Benefits of Fenugreek

Uma ShankariStarred Page By Uma Shankari, 19th Nov 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Alternative Medicine

Fenugreek is used both as an herb and a spice. Western medicine has now recognized its diverse medicinal uses.

Food As Medicine

The food is medicine, believed the ancient Indian seers; but for many of us medicines have become our main diet. If we use herbs and spices judiciously, we would ward off many ailments and would not need Vitamin and other food supplements. The spices used in Indian cooking have so much medicinal properties that the spice box in the kitchen closet becomes a veritable medicinal cornucopia.

As food is an everyday affair, many ancient cultures considered it a good, handy vehicle to carry healthy herbal essences to keep the body disease-free. So, food was made a chief element in all festivities, celebrations and rituals, and season-appropriate foods were prescribed for these.

Many communities in India have the practice of celebrating a girl's first menstruation and feeding her with nutritive foods. Special foods that regularize the menstrual cycle and flow and strengthen her body are given to the girl. Similarly, there are rituals connected with pregnancy, when the mother-to-be is fed special nourishing food and snacks.

The sweets made during these occasions involve one chief ingredient: fenugreek. There are other ingredients like jaggery, ghee, groundnuts, sesame seed and dry fruits.

Fenugreek was nutritious enough for the mother-to-be, but the reason it was given also given post-natally to them was that it was a galactagogue (milk producing agent) and it helped the nursing mothers to increase the breast milk supply.

Of the spices, fenugreek isn't as much used in cooking as, say, cumin or coriander seeds. It is bitter; of course, its bitterness can be tempered with sour sauces to make it tasty. In the case of sweets as described above, jaggery and dry fruits mask the taste of fenugreek.

Lydia E. Pinkham and Vegetable Compound

Before I go to enlist all the benefits of fenugreek, let me narrate some interesting facts. People who use fenugreek extracts report their pee and sweat smell (stink?) like maple syrup. Read this news story about the mystery of wafting maple syrup smell over Newyork skylines.

Ever heard of Lydia E. Pinkham? She was the earliest American business woman who converted her home medicine remedy called Vegetable Compound containing fenugreek into one of the best known patent medicines (for "female troubles"--everything from menstrual pain to postmenopausal vaginal dryness) of the 19th century.

Fenugreek Nutrition Facts

Fenugreek is in fact a legume that is used as a spice. It is one of the chief constituent of curry powder. It is a good source of protein, iron, magnesium, copper and manganese; it contains alkaloids, lysine and L-tryptophan; it contains saponins (hence its use in washing hair).

Fenugreek contains 28 percent mucilage, the subĀ­stance responsible for its demulcent properties. When mixed with water mucilage becomes gelatinous and soothes inflamed or irritated tissues.

Benefits of Fenugreek

The most important properties of fenugreek are: emollient, stomachic (stimulates stomach secretions), demulcent, bulk laxative, and anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and antibacterial activity. Researchers believe this activity may result from flavonoids present in fenugreek.

  • Fenugreek is credited with increasing breast sizes of women. Indeed, if the folk tales about Middle East harem women being fed fenugreek seeds to make them buxom is popularized, there would be many major converts to fenugreek remedies that would well cut into the 'big' business of surgical breast implants. The mastogenic effect is attributed to the presence of diosgenin, a chemical compound used to manufacture female sex hormone estrogen that increases libido and lessens the effects of hot flashes and hormone-induced mood fluctuations. Fenugreek is also reputed to stimulate uterine contractions and can be helpful in inducing childbirth.
  • Fenugreek is widely used in Arabian, Greek, Indian, and Chinese medicines to relieve constipation /diarrhea and colicky flatulence and eases chronic cough. Apart from being used as an internal emollient for inflammation of the digestive tract, it can be used as an external poultice for boils and abscesses. Jean Carper, the author of Food: Your Miracle Medicine notes that fenugreek has a long history of use for treating diarrhea and gastrointestinal spasms.
  • Carper also reports that scientists at India's National Institute of Nutrition recently found that fenugreek seeds powder could bring down fasting blood sugar and cholesterol in Type I sugar control patients. Daniel B. Mowrey, director of the American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory in Utah and author of The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine, attests its use in alleviating both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

How to Use Fenugreek in Cooking

In South India, fenugreek is widely used to make rice pancakes ('dosa') and steamed rice cakes ('idli'). For making pancakes, soak a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds along with two cups of rice, grind it finely and keep the batter overnight for fermentation. Normally, for making pancakes, a mix of black gram and rice is ground; in this recipe, I have replaced black gram with a smaller quantity of fenugreek.

For making Sambar, a lentil-and-tamarind sauce, you may pressure cook fenugreek along with lentils and make it the usual way. There are numerous websites that explain how to do this. You can use the seeds imaginatively to make curry blends, chutneys, stew and soups.

You may soak and cook fenugreek seeds and use it along with other vegetables (potato will taste great) to make curries and stews. You may use it after germinating it.

Fenugreek can be ground (5-10%) along with wheat for making chapattis (Indian bread). Fenugreek seed powder is also available at stores. A small quantity of this can be mixed with the wheat flour.

Use fenugreek leaves as you would use any other green. You may add it to rice biryani or add it to flour while preparing the dough for chapattis.

I have not made an exhaustive list for want of space.

Tips For Remedial Use Of Fenugreek

For colicky pain, flatulence, etc, soak fenugreek seeds in a tablespoon of curds (organic yogurt) for an hour and eat it. The probiotic curd adds to fenugreek's benefit. You may roast fenugreek seeds and powder it. You can even store it for future use. When needed, add a teaspoon in a cup of curd and have it.

Take 1-2 tablespoon of fenugreek seeds and boil in 2 glasses of water till the quantity reduces to half. Strain and use this mixture twice a day to treat hypertension or high blood sugar. You can add lemon juice and honey and drink this herbal tea to treat fever.

Mix powdered fenugreek with warm water to make a poultice and apply it directly onto the inflamed skin.

For treating dandruff and to get shiny hair, soak fenugreek seeds in water/curd and grind it into a fine paste. Apply it on hair and wait for an hour before washing it.


Anti-Diabetic, Enhancing Breast Size, Fenugreek, Galactagogue, Health Benefits Of Fenugreek

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author avatar Uma Shankari
I write on society, relationships, travel, health, nutrition and fitness.
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