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Trigonella foenum-graecum - L.                
Common Name Fenugreek, Sicklefruit fenugreek
Family Fabaceae or Leguminosae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards The seed contains 1% saponins[240]. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[K]. Care for diabetics on antidiabetic allopathic as may lower blood sugar. Can affect drug absorption as high fibre content. Constituents can alter the effects of monoamine oxide inhibitors [301].
Habitats Field verges, uncultivated ground, dry grasslands and hillsides[200].
Range Europe - S. France.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Trigonella foenum-graecum is a ANNUAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 0.4 m (1ft 4in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6. It is in flower from Jun to August, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.It can fix Nitrogen.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

Synonyms Foenum-graecum officinale var. tibetanum. Trigonella tibetana.
Trigonella foenum-graecum Fenugreek, Sicklefruit fenugreek

Trigonella foenum-graecum Fenugreek, Sicklefruit fenugreek
 Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Seed;  Seedpod.
Edible Uses: Coffee;  Condiment;  Tea.

Seed - cooked or sprouted and eaten raw[2, 4, 21, 34]. It has quite a strong spicy flavour, not unlike lovage or celery[4, 183]. When ground into a powder, the seed is a principal ingredient of curries and mango chutney[244], it is also used in pickles and spice mixes, as a flavouring in bread etc[4, 183, 238]. The seed is usually lightly roasted before use in order to reduce the bitterness[238]. The seed is about 3mm long, about 10 - 20 seeds being produced in each pod[4]. A good source of many essential elements such as iron, phosphorus and sulphur[244], the seed contains about 6% moisture, 23% protein, 10% carbohydrate, 8% fat, 10% fibre and 4.3% ash[61]. The ground seeds are used to give a maple syrup flavour to foods[183]. The seed can be soaked for 12 hours in warm water and then allowed to sprout for 3 - 5 days[244]. These sprouted seeds have a spicy flavour and can be added to salads or cooked[238, K]. An essential oil obtained from the seed is used as a food flavouring in imitation maple syrup, vanilla compositions, liquorice, pickles etc[183]. It also has medicinal virtues[57]. The ground up seeds can also be used as a substitute for maple syrup[4]. Leaves - raw or cooked[2, 4, 7, 34]. Very aromatic, in small quantities they can be added to salads, otherwise they are used as a potherb, a flavouring for root vegetables, an ingredient of curries etc[183, 238]. Seedpods - cooked[105]. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute[2, 177, 183]. A soothing tea is made from the leaves and the seed[21, 183].
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Seed (Fresh weight)
  • 0 Calories per 100g
  • Water : 6.2%
  • Protein: 23.2g; Fat: 8g; Carbohydrate: 10g; Fibre: 9.8g; Ash: 4.3g;
  • Minerals - Calcium: 0mg; Phosphorus: 0mg; Iron: 0mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 0mg; Potassium: 0mg; Zinc: 0mg;
  • Vitamins - A: 0mg; Thiamine (B1): 0mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0mg; Niacin: 0mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg;
  • Reference: [ 218]
  • Notes:
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anticholesterolemic;  Antiinflammatory;  Antiphlogistic;  Antitumor;  Appetizer;  Cardiotonic;  Carminative;  Demulcent;  Deobstruent;  Diuretic;  Emollient;  
Expectorant;  Febrifuge;  Galactogogue;  Hypoglycaemic;  Hypotensive;  Laxative;  Parasiticide;  Restorative.

Fenugreek is much used in herbal medicine, especially in North Africa, the Middle East and India. It has a wide range of medicinal applications[254]. The seeds are very nourishing and are given to convalescents and to encourage weight gain, especially in anorexia nervosa[254]. The seeds should not be prescribed medicinally for pregnant women since they can induce uterine contractions[238, 254]. Research has shown that the seeds can inhibit cancer of the liver, lower blood cholesterol levels and also have an antidiabetic effect[254]. The seed and leaves are anticholesterolemic, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, carminative, demulcent, deobstruent, emollient, expectorant, febrifuge, galactogogue, hypoglycaemic, laxative, parasiticide, restorative and uterine tonic[4, 7, 21, 147, 165, 176, 238]. The seed yields a strong mucilage and is therefore useful in the treatment of inflammation and ulcers of the stomach and intestines[4, 254]. Taken internally, a decoction of the ground seeds serves to drain off the sweat ducts[7]. The seed is very nourishing and body-building and is one of the most efficacious tonics in cases of physical debility caused by anaemia or by infectious diseases, especially where a nervous factor is involved[7, 244]. It is also used in the treatment of late-onset diabetes, poor digestion (especially in convalescence), insufficient lactation, painful menstruation, labour pains etc[238, 244]. The seeds freshen bad breath and restore a dulled sense of taste[254]. Externally, the seeds can be ground into a powder and used as a poultice for abscesses, boils, ulcers, burns etc, or they can be used as a douche for excessive vaginal discharge[4, 244, 254]. The leaves are harvested in the growing season and can be used fresh or dried[238]. The seeds are harvested when fully ripe and dried for later use[238]. Compounds extracted from the plant have shown cardiotonic, hypoglycaemic, diuretic, antiphlogistic and hypotensive activity[218]. One of its constituent alkaloids, called 'trigonelline', has shown potential for use in cancer therapy. The seed contains the saponin diosgenin, an important substance in the synthesis of oral contraceptives and sex hormones[244], whilst saponins in the plant have been extracted for use in various other pharmaceutical products[238]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Trigonella foenum-graecum for loss of appetite, inflammation of the skin (see [302] for critics of commission E).
Other Uses
Cosmetic;  Dye;  Essential;  Green manure;  Hair;  Parasiticide.

An essential oil is obtained from the seed - used as a food flavouring and medicinally. The dried plant has a strong aroma of hay[4]. The crushed seed, mixed with oil and massaged into the scalp, is recommended for glossy hair[244]. An infusion of the seed, used as a skin lotion, is said to be good for the complexion[244]. A good green manure crop, it is fast growing and vigorous[200], producing a lot of bulk and fixing a large quantity of atmospheric nitrogen[87]. A yellow dye is obtained from the seed[61].
Cultivation details                                         
Succeeds in ordinary garden soil[1], preferring a well-drained loamy soil in full sun[200]. Requires a warm, sheltered position in Britain[244]. Plants are hardy to about -15°c[238]. Fenugreek is widely cultivated for its edible seed in warm temperate and tropical regions, there are some named varieties[183]. Seed production is more problematic in Britain due to the cooler and moister summers. The seed is ripened intermittently over a period of some weeks making harvesting more complicated[87]. Plants take about 16 weeks to mature in warmer climes, probably about 4 weeks longer in Britain[200]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200]. When removing plant remains at the end of the growing season, it is best to only remove the aerial parts of the plant, leaving the roots in the ground to decay and release their nitrogen.
Pre-soak the seed for 12 hours in warm water and then sow in spring in situ.
Related Plants                                         
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Trigonella caeruleaSweet Trefoil, Blue fenugreek10
Trigonella corniculatacultivated fenugreek11
Trigonella suavissimaSweet Fenugreek20
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[34]Harrison. S. Wallis. M. Masefield. G. The Oxford Book of Food Plants.
Good drawings of some of the more common food plants from around the world. Not much information though.
[57]Schery. R. W. Plants for Man.
Fairly readable but not very comprehensive. Deals with plants from around the world.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[87]Woodward. L. Burge. P. Green Manures.
Green manure crops for temperate areas. Quite a lot of information on a number of species.
[105]Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World.
The most comprehensive guide to edible plants I've come across. Only the briefest entry for each species, though, and some of the entries are more than a little dubious. Not for the casual reader.
[147]? A Barefoot Doctors Manual.
A very readable herbal from China, combining some modern methods with traditional chinese methods.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[176]Yeung. Him-Che. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas.
An excellent Chinese herbal giving information on over 500 species. Rather technical and probably best suited to the more accomplished user of herbs.
[177]Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption.
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[244]Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs
Deals with all types of herbs including medicinal, culinary, scented and dye plants. Excellent photographs with quite good information on each plant.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.
[302]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Commission E

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
gorav seth Fri Sep 12 17:35:31 2003
the leaves of fenugreek, known in hindi as methi (pronounce may-thee), can be incorporated into indian flatbreads and rotis.
Elizabeth H.
kanchan Sat Jul 24 06:30:23 2004

Link: trigonella foenumgraecum used for cosmetic

Elizabeth H.
preei Thu Jul 6 2006
trigonella is also known as helba
Elizabeth H.
AZI Thu Aug 30 2007
Elizabeth H.
Mrs.Cheryl Wyatt Sun Feb 15 2009

Greener GREEN ACRES Organic Farm Produce AND Wild Fruits, Plants and Mushrooms for sale (in season)

Elizabeth H.
Steven Ripple Sat Feb 21 2009
Why are you mentioning hardieness - It's an annual, and a hardy one at that. It's like peas.
Elizabeth H.
Thiruvelan Sun Jan 10 2010

Fenugreek diabetes Fenugreek diabetes is believed to control both glucose & cholesterol levels in blood. Additionally it nourishes digestive system, liver and promotes respiratory health.

M V.
Dec 5 2015 12:00AM
I have been cultivating fenugreek in my kitchen garden, from store bought spice seeds. My zone is USDA 7 and they are growing in almost full (but high) shade, with no signs yet of frost sensitivity (December, NY). Lovely plant, and great that it is also nitrogen-fixing.
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