Fenugreek (scientific name: trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual herb that thrives and is popularly used in South Asia, Egypt and China. A member of the pea family, fenugreek is now cultivated and consumed around the world. A fenugreek plant looks like a clover but stands much larger, usually 2-feet tall. Its tiny white flowers produce 6-inch-long seed pods that look like string beans, and these contain 10 to 20 tiny seeds. Although it is the seeds that are widely popular and useful worldwide, fenugreek leaves are very helpful and flavorful themselves.
The tiny leaves are found to contain potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin C and vitamin K. As a vegetable, they are flavorful and comparable to spinach. Many recipes turn more savory, aromatic and powerful when garnished with fenugreek leaves. They may be taken fresh or dried. They are slightly bitter when fresh and become more bitter when dried, but not anywhere near the bitter gourd.
Fresh leaves are mixed in stir-fries and curries, and used as greens and flavoring to make any recipe more interesting. On the other hand, the dried leaves are typically boiled to make teas, baked to make spicy breads, or sprinkled on any dish as desired.
Also, they are the main ingredient in making a nutritious fenugreek salad bowl. Here is how you can make one yourself. Wash and dry 150 grams of leaves, then chop into pieces. Mix with chopped tomato, chopped onion, chopped green chili, red chili powder, and garam masala powder. Mix and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve in a bowl and enjoy your nutritious and flavorful vegetable salad.
Just like the seeds, fenugreek leaves are quite medicinal. They are used traditionally in many South Asian countries to treat allergies, bronchitis, intestinal problems, emphysema, headache, lung infection, mucous congestion, and skin irritations, as well as control the levels of cholesterol and blood sugar. Although there are yet no scientific studies to support such claims, a number of users confess the medicinal benefits to be true and better than western medicines. A number of interesting medicinal and scientific studies are now focused on the potential and alleged medicinal benefits of the leaves, as well as the seeds and the entire plant.
As part of the fenugreek herb-plant, the leaves are considered safe and edible for everyone, except for pregnant women. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) names the plant in its list of herbs that are generally considered safe for consumption.
Today, fenugreek is widely commercialized and popularized. Fenugreek supplements and extracts are available in health food stores, groceries, and Asian and Indian stores. They are popular among diabetics as they are believed to be capable of controlling blood sugar levels. So far, however, the most popular function of fenugreek is to help lactating mothers produce more breast milk. The herb contains estrogen-like compounds that stimulate production of breast milk, as well as breast enlargement.
Some of the traditional uses of the fenugreek plant include treatment of fever, cold, asthma, ulcer, arthritis, sore throat, body pains, joint pains, menstrual pains, and testicular pains. It is also recognized to increase one’s libido. While still acknowledged only as traditional medicine, fenugreek leaves are now as widely used as fenugreek seeds as an effective health supplement for these purposes.