Fenugreek is an annual herb with light green leaves and small white flowers. It’s of the pea family (Fabaceae) and also known as Greek hay (Trigonella foenum-graecum). The fenugreek plant stands erect at two to three feet tall, and the seed pods contain 10–20 small, flat, yellow-brown, pungent and aromatic seeds.
Fenugreek seeds have a somewhat bitter taste, similar to celery, maple syrup or burnt sugar, and are often used to make medicine. However, fenugreek has a far more pleasant taste when cooked. The seeds are the most widely used part of fenugreek, which are usually dried and ground. The leaves are often used in cooking as well.
Fenugreek can be taken by mouth or used to form a paste that’s applied to the skin to help heal inflammation. In manufacturing, fenugreek extracts are can be found in soaps and cosmetics.
As noted in the book “Essential Oils in Food Preservation, Flavor and Safety,” fenugreek extract and oil are known to possess antimicrobial, antioxidant, antidiabetic and antitumorigenic activities. Cultivated in North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt and India, it has a long history as an ingredient in traditional medicine. The T. foenum-graecum galactomannan acts as a gum and an emulsifier, making it useful as a stabilizer as well as thickening agent for food. It’s also used as a spice and flavoring agent in food preparation.
6 Fenugreek Benefits and Uses
While more research is needed in terms of identifying and confirming all of the its benefits, fenugreek is shown to help with numerous health issues. Here are eight of the most proven fenugreek benefits.
1. Improves Digestive Problems and Cholesterol Levels
Fenugreek may help with numerous digestive problems, such as upset stomach, constipation and inflammation of the stomach. For instance, the water-soluble fiber in fenugreek, among other foods, helps relieve constipation. It also works to treat digestion and is often incorporated in an ulcerative colitis diet treatment plan due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
Fenugreek also seems to benefit those with heart conditions, such as hardening of the arteries and high blood levels of certain fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides. In fact, a study out of India showed that administering 2.5 grams of fenugreek twice daily for three months to people dealing with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus significantly lowered cholesterol naturally, along with triglycerides, without affecting HDL cholesterol.
2. Reduces Inflammation Inside the Body
Fenugreek helps with inflammation within the body, such as:
- mouth ulcers
- infection of the tissues beneath the surface of the skin
- chronic coughs
- kidney ailments
According to Dr. Richard Palmquist, chief of integrative health services at Centinela Animal Hospital in Inglewood, Calif., fenugreek was discovered to have medicinal qualities thousands of years ago by Ayurvedic medicine practitioners. Thought to lower blood sugar, he reports it’s useful for many things, including management of metabolic and nutritive disorders such as diabetes.
Fenugreek appears to slow absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulate insulin. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spice is known as a phlegm mover and is said to break up stuck energies and cool inflammation within the body.
Research published in International Immunopharmacology studied the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant of fenugreek mucilage on arthritic rats and confirmed fenugreek’s power to fight inflammation. It also “demonstrated the potential beneficiary effect of fenugreek mucilage on adjuvant induced arthritis in rats,” meaning fenugreek may be an effective natural arthritis treatment as well.
3. Increases Libido in Men
Some fenugreek uses for men include treating hernias, erectile dysfunctionand other male problems, such as baldness. That’s because fenugreek may increase sexual arousal and testosterone levels.
While it’s best to consult with a physician before using natural therapies for treating illnesses or improving sexual performance, supplements produced from fenugreek have been shown to increase sexual desire and performance in men, as well as naturally remedy impotence.
In a study published in Phytotherapy Research, 60 men between the ages of 25 and 52 years with no history of erectile dysfunction were supplemented with either a placebo or 600 milligrams of fenugreek extract per day for six weeks. Through self-evaluation, the participants noted their results with fenugreek, reporting that the supplement had a positive effect on their libidos. Ultimately, the study found that fenugreek extract had a significant influence on sexual arousal, energy and stamina and helped participants maintain normal testosterone levels.
4. Promotes Milk Flow in Breastfeeding
Fenugreek also helps breastfeeding women who may experience low milk supply. Fenugreek can increase a woman’s breast milk supply because it acts as a galactagogue, which is a substance to increase milk supply. This stimulates the milk ducts and can increase milk production in as little as 24 hours.
While more research is needed to determine the exact efficacy and safety of the galactagogue in fenugreek on breastfeeding, several studies note its use in promoting milk flow. Complementary & Alternative Medicine, the Annals of Pharmocotherapy, Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Internaional, among others, have all published studies on this issue.
5. Lowers Inflammation from Outside the Body
In addition to lowering internal inflammation, fenugreek is sometimes used externally as a poultice, which means it’s wrapped in cloth, warmed and applied directly to the skin. This reduces external inflammation and can treat:
- pain and swelling in the muscles and lymph nodes
- leg ulcers
It’s important to test the area first to ensure that it does not burn or further inflame, however.
6. Adds Flavor and Spice to Food
In foods, fenugreek is often included as an ingredient in spice blends, mostly found in Indian fare, such as curried dishes. It’s also used as a flavoring agent in imitation maple syrup, foods, beverages and tobacco. The leaves from the plant can be used in salads, and both fresh and dried leaves are used in Nepalese cookery.
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