Fenugreek seeds

Trigonella foenum-graecum


Fenugreek has an unusual flavour that has been described as ‘a combination of celery and maple syrup’ and has been recorded since biblical times. It was used by the ancient Greeks as fodder for cattle and horses. As the plant spread around the Mediterranean world, physicians discovered that its seeds contained a gummy substance called mucilage, which was used to soothe irritated tissues. Later, in America, it became a popular remedy for menstrual discomforts (called ‘female weakness’) and was also used to treat digestive problems, to induce childbirth and to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding women. Modern science has confirmed some of these ancient folklore remedies and today fenugreek is also recommended to reduce cholesterol and control diabetes.

Parts used

The dried seeds are ground and taken by mouth or used to form a paste that is applied to the skin.


Scientists have confirmed that the seeds of fenugreek contain chemicals such as disgenin and oestrogenic isoflavones which resemble the female hormone oestrogen. Fenugreek also contains vitamins A, B and D, minerals and proteins.

Medicinal uses

  • Fenugreek seeds are a rich source of antioxidants, which promote good health by helping to cleanse the body of cell-damaging free-radicals.
  • Fenugreek has been used by mothers for centuries to stimulate the production of breast milk following childbirth. Science has shown that fenugreek contains hormonal precursors and some sources suggest that is the link to increased milk production.
  • The seeds may lessen the effect of hot flushes and mood fluctuations that are common symptoms of menopause and PMS.
  • May slow the absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulate insulin, effects which lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
  • May relieve symptoms of acute respiratory conditions by reducing inflammation and pain in bronchi and lungs, soothing coughing spasms and loosening phlegm.
  • May encourage healthy bowel functioning, lessen bloating and improve lazy bowel syndrome.
  • A June 2011 study at the Australian Centre for Integrative Clinical and Molecular Medicine found that men aged 25 to 52 who took a fenugreek extract twice daily for six weeks scored 25% higher on tests gauging libido levels than those who took a placebo.
  • Fenugreek has also been used to treat arthritis, cure skin problems (wounds, rashes and boils) and cure acid reflux.


Talk to your medical practitioner before taking any herbal supplements.
Side effects from taking fenugreek are few, although there are some reports of gas, bloating, and diarrhoea. Sweat and urine can smell like maple syrup, a sign that you are taking the correct dosage. Pregnant women are advised not to take fenugreek because it may cause uterine contractions. Applied externally, it may irritate the skin.

Flora Force Products containing Fenugreek

Domestic & culinary uses

Fenugreek is a common ingredient in Indian dishes, especially curries.


Fenugreek, also called Greek hay and wild clover, is used both as a herb and a spice, and grows widely in much of India, Pakistan and Asia. Little information exists about it being grown in South Africa.


Butter chicken

Add fenugreek (available from your local Indian spice shop) to your diet with butter chicken – a creamy, flavour-packed dish with melt-in-the-mouth chicken cubes. It’s the perfect winter meal.

Ingredients (serves 4):

500 g boneless chicken (cut into 2.5 cm cubes)
The juice of 1 whole lemon
1 tablespoon chilli powder
1 cup yoghurt
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons garlic
1.5 teaspoons tandoori masala
3 tablespoon butter
2 whole cardamoms
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole cloves
4 whole medium ripe tomatoes (crushed)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
250 ml thick cream
1 stalk coriander
1 pinch salt


Marinate the chicken cubes in the lemon juice, salt, chilli powder, yoghurt, ginger, garlic and tandoori powder for at least half an hour (overnight is best). Preheat the grill.
Place the chicken on a baking tray set on the rack closest to the grill and grill for at least 10 minutes on each side or until cooked. Allow the chicken to cook until it just starts to char.
To prepare the sauce, heat and melt the butter. Add to it the cardamoms, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Stir-fry for a minute before adding the tomatoes and tomato paste.
Simmer on low to medium heat, half covered, for 15-20 minutes until the gravy thickens and the oil forms a film on top. If the gravy is too thick, add a little water.
Add the rest of the ingredients as well as the grilled chicken and simmer for another 15 minutes. Garnish with butter or coriander.

Photo credits

  1. By Miansari66 (Own work)[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Information in our herb library is intended only as a general reference for further exploration. It is not a replacement for professional health advice and does not provide complete dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription medicines. Accordingly, this information should only be used under the direct supervision of a suitably qualified health practitioner such as a registered homeopath, naturopath or phytotherapist.