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Fenugreek ( Trigonella foenum graecum)

Both a spice and a medicinal herb, fenugreek has a long and respected history, datng back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Today, it is used to soothe stomach irritations and improve appetite. Recent studies indicate that fenugreek also lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Plant Facts : This annual herb with cloverlike leaves belongs to the family Leguminosae. It grows to a height of 20-24 inches. While the plant has a strong, sweetish spicy aroma, the seeds taste slightly salty and when chewed have a mildly bitter taste.

Origin : Fenugreek grows wild in the eastern Mediterranean region, including North Africa, as well as in the Near East and China. In the U.S., it is cultivated as a garden plant.

Parts Used : Only the fenugreek plant's small seeds, encased in a hard shell and harvested at maturity in the fall, have a medicinal use.

Components : The seeds contain a good proportion of mucilage and protein, as well as fatty oils, amino acids, alkaloids, strols, flavonoids and vitamins A & B. steroidal saponins account for the bitter taste; they are also thought to chemically resemble human sex hormones, which may be why fenugreek was once considered an aphrodisiac and why it is still used to stimulate the uterus and milk flow.

Indications : With their emollient effects, fenugreek seeds, ground into a paste, help heal boils, abscesses, swollen lymph nodes and skin inflammations. Because of its mucilage content, fenugreek can protect the mucous membrane of the stomach and relieve gastric irritations. By the same token, it soothes inflamed respiratory membranes and quiet coughs. Fenugreek is also known to be antidiabetic, lowering blood sugar, as well as cholesterol levels. Fenugreek powder makes an appetite stimulating tonic.

Extra Tip : In contrast to many other herbs, which lose their aroma in the dried state, the idiosyncratic aroma of fenugreek seeds is magnified when they are dried. They will keep 1 yr. or more in closed containers.

Supports healthy digestion; soothes skin irritations.

Methods of Administration

Tea infusion : To ease infections of the respiratory tract, digestion and stomach irritations: Pour 1 cup of cold water over 1 tbsp. of pulverized fenugreek seeds; let stand for 3 hr. Bring the mixture to a boil; strain. Add honey to help soothe coughs. Drink 1 cup 2-3 times during the day.

Poultice : For abscesses, boils and burns : simmer 6 tbsp. of coarsely ground fenugreek seeds in 1 cup of water for 5 min., until the mixture thickens. Spread the paste, as hot as you can tolerate, on a linen cloth, and lay the cloth on the affected area. Repeat 3-4 times daily. You can add vinegar to the mixture to heighten the healing effect.

Wine : For digestion : soak 2 tbsp. of fenugreek seeds in 4 cups of white wine. Let it stand 4-6 weeks. Strain. Drink one 4 oz. glass with each meal

Caution : Fenugreek seeds will stimulate the uterus, so do not use during pregnancy.