Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae), Trigonella foenum-graecum L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum L., is an erect annual herb native to southern Europe and Asia. Undoubtedly one of the oldest cultivated medicinal plants, fenugreek is widely grown today in the Mediterranean countries, Argentina, France, India, North Africa, and the United States as a food, condiment, medicinal, dye, and forage plant (11.1-128). The plant reaches a height of 0.3 to 0.8 meters and has trifoliate leaves. White flowers appear in early summer and develop into long, slender, yellow-brown pods containing the brown seeds of fenugreek commerce.

The reported life zone of fenugreek is 8 to 27 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.4 to 1.5 meters and a soil pH of 5.3 to 8.2 (4.1-31). The plant thrives in full sun on rich, well-drained soils. Growth is slow and weak in cold temperatures and wet soils. As a leguminous plant, fenugreek needs little if any nitrogen fertilizer, and the plant can enrich soils with nitrogen. There is considerable commercial interest in breeding and growing fenugreek cultivars high in sapogenins.

Diosgenin, a steroid sapogenin found in fenugreek but currently isolated from Dioscorea species, is the starting compound for over 60% of the total steroid production by the pharmaceutical industry (11.1-74). Other sapogenins found in fenugreek seed include yamogenin, gitogenin, tigogenin, and neotigogens (7.2-79, 7.3-52, 7.3-54, 7.3-80). Other constituents of fenugreek include mucilage, bitter fixed oil, volatile oil, and the alkaloids choline and trigonelline (11.1-50, 11.1-136). Extract of fenugreek is obtained by alcoholic extraction.

The maple aroma and flavor of fenugreek has led to its use in many baked goods, chutneys, confections, and imitation maple syrup (11.1-128). For culinary purposes, seeds are ground and used in curries. Young seedlings and other portions of fresh plant material are eaten as vegetables. The plant is quite nutritious, being high in proteins, ascorbic acid, niacin, and potassium (13.1-75). Fenugreek is also used as a livestock feed.

As a medicinal plant, fenugreek has traditionally been considered a carminative, demulcent, expectorant, laxative, and stomachic. The plant has also been employed against bronchitis, fevers, sore throats, wounds swollen glands, skin irritations, diabetes, ulcers, and in the treatment of cancer (14.1-17). Fenugreek has been used to promote lactation and as an aphrodisiac. Fenugreek seeds have been used as an oral insulin substitute, and seed extracts have been reported to lower blood glucose levels in laboratory animals (7.5-101).

Fenugreek is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a spice or natural seasoning and as a plant extract (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997