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Trigonella foenum-graecum

Family : Leguminosae


Fenugreek is a slender annual herb of the pea family (Fabaceae). Its dried seeds, used as a food, a flavouring, and a medicine. The seeds' aroma and taste are strong, sweetish, and somewhat bitter, reminiscent of burnt sugar. They are farinaceous in texture and may be mixed with flour for bread or eaten raw or cooked. It was used by the ancient Egyptians and is mentioned in medical writings in their tombs. The Romans grew it as fodder for their cattles. Historically, the main usage of fenugreek was medicinal rather than as a labour. The botanical name trigonella refers to the angular seeds and foenum graecum translates as 'Greek hay', which explains its use as cattle feeds.


Native to India and Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, the plant is cultivated in central and southeastern Europe, western Asia, India, and northern Africa. The plants are erect, loosely branched, less than 3 feet (1 m) tall with trifoliate, light green leaves and small white flowers. The slender pods are up to 6 inches (15 cm) long, curved and beaked, and contain ten to twenty yellow-brown seeds--flat rhomboids characterized by a deep furrow, less than 0.2 inch (1 cm) long. The seeds are about 0.5 cm in diameter and are irregularly shaped, very hard, and tan or mustard coloured.

The volatile oil content of fenugreek is very small (less than 0.02%). It also contains fixed oils at about 5% - 7%. They contain the alkaloids trigonelline and choline and a yellow colouring matter. It is rich in proteins, minerals and vitamins.

Culinary use

The herb is a characteristic ingredient in some curries and chutneys and the fenugreek extract is used to make imitation maple syrup. Because of its high nutritive contents, it is an important ingredient in vegetable and dhal dishes eaten in India. In India, young fenugreek plants are used as a pot herb. The leaves are widely used, fresh or dried, in Indian cooking and are often combined with vegetables. Fenugreek seeds are used in a wide range of home-made or commercial curry powders. In northern Africa the plants are used for fodder.

Medicinal and other use

Fenugreek was used in Middle Ages to cure baldness. It is still used in Indonesia as hair tonic. It is traditionally used to stimulate the metabolism and there by to control the blood sugar levels of diabetic patients. It is useful in lowering the blood pressure and because of its high iron content it is also given in cases of anaemia. Fenugreek is used medicinally as a digestive aid and to promote lactation in both women and in cows. The seeds have been used as an internal emollient for inflammation of the digestive tract and as an external poultice for boils and abscesses; but their present medical use is principally confined to the treatment of cows and horses. It contains diosgenin, a compound used as a starting material for sex hormones in the pharmaceutical industry. The powder is sometimes used as a dye.


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