What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a native to India and southern Europe. For centuries it has grown wild in India, the Mediterranean and North Africa. where it is mainly cultivated. A limited crop grows in France. It was used by the ancient Egyptians to combat fever and grown in classical times as cattle fodder.
Commercially, it is used in the preparation of mango chutneys and as a base for imitation maple syrup. In India, it is used medicinally and as a yellow dyestuff. It is also an oriental cattle fodder and is planted as a soil renovator.
In the West, fenugreek’s therapeutic use is now largely confined to the treatment of animals, though historically. it has been used in human medicine. The name derives from the Latin ‘Greek hay” illustrating its classical use as fodder.
Preparation and Storage
Dried seeds should be lightly roasted before using (don’t overdo it though, or they will become bitter). After roasting, they are easily ground. A small amount will complement many other spices, but too much can be overpowering. If the seeds are required as part of a curry paste they can be soaked overnight to swell and soften and be easily mixed with the other ingredients.
Health Benefits of Fenugreek
fresh fenugreek leavesFenugreek is a digestive aid. As an emollient, it is used in poultices for boils, cysts and other complaints. Reducing the sugar level of the blood, it is used in diabetes in conjunction with insulin. It also lowers blood pressure. Fenugreek relieves congestion, reduces inflammation and fights infection. Fenugreek contains natural expectorant properties ideal for treating sinus and lung congestion and loosens & removes excess mucus and phlegm.
Fenugreek is also an excellent source of selenium, an anti-radiant which helps the body utilize oxygen. Fenugreek is a natural source of iron, silicon, sodium and thiamine. Fenugreek contains mucilagins which are known for soothing and relaxing inflamed tissues. Fenugreek stimulates the production of mucosal fluids helping remove allergens and toxins from the respiratory tract. Acting as an expectorant, Fenugreek alleviates coughing, stimulates perspiration to reduce fevers, and is beneficial for treating allergies, bronchitis and congestion.
In the East, beverages are made from the seed to ease stomach trouble. The chemical makeup is curiously similar to cod liver oil, for which a decoction of the seed is sometimes used as a substitute. Many other properties are ascribed to it in India and the East and not surprisingly include aphrodisiac. Fenugreek seeds contain alkaloids, including trigonelline, gentianine and carpaine compounds. The seeds also contain fiber, 4-hydroxyisoleucine and fenugreekine, a component that may have hypoglycemic activity. The mechanism is thought to delay gastric emptying, slow carbohydrate absorption and inhibit glucose transport. Fenugreek may also increase the number of insulin receptors in red blood cells and improve glucose utilization in peripheral tissues, thus demonstrating potential anti-diabetes effects both in the pancreas and other sites. The amino acid 4- hydroxyisoleucine, contained in the seeds, may also directly stimulate insulin secretion.
Harvesting Fenugreek Seeds
The plants will produce beans containing the seeds. Wait to harvest until the plants begin to die off. Collect the seed pods and thresh them to extract the seeds. Leave the seeds in the sun to dry. Store them in an air-tight container and keep from sunlight to maintain flavour.
Bird’s Foot, Foenugreek, Goat’s Horn
French: fenugrec Sénegré, trigonelle
German: Bockshornklee, Griechisches Heu
Italian: fieno greco
Spanish: alholva, fenogreco
Indian: mayti, methe, methi
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