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
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.