Fenugreek is a clover-like plant from the botanical family Fabaceae, which also includes alfalfa, chickpeas, and peanuts. Its dried or fresh leaves can be used as an herb, and its seeds are used as a spice. Both its seeds and leaves impart a flavor and aroma similar to maple syrup, as well as slight bitterness. It is also used as a flavoring agent in foods, drinks, and tobacco.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant that stands around 2–3 feet tall. It has green leaves, small white flowers, and pods that contain small, golden-brown seeds.
Fenugreek is native to the Mediterranean, Europe, and Asia.
Fenugreek seems to slow sugar absorption in the stomach and stimulate insulin. Both of these effects lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Fenugreek might also improve levels of testosterone and estrogen, helping to improve interest in sex.
One tablespoon of whole fenugreek seeds contains 35 calories and several nutrients:
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 6 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Iron: 20% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Manganese: 7% of the DV
- Magnesium: 5% of the DV
People commonly use fenugreek for diabetes, menstrual cramps, sexual problems, enlarged prostate, high cholesterol, obesity, and many other conditions
- Diabetes Taking fenugreek seed by mouth seems to lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It seems to affect both types 1 and 2 diabetes, along with increasing general carb tolerance in people without these conditions. In one study, people with type 1 diabetes took 50 grams of fenugreek seed powder at lunch and dinner. After 10 days, participants experienced better blood sugar levels and reductions in total and LDL cholesterol. In another study, people without diabetes took fenugreek. They experienced a 13.4% reduction in blood sugar levels 4 hours after intake. Given its effect on blood sugar, fenugreek should be used with caution if you’re taking diabetes medication or other supplements that lower blood sugar levels.
- Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). Taking fenugreek seed powder by mouth might reduce painful menstrual periods.
- Increasing response to sexual stimuli in healthy people. One of the most common reasons men use fenugreek supplements is to boost testosterone. In an 8-week study, 30 college-aged men performed 4 sessions of weightlifting per week, with half of them receiving 500 mg of fenugreek per day. Although the non-supplement group experienced a slight decline in testosterone, the fenugreek group showed an increase. This group also had a 2% reduction in body fat.
- Increase breast milk production While prescription drugs are commonly used to boost breastmilk production, research suggests that fenugreek may be a safe, natural alternative. One 14-day study in 77 new mothers found that drinking herbal tea with fenugreek seeds increased breast milk production, which helped babies gain more weight.
People who are allergic to other plants in the Fabaceae family, including soybeans, peanuts, green peas, and other legumes, might also be allergic to fenugreek.
People may also experience reduced appetite, which could be harmful if you have an eating disorder or are trying to gain weight.
How to Buy
Fenugreek isn’t easy to find in the U.S. unless you live near an Asian market or specifically an Indian market. And, even in these cases, it’s usually the seeds that you’ll find, although these stores will sometimes carry frozen fenugreek leaves. Both the dried seeds and dried leaves can be purchased online. I can buy fenugreek seeds at my local co-op.
How to Store
The dried leaves and dried seeds can be stored along with your other dried spices, tightly sealed and away from heat and moisture. They’ll keep for a few months this way. If a recipe calls for ground or crushed fenugreek seeds, it’s best to purchase the whole seeds and only crush or grind what you need, rather than purchasing the preground powder, as the latter will lose its potency quickly, and you’ll only use small amounts of fenugreek at a time.
How to Cook
Fenugreek seeds and leaves are bitter. But when added to dishes and cooked, fenugreek imparts a sweet, slightly nutty, maple-syrup-like flavor reminiscent of burnt sugar.