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Uses for Fenugreek

Fenugreek, a member of the legume family that includes peas, peanuts, lentils, and beans, is among the world’s oldest cultivated plants.

Fenugreek seeds are small and yellow-brown in color. They are rich in protein and their flavor is bittersweet.

Fenugreek seeds are often used in curries and other spice blends due to their aromatic qualities.

Fenugreek can be used in pickles, chutneys, fish and vegetable-based dishes, breads and rolls, dahl, stews, and halva (a dessert).

Fenugreek seeds have a strong flavor, so amounts called for in recipes are typically small.

Fenugreek seeds are usually toasted lightly before using. However, it’s important not to overdo this as the seeds can be made bitter. Fenugreek leaves are used fresh or dried in vegetable dishes, curries, marinades, and preserves. Some people make teas from the leaves as well.

Fenugreek has traditionally been used as a home remedy for a broad array of ailments, including stomach upsets, constipation, chronic cough, erectile dysfunction, and many other problems. It has also been used by breastfeeding women to stimulate milk production and applied externally to treat inflammation. However, there has not been sufficient research conducted to evaluate its effectiveness for any of these uses.

A handful of small studies suggest that fenugreek may benefit those with diabetes by slowing the absorption of sugar and stimulating insulin release (both of which reduce blood sugar). Although many people use fenugreek as a complementary therapy, it shouldn’t be considered a replacement for medical care.

Except for rare allergies, most people don’t suffer any side effects when eating the small amounts of fenugreek called for in recipes. However, taking medicinal doses may trigger bloating, gas, or diarrhea, and fenugreek applied to the skin can cause irritation. Also, because fenugreek has historically been used to induce childbirth, it’s not recommended for those who are pregnant.

Fenugreek can interact with common medications, including diabetes medications and warfarin (Coumadin), and there is some evidence that it might be risky for children as well. Checking with a doctor before using fenugreek is recommended, especially if you take medication or have a pre-existing health condition.

Fenugreek isn’t always available in regular supermarkets, but it can usually be found in stores that carry Middle Eastern, Indian, or Asian ingredients and in certain herbal and health food stores.

Sources
Akis, E., “How to Cook with Fenugreek,” Times Colonist, n.d.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “Fenugreek,” 2012.
WebMD, “Fenugreek,” 2012.

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