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Herb:  Fenugreek Seed  (Trigonella Foenum-Graecum;  Leguminosae/Papilionaceae) 

Other Names: Greek hay seed, birdsfoot (2);  hu lu ba (China)  (15);  hilba   (38)

Character/Energetics:  bitter, warm  (6);   very warm, pungent, bitter   (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: lungs, stomach, intestines, reproductive organs (14)              

Parts used:   ripe, dried seeds   (2); pulverized seeds   (6)            

Identification & Harvesting: Annual;  10-50 cm high;  long vertical taproot;  sturdy stem, erect or decumbent and branched;  trifoliate leaves;  1-3 cm long leaflets.  Common to the Mediterranean as far as India and China and southward as far as Ethiopia.  Cultivated mainly in France, Turkey, North Africa, India and China. (2); Yellowish flowers;  fruit is a 16-seeded, compressed, malodorous legume.   (13)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Harvest when ripe.    (15)

Imported from Morocco and Bombay.  Seeds a brownish yellow, about 1/8 inch long, oblong rhomboid, with a deep furrow almost dividing the seeds into two unequal lobes.  Taste and odor recalls that of celery or lovage.  The English herb Trigonella purpuracens is sometimes called fenugreek, but is quite a different species.    (57)

A member of the pea family.  Native to southern Europe and southwest Asia, and cultivated in warm climes worldwide.  The plant has been grown throughout history.  India and China are primary poducers of fenugreek.    (61)

Active Constituents:  mucilages (25-45% mannogalactans), proteins 25-35%, proteinase inhibitors, steroid saponins (incl. bitter trigofoenosides A-G), steroid saponin-peptide ester (incl. foenugraecin), flavonoids (incl isoorientin, isovitexin, orientin, saponaretin, vicenin-1), trigonelline (coffearin, N-methylbetaine of nicotinic acid), trace volatile oils (aroma bearer 3-hydroxy-4,5-dimethyl-2(5H)-furanone).  (2); 28% mucilage, fatty oil, saponins, choline, lecithin, phytosterols and an alkaloid, trigonelline.  (6); Steroidal saponins inl. diosgenin.   (8); alkaloids incl. gentianine  (15);                                                                                                                                                                                                

Trigonelline has potential in cancer therapy, and the saponins are extracted for use in oral contraceptives and other pharmaceuticals.   (38)

Phytoestrogens (incl. diosgenin, which has been shown experimentally to increase milk flow) (56)

Actions: emollient (external), reduces blood sugar, increases milk;  vulnerary.  (2);  yang tonic, nutritive, carminative, stimulant, demulcent, alterative (6); 

expectorant, aphrodisiac, astringent, galactagogue, tonic. (14); uterine stimulant, lowers blood sugar levels, aphrodisiac.  In trials, it reduced urine sugar levels by 50%   (15); antiparasitic, antitumor (38);  Emollient (57)                                                                                                                                       

Traditionally described as carminative, tonic, and aphrodisiac.  Harem women in Arab countries ate it to promote buxomness.  Leaves are considered cooling. In recent studies, significant reduction of LDL cholesterol were observed, an effect attributed to the fiber.  Other studies show fenugreek lowers blood sugar. The high mucilage content may coat the stomach and slow absorption of other substances.    (61)

Conditions and Uses: Reputedly a digestive system cleanser;  flushing kidneys and quickening bile flow in liver.  (1);   

Used internally for loss of appetite, dyspeptic complaints, inflammation of the skin, upper respiratory catarrh;  used externally as a poultice for local inflammation, furuncles, ulcers, inflamed swellings and eczema. (2); 

May be taken as a tonic for osteomyelitis, tuberculosis and scrofula.  Also traditionally used for catarrh, fever, stomach and digestive disorders, and to regulate insulin in diabetics.  Helpful for wasting diseases, anemia, debility, neurasthenia and gout.  Apply externally as a poultice to sores, boils, abscesses.    (6);  

Used as a bitter to aid digestion and to soothe digestive disturbance.  Strong stimulator of milk production, for which it is perfectly safe;  has a reputation for stimulating breast development.   (8)

Large amounts of the decoction are given to strengthen patients with tuberculosis or recovering from an illness.  Make a poultice for gout, neuralgia, sciatica, swollen glands.   (13)

Allergies:  infusion*, decoction*.  Asthma:  infusion, decoction, powder.  Bronchitis:  decoction.  Coughs:  infusion, decoction, syrup.  Diabetes:  powder*.  Emphysema:  infusion*, decoction*, powder*.  Fever:  infusion, decoction.  Hay fever:  infusion*, decoction*, powder*.  Heartburn:  infusion, decoction.  Hoarseness:  infusion, decoction, syrup.  Migraine headaches:  infusion.  Mucus conditions:  infusion, decoction, powder.  Abscesses, boils, carbuncles:  poultice.  Sore throat:  gargle.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.  (14)

Used in China for abdominal pain and male impotence. (15)

Used externally for skin inflammation and cellulite.   (38)

Used to increase milk production since biblical times.  Seeds and sprouts have a centuries-old folk reputation as breast enlargers.   (56)

Used externally as a poultice in abscess, boils, carbuncles, etc.  Internally a decoction of 1 oz. seed in 1 pint of water is used in inflamed conditions of stomach and intestines.  Its chief use is as an ingredient in cattle and horse condiments.  It also enters into curry powders.    (57)

The mucilaginous seeds have been used as food and medicine for millennia.  Eaten raw or cooked, in curries, in breads, and as a coffee substitute in Africa.  Also to stimulate milk flow.  A tea has been used to soothe inflammation of the intestinal tract.  Currently approved by German authorities for anorexia and externally as a poultice for local inflammation.    (61)

Combinations:  Disguise the bitter taste with a little fennel.  Add powdered cloves or cinnamon if             desired. (15)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Precautions: No recorded risks or side effects with designated dosages.  Sensitization is possible through repeated external use. (2)                                                           

A uterine stimulant;  avoid during pregnancy.  Type I diabetics should seek professional advice before using fenugreek as a hypoglycemic.   (15)

Not given to pregnant women. (38)

Rare reports of flatulence or diarrhea.  Use of fenugreek might interfere with other diabetic therapies. Due to uterine-stimulant activity and a possible estrogenic effect, avoid during pregnancy.    (61)

Tincturing Process:  Vita Mix: (Speed 5)– Place 1/3 lb segments in VM container. Process 60 seconds. Resituate marc in VM container and process additional 45 seconds Apportion 1 lb between (2) 24-oz mason jars. 65%  Alcohol  (1a)

Applications: Infusion — leave .5 g crushed seed in cold water for 3 hrs and strain.  Poultice — a thick paste made from powdered seeds with hot water, 50 g herb per liter water.  (2)              

Decoction — 2 tsp seed with 1 c. cold water;  let stand for 5 hours.  Then boil for 1 min.  Take 2-3 cups a day.  Improve the taste with peppermint oil, lemon extract, honey, or sugar.   (13)

Infusion — steep 5-15 min;  take 1 cup during the day, hot or cold.  Decoction — simmer 5-15 min;  take 6 oz. 3 x daily.  Tincture — 30-60 drops 3 x daily.  Fluid extract — 1/2 – 1 tsp 3 x daily. 

Powder — 2-10 #0 capsules (10-60 grains) 3 x daily.   (14)

Take tincture for weak chi.  Used to help control glucose metabolism in late-onset diabetes.  (15)

Paste — grind up seeds or sprouts, add a dash of vegetable oil and apply. (56)

Divination:  ruled by e   (1b)

Dosage:  6 g daily internally.  (2); 3-9 g daily.  (6);  1-2 ml tincture 3 x daily.  (8)                                                                                                                                     

Up to 4.2 g. capsules daily, or 1-1/2 tsp of the seed daily.  Soak 10 tsp powder in hot water to make a poultice.    (61)

General Notes: Effects cannot be attributed to any specific substance or pharmacodynamic action.  Recent interest in the herb as a raw material for steroids.  (2)

One of the oldest known medicinal herbs, used by Hippocrates, widely esteemed both East and West. (6)

“When the body is rubbed with it, the skin is left beautiful without any blemishes.” — ancient Egyptian recipe for fenugreek ointment, c. 1500 BC   (15)

Mentioned in the Ebers papyri (c. 1500 BC) as an herb to induce childbirth.  Grown for fodder in parts of Europe.  Dried plants sold as hilbain Egypt as a remedy for painful menstruation.  Used in many Indian and Middle Eastern dishes;  seeds are ground as an ingredient of curry powder;  sprouts are eaten as a tonic for liver, kidneys and male sex organs.    (38)

First-choice herb for promoting milk production;  also the main ingredient in “Bustea” which is recommended for breast enlargement.  Recipe — in a saucepan, pour 2 c. water over 1 c. fenugreek sprouts.  Add dashes of anise, basil, caraway, dill, fennel, licorice, marjoram and lemongrass.  Bring to a boil, then cool.  Add lemon juice and honey to taste.  Drink 1-2 c daily.  Massaging powdered fenugreek into the breasts is also worth a try, since breast tissue can absorb a certain amount of plant chemicals.  (56)                                                                                                                                                    



(1)  Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, Indiana Botanic Gardens Advert’t, Vegetarian Times, Aug. 1993

(1a) ibid “Fenugreek Seed ” Tincture file

(1b) ibid Research Data, Rosicrucian, Heindel

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998, pgs. 1188-89

(6)  Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 301-2

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 200

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pgs. 190-91

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 119-20

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 106, 172-73

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, p. 364

(56) The Green Pharmacy  by James A. Duke, Ph.D., pgs. 88-90

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 141

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 84-85


PHOTO; Wikipedia