Fenugreek is a little seed that packs a big punch. A healing herb, a food, and a spice rolled into one, its centuries-old history and popularity extend from ancient times to today.
Available in seed or supplement form, fenugreek is a versatile, multipurpose herb — and herbal medicine. For thousands of years, women have used the seed to boost breast milk production, but it also can add spice to your sex drive! Fenugreek also supports healthy blood sugar, normalizes cholesterol levels, and reduces inflammation.
What Is Fenugreek?
Also called "Greek hay," fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) has aromatic, golden-brown seeds common to ancient and modern natural remedies. This medicinal plant was originally found in southern Europe, the Mediterranean, India, and parts of Asia.
Fenugreek leaves and seeds lend flavoring to Indian cuisine; the ground seeds are in the spice blend garam masala. The seeds taste bitter when raw, but mellow out when cooked. People have described its flavor as a mix of maple syrup, brown sugar, and celery.
As a nutritional supplement, you can buy fenugreek as a capsule, liquid extract, or in tea form. Supplements provide a higher concentration of nutrients, whereas when cooking with fenugreek seed or powder, you will get lower amounts of the beneficial plant compounds.
Top 10 Fenugreek Benefits & Uses
This popular seed has various health benefits and uses, from supporting breastfeeding women to relieving digestive ailments. We've gathered together the top health benefits of fenugreek below.
1. Stimulates Breast Milk Production
Women experiencing low milk supply often turn to the herb to help boost their production. Some researchers credit the phytoestrogens — plant compounds that mimic estrogen — in fenugreek for its positive effect on milk volume.
2. Spices Up Your Sex Life
Is it fact, or folklore, that fenugreek can bring spice to the bedroom?
Do you need a boost in the bedroom? The phytoestrogens found in fenugreek have been found to improve both sexual function and libido in women and men. Perhaps this is because the plant's unique compounds can mimic both female and male sex hormones, naturally.[1, 4]
Men with concerns over sexual function or erectile dysfunction can benefit from fenugreek supplements. This little seed has a positive effect on the physiological aspects of libido — including increased sexual arousal and orgasm.[ Men taking the herb reported having increased muscle strength, energy, and well-being.
3. Counteracts “Low T”
Although testosterone decreases naturally with age, some men find that “low T" can affect their quality of life. Libido, muscle mass, bone mass, and even mood can all decline — and body fat can increase — when testosterone levels drop below optimum.
Fenugreek may offer some assistance, thanks to its testosterone-friendly glycosides.
Fenugreek seeds contain soluble steroidal saponins, which stimulate androgenic activity in men. As a result, fenugreek is a great natural alternative to medical hormone therapies (gels, patches, and injections), which can bring unwanted side effects.
Men taking fenugreek with Chinese bush clover (Lespedeza cuneata) for eight weeks had an increase in testosterone and improved sexual function.
4. Lowers Blood Sugar
Individuals with Type 2 diabetes who took fenugreek seed powder soaked in hot water experienced lower fasting blood sugar and total blood glucose. Exactly how the herb impacts blood sugar levels is not completely clear, but this is promising!
The seeds' high dietary fiber content and plant compounds may slow digestion, reduce glucose absorption in the gut, and improve the way the body metabolizes carbohydrates and sugar. Together, these characteristics lead to better glycemic control, or in other words, better natural management of blood sugar.
5. Balances Cholesterol & Boosts Heart Health
Fenugreek may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. That’s great news!
Heart disease patients with high cholesterol taking fenugreek had a significant reduction in both triglycerides and LDL (“bad") cholesterol. Fenugreek did not affect HDL (“good") cholesterol, which means it helps keep it balanced overall, where you need it to be.
Fenugreek’s steroidal saponins, mentioned previously, seem to interact with the body's bile salts in the digestive tract, which lowers cholesterol. The seeds help detox the body, particularly the kidneys, bones, and brain.
6. Soothes Inflammation
People often take fenugreek to reduce the redness, pain, and swelling caused by inflammation, and use it for ulcers arthritis, and gout. The herb shows promise for helping reduce the discomfort of skin conditions like eczema.
Ground into a paste, fenugreek may even soothe certain skin conditions when applied topically. Try making a poultice — wrap fenugreek seeds in cloth, warm it, and apply it to your skin — to reduce inflammation.
7. Eases Digestive Woes & Heartburn
Moreover, fenugreek fiber is just as effective as over-the-counter antacids at relieving heartburn. The seeds' water-soluble fiber may have a soothing effect on the lining of the stomach and may relieve constipation.
Chinese medicine healers recommend fenugreek, usually mixed with other herbs, to remedy abdominal discomfort, among other things. Chemical compounds within the herb increase pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that helps your body digest fats.
In modern Ayurvedic medicine, practitioners recommend fenugreek for digestive issues, stemming from excessive kapha (phlegm) and vata (wind). Ayurveda also recommends another herb, holy basil (also called tulsi) for abdominal discomfort and digestive woes.
8. Influences Appetite
Fenugreek may also help regulate and modulate appetite according to the body's needs. Overweight people taking fenugreek extract tend to eat less dietary fat.
Taking a fenugreek supplement may even offset the effects of a high-fat diet — though not as much as exercise.
On the flip side, this herb can also increase appetite. Fenugreek extract appears to increase food intake and motivation in some cases. As a result, some treatment programs for anorexia use fenugreek to help stimulate the appetite for weight gain.
9. Boosts Exercise Performance
Since fenugreek acts as a natural testosterone booster in men, it makes sense that the herb might improve athletic performance as well. And it appears to do so, especially when used in combination with other supplements.
Men who took both fenugreek extract and creatine for eight weeks had improved strength for resistance-training exercise (bench press and leg press strength).
Instead of consuming mass quantities of simple carbs, try fenugreek to boost exercise performance.
10. Eases Menstrual Cramps
Many women turn to fenugreek tea or fenugreek powder during their monthly cycle to ease and soothe menstrual cramps. It turns out that taking fenugreek also reduces the need for over-the-counter pain medication during menstruation.
Natural herbs like fenugreek contain wonderful phytochemicals that work together with your body to give comfort and health with minimal side effects.
Packed with nutrients, fenugreek need not be consumed in large amounts to offer benefits. One tablespoon of whole seeds has 36 calories and provides the following:
- 2.73 grams fiber
- 2.55 grams protein
- 21.2 milligrams magnesium
- 19.5 milligrams calcium
- 3.72 milligrams iron
- 0.32 milligrams thiamine (B-1)
- 0.13 milligrams manganese
Both the seeds and the leaves of the plant make an appearance in Indian and Southeast Asian food dishes, including curries, dhal, chutneys, and even bread. Fenugreek also appears in Middle Eastern desserts and, in the West, lends its flavor to imitation maple syrup products (pure organic maple syrup is a better option, however).
Fenugreek dosages vary based on the supplement's potency as well as the therapeutic benefits that you seek.
Fenugreek Side Effects & Precautions
Generally considered safe for adult use, fenugreek does have a few precautions and side effects. Side effects of fenugreek are usually minor and may include a "maple syrup" smell to sweat, urine, or breast milk; diarrhea; upset stomach including gas or bloating; and a worsening of asthma symptoms.
People with low blood sugar should be aware that fenugreek can make blood sugar drop too low, causing dizziness or fainting. People on blood thinners or with a history of any clotting-related or bleeding disorder should also avoid fenugreek.
Avoid this herb during pregnancy, as there are some indications it can stimulate uterine contractions.
In breastfeeding women, side effects can include nausea, vomiting, or decreased glucose levels in the mother and diarrhea in the baby as well as a maple syrup odor to the baby's urine.
Points to Remember
A therapeutic herb with a long and rich history in alternative medicine and Mediterranean cuisine, fenugreek has a wide range of potential benefits and uses. Breastfeeding women use fenugreek to increase milk supply, men use it to boost testosterone, and both sexes may call on the herb to enhance libido.
Fenugreek may balance blood glucose in people with high blood sugar, and it may also promote healthy triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Other potential benefits include reducing inflammation, relieving heartburn and digestive issues, regulating appetite, and improving exercise performance.
A common ingredient in Indian cuisine and spice blends, fenugreek is generally safe to use with a relatively low incidence of side effects.
Have you tried fenugreek? Did you cook with it or take it as a supplement? Share your experiences and thoughts below!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.