Fenugreek is an erect, strongly scented, robust, annual herb, about 30 to 80 cms high. It has compound leaves of light green colour, 2 to 2.5 cms long, yellow flowers and thin pointed pods. The seeds are brownish-yellow and have a peculiar odour.
Fenugreek is a native of Eastern Europe and Ethiopia. It has been used since ancient times both as a food and medicine by the people living on the shores of the Mediterranean and across Asia.
The leaves contain moisture 86.1 per cent, protein 4.4 per cent, fat 0,9 per cent, minerals 1.5 per cent, fibre 1.1 per cent and carbohydrates 6.0 per cent per 100 grams of edible portion. Its mineral and vitamin contents are calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C.
Fenugreek seeds contain moisture 13.7 per cent, protein 26.2 per cent, fat 5.8 per cent, minerals 3.0 per cent, fibre 7.2 per cent and carbohydrates 44.1 per cent per 100 grams. Their mineral and vitamin contents are calcium, phosphorus, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. Several alkaloids have been found in fenugreek seeds. Its calorific value is 333.
The seeds contain alkaloid trigonelline and choline, essential oil and saponin. Trigonelline has highly toxic action on neuromuscular preparations. The seeds also contain fixed and volatile oil, mucilage, bitter extractive and a yellow colouring substance. Air-dried seeds contain a little amount of trigonelline and nicotinic acid.
Fenugreek has excellent medicinal virtues. Its regular use helps keep the body dean and healthy. The leaves of fenugreek are aromatic, cooling and mild laxative. The seeds exercise soothing effect on the skin and mucous membranes, relieving any irritation of the skin and alleviating swelling and pain. They increase the secretion and discharge of urine, relieve flatulence and promote lactation in nursing mothers. They also arrest any secretion or bleeding and have an aphrodisiac effect. They are the best cleansers within the body, highly mucus-solvent and soothing agents.
Fenugreek leaves are beneficial in the treatment of indigestion, flatulence and sluggish liver. Boiled and fried in butter, they alleviate biliousness. The seeds are also useful in the treatment of colic, flatulence, dysentery, diarrhoea and dyspepsia.
The leaves help in blood formation. The cooked leaves help prevent anaemia and run down condition in girls, usually associated with the onset of puberty and a sudden spurt in growth. The seeds also help in recovering from anaemia, being rich in iron. Deadened. Senses The seeds help restore the deadened senses of taste or smell. The sense of taste dulls due to improper functioning of the salivary glands which often become clogged with mucus and accumulated juices, causing swelling. Similarly, the sense of smell is obstructed due to prolonged accumulations of mucus and other impurities in the nose where the olfactory nerves, that is, the special sensory nerve of smell are based.
Tea made from fenugreek seeds is equal in value to quinine in reducing fevers. It is particularly valuable as a cleansing and soothing drink. Fenugreek seeds, when moistened with water become slightly mucilaginous, and hence the tea made from with them has the power to dissolve sticky substance like mucus.
This tea soothes inflamed stomach and intestines, cleansing the stomach, bowels, kidneys and respiratory tract of excess mucus. It is beneficial in the healing of peptic ulcers, as the mild coating of mucilaginous matter deposited by fenugreek provides a protective layer for the ulcers, when it passes through the stomach and intestines.
During the early stages of any of the respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis, influenza, sinusitis, catarrh and suspected pneumonia, fenugreek tea helps the body to perspire, dispel toxicity and shorten the gestation period of fever. One can take upto 4 cups of the fenugreek tea. The quantity may be reduced as the condition improves. To improve flavour, a few drops of lemon juice can be used. During the treatment, no other food or nourishment should be taken, as fasting aids the body to correct these respiratory problems in a few days.
The tea is also beneficial in bad breath and body odour. Unpleasant odours emanate from the body due to accumulations of hardened mucus and other toxins in .the nasal and oral passages, the gastro-intestinal tract, the urinary tract, the blood and the vagina. Fenugreek tea, taken regularly helps remove these accumulations from these spots where mouthwash and soap can never penetrate.
According to Lelord Kordel, one of the world's most famous nutritionist, "So potent are the volatile oils in fenugreek and so thorough a job of cleansing do they perform, that often a decided fragrance of fenugreek seeds emanates from the body pores of a person using the herb regularly. These oils seek out and penetrate the most remote crevices and creases of the membranous linings within the body cavities. The volatile oils are absorbed into the cell tissues to do their job of rejuvenating our body. Some of them finally find their way into the sweat glands to cleanse and awaken any sluggishness in these parts."
Fenugreek seeds can also be taken for diabetes. The normal dose is 2 teaspoons of powdered seeds taken daily in broth or milk. Two teaspoons of the seeds can also be swallowed whole, daily. Alternatively, they may be soaked in a cup of water at night and the water taken in the morning.
Fenugreek seeds are useful in the removal of dandruff. Two tablespoonfuls of the seeds are soaked overnight in water. In the morning, the softened seeds are ground into a fine paste and applied on the scalp and left on for half an hour. The hair is then washed thoroughly with soapnut (rita nut) solution or shikakai. A paste of the fresh leaves of fenugreek applied over the scalp regularly before washing the hair also cures dandruff.
The herb helps in the healing of mouth ulcers. An infusion of the leaves is used as a gargle for recurrent ulcers.
A gargle made from fenugreek seeds is best for ordinary sore throat For the gargle, the solution should be much stronger than the tea. Two tablespoons of fenugreek seeds are put in a litre of water and allowed to simmer for half an hour over a low flame. It is cooled to room temperature and strained. The entire liquid is used as a gargle.
Fenugreek tea used as a douche, is very effective in treating leucorrhoea. The solution is prepared in the same manner as for throat gargle.
A poultice of the leaves can be applied with advantage in external and internal swellings. It is also useful in burns due to its cooling properties.
Beauty Aid: A paste of the fresh leaves applied over the scalp regularly before taking bath, helps hair grow. while preserving the natural colour and keeping the hair silky. The paste applied on the face every night before going to bed and washed with warm water, prevents one from getting pimples, blackheads, dryness of the face and early appearance of wrinkles.
It also improves complexion and makes one look years younger. Pregnancy and Lactation: The seeds fried in ghee are finely powdered, with wheat flour and sugar to prepare a halwa. Taken in small quantity daily, this helps in quick normalisation after delivery. The seeds, made into a gruel, and given to nursing mothers increases the flow of milk.
Steaming is considered the best method of cooking leaves; in this the vitamins are retained and the vegetable becomes palatable. The dried leaves can be compared to pulses for their protein content. They supplement the lysine-deficient cereal diets.
In Indian homes, fenugreek seeds are generally used as a condiment for flavouring. They form an ingredient of curry powder. They are also used in bread and bakery products in Egypt and Ethiopia. In Switzerland they are used for flavouring cheese. In the U.S.A. they are used in the preparation of spice blends and a wide variety of soups and stews. The seeds are used in the preparation of hair tonics and cosmetics in Java.