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Fenugreek Plant

Fenugreek Plant

One of the safest and most useful but lesser known (in the West, anyway) medicinal herbs is the fenugreek. Its name may sound odd, but it is definitely worthy of distinction. The green and hairy fenugreek is an annual herb with tiny, white to yellowish flowers, and grows to about 18 inches. It looks like a large clover and produces seed pods that look like string beans. Typically, each pod is shaped like a sword and bears 10 to 20 hard, tiny, yellow to amber seeds. They are rhombic, oblong, or cubic in shape. The stems are slender and its leaves are toothed and oblong in shape. Fenugreek plants grow upright and thrive in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Morocco, Egypt and China. They love mild Mediterranean climates.

They are mainly produced in India, where they are widely cultivated. They are usually grown in open areas with well-drained soil of medium texture, without needing fertilizer. They mature in 4 to 5 months and are easy to grow. This has contributed to their popularity in the areas where the plant is cultivated, and the many positive effects the herb has on health have only served to enhance that popularity.

Among the many medicinal uses of fenugreek, which include treatment of common cold, ulcer, arthritis, eczema, and gastritis, the following are the most common ones:

As a lactation aide. Fenugreek is a well-known and widely accepted galactagogue, able to help nursing mothers produce as much as 900% more than their normal milk production. The diosgenin content of fenugreek is believed to be causing the increase of breast milk, as well as stimulating breast enlargement. Diosgenin is an estrogen-like compound that is present in fenugreek seeds.

As a diabetic aide. Fenugreek has been found to control the level of sugar in blood and therefore reduces a diabetic’s need for insulin. A number of tests have proven this to be so, and patients have confessed to the effectiveness of fenugreek. However, there are a number of herbs that may be better in managing blood sugar level.

As a cholesterol inhibitor. Studies also have proven this herb’s ability to lower cholesterol levels.
More importantly, fenugreek has no side effects immediately apparent. Even the US Food and Drug Administration believes that it is one of the safest medicinal herbs. The only identified side effects are diarrhea and nausea, and that it makes a user’s sweat and urine smell like maple, which is not really a bad thing. It is not recommended to pregnant women, however, as it may induce labor.

Fenugreek has more to offer than simply good health. It also makes food delicious. Both the leaves and seeds are used to garnish meat, poultry, fish and vegetables. Fresh fenugreek leaves are chopped and mixed into salads, stews, bean soups and potato dishes. Although they are somewhat bitter, they are not unpleasantly so, and even provide an interesting bittersweet flavor to the mix.

Meanwhile, the seeds are very popular in making curry dishes. They are crushed, mashed or ground to make curry powders, curry pastes, oriental sauces, spice mixtures, pickles and chutneys. Fenugreek sprouts are also good for eating.

Today, several manufacturers produce and market fenugreek extracts as flavoring for baked goods, pickles, condiments, chewing gum, soda, gelatin, ice cream, candy, and maple syrup, to mention a few of the popular uses of the herb in manufacturing. In India, it is also brewed to make coffee.

Fenugreek plants, leaves and seeds are available in Indian stores, health food stores, groceries, and online.

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