Fenugreek Seeds for a Flavorful and Healthy Experience

People who have dined at an Indian restaurant, at one point or another, must have noticed the wide spectrum of flavors of Indian cuisine. Such attention to flavors and spices, however, are no mere accident or developed in accordance to taste alone. Some chefs knowledgeable in Indian cuisine may also be knowledgeable about India’s alternative medical discipline called Ayurveda. One of the principles of Ayurveda demands the balance of flavors for optimal health, and one of the common plants used as spice or flavoring to achieve that balance is fenugreek. Other than imparting a nice, aromatic flavor to food, fenugreek seeds are also known for its medicinal properties. Before using it for health maintenance and treatment of disease, here are a few questions one should ask.

What is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant that is cultivated worldwide as a semi-arid crop both as a herb and a spice. As such it is mainly used for flavoring and is also known as Greek hay as well as Methi. The seeds are yellow in appearance and have a characteristic strong aromatic smell and bitter taste.

What is it mainly used for?

Its main and most popular use is as flavoring for food. Both the seeds and leaves are used for cooking purposes. Fenugreek seeds are often roasted and ground to a powder form as a component for Indian spice preparations such as Garam Masala and the more popular British derivative known as curry powder. Fenugreek leaves are often used as herbs and are a major flavoring agent for curry dishes. It is also used to stimulate lactation as well as for medicinal purposes. Additionally, it holds a significant status as food in the Jewish celebration Rosh Hashana.

What are the more specific uses of it for medical and health purposes?

Fenugreek is a galactagogue, a substance that is used to stimulate and increase milk production in lactating women. It has, however, a bitter maple-syrup like flavor that some women find undesirable thus there are some health food stores that sell capsules with fenugreek seed extract. The seeds are also in Ethiopia as a cure for diabetes. Historical uses also include management of menopausal problems, digestive problems, and childbirth. It is used by some to help control cholesterol and glucose levels, as a remedy for fever, and as an aphrodisiac to increase libido. Other proponents of the spice also state that the paste of the fenugreek seeds can be applied topically to skin areas affected by dermatological problems such as eczema, burns, and boils. There also are claims that it can be used for breast enlargement although such use is doubtful at best.

What do scientific studies say regarding its use for health maintenance and treatment of disease?

Research regarding the use of it for healthcare purposes is inadequate. There are a few studies that confirm its effectiveness in lowering blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. There also are a few non-clinical trials that have come to the conclusion that fenugreek may have antiviral effects that are useful in relieving common cold symptoms.

What are the side effects  of fenugreek?

Side effects associated with the use of fenugreek are rarely encountered when the spice is used in moderate amounts. If there are any, these are usually very minor and can be generally found in many medicinal preparations. Examples are nausea and gastrointestinal discomfort.

Where can one purchase fenugreek seeds and its other preparations or forms?

Fenugreek seeds are common in stores that specialize in spices such as Indian/Pakistani groceries or shops that specialize in Mediterranean cuisine. Some health food stores carry fenugreek in capsule, powder, and seed form.

What are some of the things that would prevent individuals from taking fenugreek?

fenugreek seeds

It is always important to consult a physician before deciding to use it for healthcare purposes. People who are taking medications for blood clotting disorders or diabetes need to discuss the use of it with their physician in order to determine if there are any undesirable drug interactions. Although there is no established risk associated with the use of it in food consumed by pregnant women, a consultation with a physician prior to taking fenugreek supplements is also needed.

Fenugreek seeds are wonderful additions to any spice rack as they provide an additional spectrum of flavor to food. Other than its culinary use, it has been used over the centuries as treatment for a variety of conditions. With minimal to practically no risk to health, its culinary use may in fact be helpful for maintenance of health. Seeking the advice of a healthcare professional, however, is always a must when considering the use of fenugreek seeds and other medicinal plants for healthcare purposes.

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