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What is Fenugreek?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fenugreek is a spice - the dried seeds of Trigonella foenum-graecum, a member of the pea family, and also an herb - the leaves of the same plant. It grows in Eurasia, from the eastern Mediterranean to China. It is one of the important exports of India.

History. Fenugreek was among the medicinal drugs recognized by Ancient Egyptians as long ago as the 16th century BCE, and it was used in mummification. The dried seeds were also used in ancient Indian, Greek, and Arabic medical practice.

Description. Fenugreek is an annual that grows to a height of 4 to 20 inches (10 to 41 cm). This plant has pale yellow or off-white flowers that bloom from June to July, and the spice is the seed that grows in a pod about 4 inches (10 cm) in length. There are about 20 yellowish-brown seeds in each pod, which harden when dried.

Food and Other Uses. This herb is cultivated for culinary and medicinal use. The seeds have a bitter taste and rank a two of ten on the hotness scale. Ground fenugreek seeds are a traditional ingredient in Indian curry, in curry powders and pastes, and in the Bengali “five spice” mixture. Fenugreek seeds are used in Egyptian bread, and a coffee substitute is made of fenugreek in northern Africa. It is also used in pickling.

Fenugreek leaves are dried and used for flavoring, or cooked as other greens. Their flavor is similar to lovage, and they are an ingredient in the traditional Georgian spice mix. Fenugreek is also a flavoring used in artificial syrups and is combined with yogurt or other ingredients, such as mustard or dal, to make an Indian hair conditioner.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By anon324866 — On Mar 12, 2013

Does anyone know if fenugreek is good as a natural testosterone supplement for men?

By anon126666 — On Nov 13, 2010

i wonder if anyone could tell me if fenugreek has anything to do with nuts? my daughter has a nut allergy and she can not have school dinners due to me not knowing if it is in the nut family.

By catapult43 — On Dec 06, 2008

I have read in a health book that fenugreek is used for treatment of diabetes, and to control obesity. According to a number of studies fenugreek reduces insulin resistance and stabilizes blood sugar.

By anon22350 — On Dec 02, 2008

Is Fenugreek also used to reduce blood sugar?

By catapult43 — On Aug 03, 2008

If you smell the seeds they will remind you of curry powder. Fenugreek has many medicinal properties, however, the sprouts are these days mostly used in salads and soups for their spicy flavor.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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