Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual plant in the family Fabaceae, with leaves consisting of three small obovate to oblong leaflets. It is cultivated worldwide as a semiarid crop. Its seeds and its leaves are common ingredients in dishes from South Asia.
What Is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is an herb similar to clover that is native to the Mediterranean region, southern Europe, and western Asia. The seeds are used in cooking, to make medicine, or to hide the taste of other medicine. Fenugreek seeds smell and taste somewhat like maple syrup. Fenugreek leaves are eaten in India as a vegetable.
Fenugreek is taken by mouth for digestive problems such as loss of appetite, upset stomach, constipation, inflammation of the stomach (gastritis). Fenugreek is also used for diabetes, painful menstruation, polycystic ovary syndrome, and obesity. It is also used for conditions that affect heart health such as “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis) and for high blood levels of certain fats including cholesterol and triglycerides.
Fenugreek is used for kidney ailments, a vitamin deficiency disease called beriberi, mouth ulcers, boils, bronchitis, infection of the tissues beneath the surface of the skin (cellulitis), tuberculosis, chronic coughs, chapped lips, baldness, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and exercise performance.
Fenugreek is sometimes used as a poultice. That means it is wrapped in cloth, warmed, and applied directly to the skin to treat local pain and swelling (inflammation), muscle pain, pain and swelling of lymph nodes (lymphadenitis), pain in the toes (gout), wounds, leg ulcers, and eczema.
In foods, fenugreek is included as an ingredient in spice blends. It is also used as a flavoring agent in imitation maple syrup, foods, beverages, and tobacco.
In manufacturing, fenugreek extracts are used in soaps and cosmetics.
Health Benefits Of Fenugreek
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.
- 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.
- 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
3. Increases Libido in Men: Some fenugreek uses for men include treating hernias, erectile dysfunction and other male problems, such as baldness. That’s because fenugreek may increase sexual arousal and 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.
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
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 Indian cookery.
7. Helps with Eating Disorders: Beyond enhancing flavor, fenugreek has been shown in increase appetite, which results in restorative and nutritive properties. A study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry, and Behavior was designed to investigate the effects of a fenugreek seed extract on feeding behavior. Experiments were performed to determine food consumption and motivation to eat, as well as metabolic-endocrine changes.
8. Improves Exercise Performance: The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine reports a study of the effects of combined creatine and fenugreek extract supplementation on strength and body composition in men. Forty-seven resistance-trained men were matched according to body weight to ingest either 70 grams of a dextrose placebo, five grams of creatine and 70 grams of dextrose, or 3.5 grams of creatine and 900 milligrams of fenugreek extract and participate in a four-day a week periodized resistance-training program for eight weeks.
Traditional/Healing Benefits Of Fenugreek
- Diabetes: Some research shows that consuming fenugreek seed, mixed with food during a meal, lowers blood sugar levels after the meal in people with type 2 diabetes. However, while taking 5-50 grams of fenugreek seed once or twice daily seems to work, lower doses of 2.5 grams don’t seem to work. In people with type 1 diabetes, taking 50 grams of fenugreek seed powder twice daily seems to reduce the amount of sugar in the urine.
- Painful menstrual periods (dysmenorrhea): Taking 1800-2700 mg of fenugreek seed powder three times daily for the first 3 days of a menstrual period followed by 900 mg three times daily for the remainder of two menstrual cycles reduces pain in women with painful menstrual periods. The need for painkillers was also reduced.
- Heartburn: Research shows that taking a specific fenugreek product (FenuLife, Frutarom Belgium) before the two biggest meals of the day reduces symptoms of heartburn.
- High cholesterol: There is conflicting evidence about the effects of fenugreek on cholesterol levels. Early research shows that taking fenugreek seed reduces total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol. But the effects of fenugreek seed on high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol and triglycerides are inconsistent.
- Breast milk production: There are some reports that taking powdered fenugreek seed daily increases milk production in breastfeeding women. But evidence confirming this is limited. Some early research shows that drinking tea containing fenugreek, alone or along with other ingredients, increases milk volume. But other research suggests that taking capsules containing fenugreek three times daily for 21 days starting 5 days after giving birth does not affect breast-milk production.
- Male infertility: Early research suggests that taking fenugreek seed oil drops by mouth three times daily for 4 months improves sperm count in men with a low concentration of sperm. But taking the other parts of the fenugreek seed does not seem to have this effect.
- Weight loss: Early research shows that a fenugreek seed extract can reduce daily fat intake in overweight men when taken by mouth at a dose of 392 mg three times daily for 2-6 weeks. But a lower dose does not appear to have this effect. Neither dose affects weight, appetite, or fullness. Adding 4 or 8 grams of fenugreek fiber to breakfast seems to increase feelings of fullness and reduce hunger at lunchtime. But it’s not clear if this increases weight loss.
- Parkinson’s disease: Research suggests that taking fenugreek seed extract (Indus Biotech Private Limited, Pune) twice daily for 6 months does not improve symptoms in people with Parkinson’s disease.
- Ovarian cysts (polycystic ovary syndrome): Research suggests that taking fenugreek seed extract (Goldarou Pharmaceutical Co. Isfahan Iran) daily for 8 weeks does not improve symptoms for women with ovarian cysts.
- Stomach upset.
- “Hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis).
- Kidney disease.
- Mouth ulcers.
- Chronic cough.
- Chapped lips.
- Sexual problems (erectile dysfunction, ED).
- Other conditions.