Ancient History of Fenugreek

The first recorded use of fenugreek is described on an ancient Egyptian papyrus dated to 1500 B.C. Fenugreek seed is commonly used in cooking.

Common Names: Fenugreek, Fenugreek seed, Greek Hay Seed, Bird’s Foot

What Is Fenugreek Used For?

The medicinal parts are the ripe, dried seeds. Fenugreek has been approved by Commission E for loss of appetite and inflammation of the skin.

  • Historically, fenugreek was used for a variety of health conditions, including menopausal symptoms and digestive problems. It was also used for inducing childbirth.
  • Folk medicine: Internal uses include upper respiratory atarrh, diabetes, and to increase milk production. Externally, the drug is used as poultice for local inflammation, ulcers, and eczema.
  • Chinese Medicine: Fenugreek is used to treat cold pain in the lower abdomen, impotence, and hernia (said to be due to cold ‘chi’).
  • Indian Medicine: Fenugreek is used for fever, vomiting, anorexia, coughs, bronchitis, and colitis.
  • Today, it is used for diabetes and loss of appetite, and to stimulate milk production in breast-feeding women. It is also applied to the skin to treat inflammation.

How Fenugreek is Used?

Whole and powdered forms are available in the form of teas and compound preparations.

To prepare a tea, leave 0.5 gm drug to steep in cold water for 3 hours, then strain; the tea may be sweetened with honey. One cup of the tea may be taken several times a day.

A poultice is prepared as a thick paste made from the powdered seeds: add 50 gm of powdered fenugreek to 1 liter of boiling water for 5 minutes.


Fenugreek was, and remains, a food and a spice commonly eaten in many parts of the world. Fenugreek is the small stony seeds from the pod of a bean-like plant. The seeds are hard, yellowish brown and angular. They are aromatic and taste bittersweet, like burnt sugar. There is a bitter aftertaste, similar to celery or lovage.

The major use of fenugreek is in curry powders. In home made powders, the amount used can be controlled, but in store bought powders it often overpowers. When fish is curried, particularly strong-tasting fish such as tuna and mackerel, fenugreek is frequently included in the spice mixture. Many chutneys and pickles incorporate fenugreek and it gives a tangy aroma to vegetables. The leaves, both fresh and dried, are used in meat curries, dhal and vegetable dishes and chutneys. The seeds are an ingredient of the Middle Eastern confection halva. Flour mixed with ground fenugreek makes a spicy bread. In India the roasted ground seeds are infused for a coffee substitute or adulterant.

Fenugreek Tea. A tea can be made by infusing teaspoon of seed with two cups of water for five minutes.

The dried seeds are ground and taken by mouth or used to form a paste that is applied to the skin.

What Science Says

A few small studies have found that fenugreek may help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

There is not enough scientific evidence among scientists to support the use of fenugreek for any other health condition. Herbalists disagree.

Cabbage and Mustard Seed Side Dish

Looking for a healthy side dish? Try adding spice to the humble cabbage dish that includes healthful fenugreek.

  • 1 small Savoy cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 tablespoons groundnut or corn oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • Pinch fenugreek seeds
  • 12 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 dried red chilli, broken, seeds removed
  • 2 small onions, sliced
  • 3/4 fresh ginger, finely shredded
  • 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Pinch chili powder
  • 1 tomato, diced

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Toss in the fenugreek and mustard seeds, curry leaves and the chilli. Lower the heat immediately and add the onions and ginger.

Cover the pan and soften the onions without browning for five minutes. Stir in the turmeric and chili powder, then add the shredded cabbage and salt.

Cover the pan once more and cook over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes or until the cabbage has softened but retains a bite. Stir in the diced tomato and serve.

Side Effects and Cautions

  • Possible side effects of fenugreek when taken by mouth include gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Fenugreek can cause irritation when applied to the skin.
  • Given its historical use for inducing childbirth, women should use caution when taking fenugreek during pregnancy.
  • Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Read More: Essential Nutrients