Greek hay, foenugreek, fenigreek, fenugreek
Native to India and southern Europe
One of the oldest known herbs, the benefits of Fenugreek were well known in Ancient Egypt and Greece and were highly praised by the Romans. Ancient physicians learned that its seeds contained mucilage, which when mixed with water provided many health benefits. It was one of the spices that the Egyptians used for embalming, whilst in Greece and Rome it was also used as cattle fodder - hence the Latin name foenum graecum meaning Greek hay.
Fenugreek is an effective remedy against heartburn (acid reflux) due to the mucilage in the seeds that soothe gastrointestinal inflammation and coat the stomach and digestive lining.
The soluble fibre and pectin in Fenugreek seeds increase stool volume, therefore helping to naturally relieve constipation. Large amounts of soluble fibre, as found in Fenugreek seeds, are known as bulk-forming laxatives. When soluble fibre absorbs water in the intestines, it expands, or increases in bulk. This expansion puts pressure on the intestines and triggers contractions that move stools through the intestines and promote bowel movements.
Fenugreek is classed as a "galactagogue" (a herb that helps to increase breast milk production). This benefit is attributed to it containing high amounts of diosgenin (a phytosteroid), which helps to increase the amount of milk produced by the breasts. It is also high in magnesium and many important vitamins which in turn help to increase the quality of the milk.
Fenugreek is also classed as an emmenagogue (a substance that stimulates or increases menstrual flow). It is known to balance the hormones that are responsible for the occurrence of periods and it eases menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms.
The diosgenin and estrogenic isoflavones in Fenugreek also make it a good herb to reduce menopausal symptoms. In one particular study that lasted for 90 days, oestrogen levels were found to have more than doubled in the Fenugreek treated group. Furthermore, a reduction in symptoms among this group included a 57% drop in night sweats, a 68% drop in mood swings, a 75% drop in insomnia and a 54% drop in headaches. Additionally, 32% of the group reported that their hot flashes had completely disappeared with the rest of the group experiencing a reduction in hot flashes from 3 - 5 times a day at the beginning of the study to 1 - 2 times per day.
Multiple studies have been carried out to investigate the potential anti-diabetic effects of Fenugreek. Several clinical trials have shown that that the seeds can improve most metabolic symptoms associated with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in humans, by lowering blood glucose levels and improving glucose tolerance.
In one study, researchers in India found that adding 100 grams of Fenugreek Seed Powder to the daily diet of patients with insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes significantly reduced their fasting blood glucose levels and improved glucose tolerance. In another controlled trial, incorporating 15 grams of powdered Fenugreek Seed into a meal eaten by people with type 2 diabetes reduced the rise in post-meal blood glucose, while a separate study found that taking 2.5 grams of Fenugreek twice a day for three months lowered blood sugar levels in people with mild, but not severe, type 2 diabetes.
Fenugreek seeds have been used for 1000's of years and are documented as being used by the ancient Egyptians and Romans for fevers, respiratory and intestinal complaints, as well as wound healing and abscesses. Indian women have long used Fenugreek seeds to stimulate milk production, and they are used in Ayurveda for arthritis, bronchitis and digestive upsets.
They were documented as being used by Benedictine monks for wounds, fevers, digestive upsets and respiratory conditions, whilst in North Africa they were known traditionally to be of use for menstrual complaints and symptoms of the menopause.
Fenugreek seeds contain polysaccharide galactomannan, saponins, disosgenin, yamogenin, gitogenin, tigogenin and neotigogens. Other bioactive constituents include mucilage, volatile oils, and alkaloids such as choline and trigonelline.