Fenugreek has a long history as both a culinary and medicinal herb in the ancient world. It was one of the spices the Egyptians used for embalming, and the Greeks and Romans used it for cattle fodder, which is where the Latin foenum graecum meaning Greek hay originated. It also was grown extensively in the imperial gardens of Charlemagne. The first recorded use of fenugreek is described on an ancient Egyptian papyrus dated as far back as 1500 B.C.Fenugreek is native to southern Europe, the Mediterranean region and Western Asia. It’s cultivated from western Europe to China for the aromatic seeds and is still grown for fodder in parts of Europe and northern Africa. Fenugreek is an indispensable ingredient in Indian curries.Fenugreek seed is commonly used in cooking, and historically, fenugreek was used for a variety of health conditions, including for menopause relief and digestive problems. It was also used for inducing childbirth.Today, fenugreek is used as a folk or traditional remedy for diabetes and loss of appetite, as well as to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding women. It’s also applied to the skin for inflammation among numerous other possible benefits.
Constituents of fenugreek seeds include flavonoids, alkaloids, coumarins, vitamins, and saponins; the most prevalent alkaloid is trigonelline and coumarins include cinnamic acid and scopoletin.
8 Fenugreek Benefits and Uses
1. Improves Digestive Problems and Cholesterol Levels
Fenugreek may help with numerous digestive problems, such as upset stomach, constipation and inflammation of the stomach. For instance, the water-soluble fiber in fenugreek, among other foods, helps relieve constipation. (1) It also works to treat digestion and is often incorporated in an ulcerative colitis diet treatment plan due to its anti-inflammatory effects. (2)
Fenugreek also seems to benefit those with heart conditions, such as hardening of the arteries and high blood levels of certain fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides. In fact, a study out of India showed that administering 2.5 grams of fenugreek twice daily for three months to people dealing with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus significantly lowered cholesterol naturally, along with triglycerides, without affecting HDL cholesterol. (3)
2. Reduces Inflammation Inside the Body
Fenugreek helps with inflammation within the body, such as:
- mouth ulcers
- infection of the tissues beneath the surface of the skin
- chronic coughs
- kidney ailments
3. Increases Libido in Men
Some fenugreek uses for men include treating hernias, erectile dysfunctionand other male problems, such as baldness. That’s because fenugreek may increase sexual arousal and testosterone levels.
While it’s best to consult with a physician before using natural therapies for treating illnesses or improving sexual performance, supplements produced from fenugreek have been shown to increase sexual desire and performance in men, as well as naturally remedy impotence.
4. Promotes Milk Flow in Breastfeeding
Fenugreek also helps breastfeeding women who may experience low milk supply. Fenugreek can increase a woman’s breast milk supply because it acts as a galactagogue, which is a substance to increase milk supply. This stimulates the milk ducts and can increase milk production in as little as 24 hours.
While more research is needed to determine the exact efficacy and safety of the galactagogue in fenugreek on breastfeeding, several studies note its use in promoting milk flow. Complementary & Alternative Medicine, the Annals of Pharmocotherapy, Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Internaional, among others, have all published studies on this issue. (7, 8, 9, 10)
5. Lowers Inflammation from Outside the Body
In addition to lowering internal inflammation, fenugreek is sometimes used externally as a poultice, which means it’s wrapped in cloth, warmed and applied directly to the skin. This reduces external inflammation and can treat (11):
- pain and swelling in the muscles and lymph nodes
- leg ulcers
It’s important to test the area first to ensure that it does not burn or further inflame, however.
6. Adds Flavor and Spice to Food
In foods, fenugreek is often included as an ingredient in spice blends, mostly found in Indian fare, such as curried dishes. It’s also used as a flavoring agent in imitation maple syrup, foods, beverages and tobacco. (12) The leaves from the plant can be used in salads, and both fresh and dried leaves are used in Indian cookery.
7. Helps with Eating Disorders
Beyond enhancing flavor, fenugreek has been shown in increase appetite, which results in restorative and nutritive properties.
8. Improves Exercise Performance
The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine reports a study of the effects of combined creatine and fenugreek extract supplementation on strength and body composition in men. Forty-seven resistance-trained men were matched according to body weight to ingest either 70 grams of a dextrose placebo, five grams of creatine and 70 grams of dextrose, or 3.5 grams of creatine and 900 milligrams of fenugreek extract and participate in a four-day a week periodized resistance-training program for eight weeks.
At 0, four and eight weeks, subjects were tested on body composition, muscular strength endurance and anaerobic capacity. The creatine/fenugreek group showed significant increases in lean mass, bench press and leg press strength. The study concluded that creatine combined with fenugreek extract supplementation had a significant impact on upper body strength and body composition as effectively as the combination of creatine with dextrose. (14)
Why is this good? The use of fenugreek with creatine supplementation may be an effective means for enhancing creatine uptake while eliminating the need for excessive amounts of simple carbohydrates, and thus you should consider adding fenugreek to your list of best foods for athletes.