, historical accounts show that early civilization used plants to treat various diseases. If they used it, then we can, too.
One of the popular medicinal plants today is fenugreek.
Before you indulge on this, keep reading to know more about fenugreek, its nutritional benefits, what it can do, and whether or not it is safe for human consumption.
Fenugreek, In a Nutshell
Scientifically known as Trigonella foenum graecum, fenugreek is pod-like seeds that belong to the pea (Fabaceae) family. It goes by different names:
- Helba in Morocco
- Methi in India
- Abesh in Ethiopia
It grows up to two to three feet tall with light green leaves and white flowers. It also has seedpods, which contains 10 to 20 small, yellow-brown, aromatic seeds per pod.
It is native to India and North Africa, and is widely used around the world including the Mediterranean region, central Europe and West Asia.
Both the leaves and seeds are aromatic. They also have a complex taste that range from sweet, nutty, and slightly bitter. Oftentimes, people mistake fenugreek as maple syrup because of the similarity in taste and smell. Some also describe fenugreek as similar to celery or burnt sugar.
For many years, fenugreek is used in variety of products. This includes:
- Garam masala, a popular spice blend
- Imitation of maple syrup products
Apart from kitchen ingredients, fenugreek can also be used as:
- Cosmetic products
Because of its many uses, fenugreek, particularly the seeds, is turned into capsules, liquid extracts, teas, and even dressings for the skin. Fenugreek is available online or checks out your local supermarket. Health food stores also sell fenugreek, both in seeds and leaves form.
Did you know that fenugreek is among the oldest medicinally used plants? In fact, traditional Chinese and Indian system of medicine showed that this plant is used way before the advancement in medicine.
Before that, ancient Egyptians used fenugreek in embalming the dead. Greeks and Romans were also known for using this plant as a cattle fodder. This also explains the reason behind the scientific name, foenum graecum, which means Greek hay.
In Tell Halal, Iraq, experts uncovered charred fenugreek seeds, which dates back to 4000 BC. There were also desiccated seeds, which were recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Renowned personalities also identified fenugreek in some of their works. For instance, Cato the Elder listed fenugreek, together with vetch and clover, as one of the crops used to feed cattle. Josephus, a Roman-Jewish historian, mentioned fenugreek in his book, Wars of the Jews.
Fenugreek was also mentioned in Mishnah, a second century compendium of Jewish Oral Law.
Over the years, fenugreek was used for various purposes, both in and out of the kitchen. It is also lauded for its many health benefits.
At present, India remains to be the top producer of fenugreek in the world. The state of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttaranchal are responsible for the country’s production. Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Turkey are also big producers of this ingredient.
Fenugreek Nutrition Facts
For centuries, fenugreek is used as a treatment for various diseases. It’s not surprising why.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one teaspoon or 3.7 grams of fenugreek seeds contains the following nutrients:
- 12 calories
- 0.24 grams total fat
- 0.85 grams protein
- 0.9 grams total dietary fiber
- 2.16 grams carbohydrates
- 2 milligrams sodium
- 7 milligrams calcium
- 7 milligrams magnesium
- 1.24 milligrams calcium
- 11 milligrams phosphorus
- 28 milligrams potassium
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin C
- 0.09 milligrams Zinc
Fenugreek also contains B vitamins such as Thiamin (0.012mg), Riboflavin (0.014mg), Niacin (0.061mg), vitamin B6, and folate. It also has choline, vitamin A, and biotin.
In other words, a teaspoonful of fenugreek could give you essential nutrients your body needs to be able to function properly.
Fenugreek is known for its many health and medicinal benefits. Given the nutritional benefits, its not surprising why many people include fenugreek in their diet.
Below are its benefits:
Did you know that fenugreek contains linolenic and linoleic acids? These substances are known anti-inflammatory agents, which also follow that fenugreek has anti-inflammatory properties.
Reducing inflammation is essential otherwise, it could pave way to various conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Adding fenugreek in your diet could reduce inflammatory markers in your blood as well as better cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels.
This is backed up by a study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. In the said study, experts concluded that fenugreek has high antioxidant flavonoid content, which is helpful in reducing inflammation in the body.
Helps Boost Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is a sex hormone that affects sexual function, cognitive function, and energy levels among others, especially for men. Apparently, as men age, testosterone levels naturally decline. Health conditions like diabetes and obesity could lower one’s T levels as well. This could lead to ejaculation issues or low libido.
There are several ways to increase a man’s testosterone. One of them is fenugreek. In fact, many testosterone supplements contain this ingredient.
Fenugreek contains furostanolic saponins, a type of compound believed to increase body’s production of testosterone.
Based on a 2010 study published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, men who took 500 milligrams of fenugreek supplements recorded a slight increase in their testosterone levels. Consequently, there was also an improvement in their strength and body fat.
Apart from furostanolic saponins, fenugreek also contains protodioscin, another type of saponin that is also effective in boosting testosterone levels.
According to a 2017 study published in International Journal of Medical Sciences, participants who took fenugreek supplements experienced an increase in their testosterone levels by 46 percent. They also experienced an improvement in their mood, energy levels, sperm count, and libido.
Consequently, another study published in The Aging Male showed that men who took 600 milligrams of fenugreek seed extract everyday for 12 weeks also recorded an increase in their testosterone levels. They also noticed an improvement in their libido.
On the other hand, there are some studies saying that fenugreek supplements were not that effective in boosting testosterone levels. In that case, further studies are recommended to determine how effective it is in boosting T levels.
Increases Breast Milk Production
They say breast milk is best for babies even after two years. Sadly, not all moms will have endless supply of milk.
The good news is there are natural supplements that could help increase breast milk production. One of them is fenugreek.
A recent study published in Phytotherapy Research showed that lactating mothers who took fenugreek supplements noticed an increase in their breast milk supply.
This is the reason why many practitioners of traditional Asian medicine recommend fenugreek, especially to nursing moms.
Helpful Against People With Diabetes
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes has quadrupled since 1980. From 108 million, there are 422 million people in the world who have diabetes.
In the United States, CDC’s national Diabetes Statistics Report revealed that an estimated 34.2 million Americans have this condition. Worse, there are about 7.3 million Americans who are suffering from diabetes symptoms but are undiagnosed.
Treatments are available for diabetes. One of the more natural ways to address diabetes is by taking fenugreek.
Based on a study published in Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders, fenugreek is helpful in lowering blood sugar levels. Researchers studied 140 individuals with prediabetes and divided into two groups. They found out that the control group has 4.2 times higher chance of developing diabetes compared to the group who took 10 grams of fenugreek powder everyday.
Another study also revealed the beneficial effects of fenugreek on people with diabetes in India. The group who received 10 grams of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water everyday recorded a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels.
That’s not all. Another study also showed that fenugreek supplements helped reduce hemoglobin A1c, a marker of long-term blood sugar control for people with diabetes.
Aside from human studies, animal studies were also conducted to check fenugreek’s anti-diabetic properties. One study showed that mice that ate a high-fat diet plus two percent whole fenugreek seed supplementation had better glucose tolerance compared to those who did not receive any fenugreek supplements.
Experts also found out that fenugreek can:
- Delay gastric emptying
- Reduce absorption of intestinal glucose
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Decrease concentration of lipid-binding protein
Nonetheless, take note that further studies are needed to determine how effective fenugreek is against people with diabetes.
Improves Weight Loss
According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among adults is at 42.4 percent. Worse, there is no significant difference between men and women.
This is a serious matter. Obesity could lead to several complications and health problems including cardiovascular disease and stroke. This is also why many are advocating for a lighter weight and smaller waistline.
There are many ways to help you lose weight. One of them is by adding fenugreek in your daily routine.
It turns out fenugreek helps suppress your appetite and increases the feeling of fullness. As a result, you eat less, which could eventually lead to weight loss.
One study was conducted, which involved nine overweight Korean females. They were divided into three groups where one group drank fennel tea, another group had fenugreek tea, and the other group had a placebo tea before taking lunch. The group who had fenugreek tea reported that they felt fuller and less hungry compared to the other groups.
Another study published in Phytotherapy Research looked into the effect of fenugreek on obese participants. In the said study, those who ate eight grams of fenugreek fiber during breakfast felt fuller and ate less during lunch.
Keep in mind that fenugreek also has fiber content. Therefore, this will make you feel fuller and result to smaller portions come next mealtime.
Effective Pain Relief
What do you use in case of pain? Some drugs may be effective but are you sure they are safe?
Thankfully, fenugreek could help. In fact, fenugreek is used for many years as a pain relief in traditional medicine. This is because fenugreek contains alkaloids, a type of compound that blocks sensory receptors that tell the brain that you feel pain.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Reproduction & Infertility, 51 women were having painful periods were asked to take fenugreek seed powder capsules three times a day for the first three days of their periods. The study also went on for two consecutive months.
They reported that they experienced a shorter pain duration during their period. More so, there was a decrease in the symptoms of dysmenorrhea such as headache, fatigue, lack of energy, and nausea. The best part is they did not experience any side effects while taking the fenugreek capsules.
Fenugreek Side Effects
Despite being natural and a known remedy in traditional Asian medicine, don’t be too complacent when using fenugreek.
Common side effects include:
- Upset stomach
- Maple-like odor of sweat, urine, or breast milk
- Worsening of asthma
Allergic reactions are also possible, although this is rare. A recent study also revealed people who are allergic to peanuts should take it easy on consuming fenugreek. Make sure to pay attention to your body’s reaction after taking fenugreek and avoid this in case you are allergic.
Apart from those with allergic reactions against fenugreek, below are not recommended to take this despite its many health benefits:
Since fenugreek contains compounds that could stimulate contractions. It may also cause birth abnormalities.
Individuals with Hormone-sensitive Cancer
This is because fenugreek could act similarly to estrogen and may result in adverse effects.
People Who are Currently Taking Medications
Generally, fenugreek is safe. In fact, it won’t cause anything when combined with other drugs. Still, some of the fenugreek’s compounds may work similarly as the ingredients in your medication and cause negative effects. It is best to consult with your doctor first or avoid taking fenugreek instead.
Individuals Who Have Health Issues
The efficacy and reliability of fenugreek are still being evaluated, especially on those who have existing health issues. Use cautiously and talk to your doctor before taking anything.
In other words, caution is key. Fenugreek may seem harmless but if you are diagnosed with a certain condition, then make sure you consult your doctor first before you add this in your diet.
Storage is an important factor in preserving and extending shelf life of fenugreek – or any other plants and herbs.
Typically, fenugreek leaves have shorter shelf life compared to seeds and powder. It is recommended that you consume them immediately to enjoy its flavor. The good news is you can use fenugreek leaves for months if you store it properly.
There are two ways:
- Chop fenugreek leaves. No need to wash it to reduce moisture content from the water.
- Place chopped leaves in an aluminum foil.
- Fold the foil until all leaves are covered. There’s no need to fold it tightly to reduce the moisture and make the leaves rot faster.
- Place the foil inside a Ziploc bag and put it inside the freezer.
Simply get from the bag in case you want to use fenugreek on your dishes. The good thing about this method is that it can have a shelf life of 10 months.
- Separate fenugreek leaves from the stem.
- Soak the leaves in a bowl of saltwater for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Strain and then wash thoroughly.
- Place the leaves in a kitchen towel and pat them dry.
- Heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan.
- Add the leaves. Sauté in medium flame until the leaves absorb the moisture and starts to shrink.
- Remove from pan and let it cool.
- Place in an airtight container and put it in the freezer.
This method will last the leaves three months. Also, make sure that you do this method as soon as you bought them. This way, the leaves are still fresh and moisture in the leaves is still intact.
On the other hand, fenugreek seeds are easier to store and usually have a longer shelf life. Make sure you store them in an airtight container and away from heat and sunlight to retain their flavor and aroma. This will have a shelf life for at least one year, although it is recommended that you consume immediately to enjoy its flavor.
Fenugreek Recipe / Usage
There are several ways to use fenugreek. One of the most popular ways is by making fenugreek water. Here’s how to do it:
- Soak one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in a cup of water.
- Leave it overnight.
- The next morning, remove the seeds and drink the water on an empty stomach. You can also warm the water to make it more soothing for your tummy. This helps with digestion, too.
Apart from the kitchen, fenugreek is also known for its cosmetic use. Here are some ideas:
- Skin Exfoliator – Grind fenugreek seeds until coarse. Rub on your skin to get rid of dead skin cells and excess oil.
- Cleanser – Soak fenugreek seeds in water and leave it overnight. Blend it into a paste the following day. Set aside the water. Then, apply it on your face as a facial mask to deeply cleanse the skin. Use the soaked water to rinse the fenugreek paste.
- Toner – Place the soaked water from the fenugreek cleanser in a spray bottle. Sprinkle on your face before you apply moisturizer.
- Moisturizer – Soak fenugreek seeds in hot water and leave it overnight. The next morning, grind the seeds together with two tablespoons of yogurt and one tablespoon of honey. Rub on your face and let it stay for 15 minutes before you rinse with water.
- Acne Cure – Boil seeds in water for 15 minutes. Remove the seeds. Dip the cotton ball in the water and use it to cleanse your face.
Fenugreek can last anytime between three months to one year, depending on how you stored it. In case you run out or the one you have is sitting too long on the freezer, here are some of your alternatives:
it provides the same “earthiness” as fenugreek. You can also use the same amount of mustard seed in lieu of fenugreek seeds. In case the recipe calls for fenugreek leaves, use mustard greens instead.
Honey Dijon Mustard
A teaspoon of this ingredient could replace the equivalent amount of fenugreek seeds.
This ingredient has fenugreek seeds, thereby making it a good alternative. Still, curry powder is a blend of several ingredients, which means you might not get that fenugreek flavor. If you still want that distinct fenugreek taste, then go for freshly made curry powder.
This can be a good alternative; however, fennel seeds tend to be sweeter. Make sure to use it sparingly when the recipe calls for fenugreek seeds.
Chinese Celery Leaves
It may not have the maple syrup taste fenugreek leaves provide, but this is a good alternative as well because of its bitter flavor.
Combination Of Spices
You can also crush yellow mustard seed and fennel seed in equal amounts. Then, heat in low fire. Heating will lessen the sweet flavor from the fennel seed and the strong taste of the yellow mustard seed.
The Bottom Line
Fenugreek is among the oldest and most trusted medicinal plant since the ancient times. Apart from this, it became a favorite kitchen ingredient as well as an important component in many cosmetic products. It also comes with tons of health benefits including as a pain reliever, breast milk booster, and helps increase testosterone levels among others.
Nonetheless, caution is necessary since not everyone can take fenugreek seeds. Ask your doctor before you include this in your diet.