Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae), Trigonella foenum-graecum
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
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
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 ).
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997