An erect annual herb of the bean family, indigenous to
western Asia and south-eastern Europe. Fenugreek (Trigonella
foenum-graecum) is cultivated for its seeds, which, although
legumes, are used as a spice.
The seeds are small, hard, yellowish-brown, smooth and oblong,
about 3mm (1/8th inch) with a deep furrow across one corner. Fenugreek
has a warm, slightly bitter taste, reminiscent of burnt sugar and
The seeds are used in Greece and Egypt and especially India, where
they are lightly dry-roasted or fried to extract their characteristic
flavour. One should note, however, that over-roasting or over-frying
fenugreek results in an excessive bitter taste.
Whn soaked overnight the seed coat beomes soft and jelly-like,
and in this state it is one of the chief ingredients of a paste
of bitter herbs called halba or hilbe, popular with
people of middle-eastern origin.
The leaves of the fenugreek plant are also popular in Indian cuisine.
Known as methi, they are used in vegetable dishes, breads and savories.
Easily home-grown, fresh young fenugreek leaves are wonderful in
salads, dressed with oil and lemon.
The young plants are used as a vegetable, being harvested when
they are about 20cm (8 inches) high and tied in bundles like mint
or parsley. Fenugreek can be sprouted, and the sprouts lend a pungent
favour to salads.
Fenugreek is famous as an ancient medicinal herb. American Indian
women took the soaked seeds after childbirth to expedite healing.
It was also renowned as a useful cure for constipation, as a powerful
expectorant, and is today used in Europe as herbal infusion to break
up respiratory congestion.
The seeds are a carminative (they relieve flatulence), and they
are a useful treatment for diabetes.
Modern research shows that fenugreek seeds lowers blood cholesterol
and blood sugar levels. Externally, the seeds are useful as a poultice
for abscesses, boils and carbuncles. It is also great as a cure
for dandruff - soak some seeds in water overnight, grind up into
a paste, apply in the scalp and hair, and rinse. You will be dandruff
free, although you will smell a little of curry! A small price to
Fenugreek seeds are available at Indian or Middle Eastern grocers.
The fresh leaves (if you are shopping outside India), can occasionally
be found in markets or can be home-grown.
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