Fenugreek is a herb you might not have heard of if you don’t do a lot of cooking or aren’t from the parts of the world where it is commonly used (or a breastfeeding mom). But you’ve tasted fenugreek if you’ve ever had artificial maple syrup, and you’ve probably had it in your favorite Chinese, Indian or Mediterranean food.
What is Fenugreek?
The plant fenugreek is an annual from the family Fabacaea (which includes peas and legumes). The plant has clusters of three oval leaves.
The leaves can be used as an herb, and it is eaten like a vegetable or in salads in India and elsewhere. The seeds are also used as a spice, and many of the medicinal preparations using fenugreek involve the seeds.
What Does it Taste Like?
As you might imagine from its common use, fenugreek tastes a little like maple syrup. It is a sweet-tasting herb that combines well with the spicier flavors enjoyed in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. The seeds have a bit of a bitter taste that is made milder through cooking.
Fenugreek is often one of the spices in Chinese five spice powder (along with anise or corriander, Szechuan or black peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves) and is used in curry powder as well.
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 6 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Iron: 20% of your daily requirements
- Manganese: 7% of your daily requirements
- Magnesium: 5% of your daily requirements
Health Benefits of Fenugreek
1. It increases breastmilk supply
If you’re a mom you might have heard that one of the health benefits of fenugreek is boosting milk production. Many breastfeeding moms drink tea or take supplements that include fenugreek as a galactagogue (that’s a fancy word for something that increases milk supply).
Some studies have been done on the use of fenugreek among new moms, but results have been mixed. Talk to your lactation consultant about dosing if you want to try it. Doses of more than 3,500 mg a day are not uncommon; you’ll know you’re getting enough when your urine starts to smell like maple syrup. You may see a result within a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
2. It reduces inflammation
But there are a lot of other benefits of consuming this herb regularly. Fenugreek is said to be antimicrobial and antioxidant , and it can reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation can lead to all sorts of health problems, from depression to heart disease and arthritis.
3. It helps with your digestive system as well
It is considered an appetite stimulant and can be taken for gastrointestinal problems such as an upset stomach, constipation and gastritis. It has also been used to treat diabetes because it seems to be able to slow absorption of sugar in the stomach and boost insulin production. It might also be helpful for people with high cholesterol.
4. It serves as an aid for both men and women’s reproductive system
Women might also see a benefit from taking the herb when they suffer from painful menstruations or polycystic ovary syndrome. Men could use it to treat erectile dysfunction and male infertility, among many other uses.
Dangers of Using Fenugreek
Fenugreek sprouts were determined to be the cause of an E.coli outbreak in Germany and France in 2011. The herb and its seeds are generally safe, but they could interfere with blood-clotting drugs.
Because fenugreek is part of the legume family, people who have peanut allergies or other legume allergies may have a reaction to this herb.
In large doses it can also cause diarrhea and stomach upset. Always check with a doctor before consuming an herb or seed medicinally, especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
If you’d like to experiment with fenugreek in cooking, there are lots of ways to try it. Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredients lists on some of these recipes – spice blends often have a lot of components but are easy to put together.
If you want to try a dish using fresh fenugreek leaves, try this methi murgh recipe from the Daily Meal. Check Asian markets for the fresh leaves.
The recipe from the Daily Meal calls for dried fenugreek leaves.
Indian butter chicken is another classic dish that uses dried leaves, as in this recipe from All Recipes.
Help a new mom by brewing up some mothers’ milk tea , which includes fenugreek seeds as a main ingredient. Get the recipe from the Kitchn.
A great side dish using fenugreek seeds is the spiced cauliflower with toasted coconut and red lentils from the BBC. This recipe has a lot of parts, but you could just make the cauliflower for a taste of fenugreek without all the work.