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Not sure about you, but when herbs come to mind, we’re thinking cilantro on tacos, basil on pizza, and parsley on pasta. Fenugreek? Never heard of it.
Even though it’s a lesser known herb, fenugreek leaves and seeds come with a long list of benefits. Here’s everything to know about fenugreek.
Fenugreek is one of the oldest medicinal plants around (we’re talking 1500 B.C.)! Its benefits and description were reported in the Eber Papyrus, which is an ancient medical document from Egypt (💫 the more you know).
The fenugreek plant contains yellowish flowers, green leaves, and pods. The pods contain small, brownish seeds which are dubbed the most valuable part of the plant.
When you eat fenugreek (both the seeds and leaves) you’re going to consume high amounts of:
- vitamins A, B1, B2, and C
- oleic, linolenic, and linoleic acids (aka healthy fats!)
Because it’s a nutrient-rich plant, it’s believed it may help the onset of chronic diseases. This includes metabolic disorders (think diabetes and other conditions where an organ stops functioning properly) and oxidative damage (which harms cells and tissues).
It also may help reduce the risk of:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- heart conditions
- bacterial, fungal, and viral infections
Let’s break down what fenugreek can do for you. (We’ll take fenugreek pizza, please!)
Reduce blood sugar
If you have diabetes, fenugreek may help you lower high blood sugar levels.
A small 2017 study divided 60 patients with type 2 diabetes into two groups: one group received 10 grams of fenugreek seeds each day while the other group did not.
After 5 months, the group receiving fenugreek seeds had a significant decrease in blood glucose levels compared to the group who was not receiving it.
The fenugreek group after 6 months also showed a significant reduction in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). This test shows the average of blood sugar levels over a few months.
Improve lactation and milk production
Adding a newborn to the family can be an exciting yet nerve-wracking time! If you aren’t making enough milk for your little one, stress levels can skyrocket. Fenugreek to the rescue!
A 2018 review found mothers who took fenugreek had a significant increase in milk production.
Another 2018 study combined fenugreek with ginger and turmeric and provided this mixture to 25 mothers. Results showed a 49 percent increase of milk volume at 2 weeks and 103 percent at 4 weeks. No hungry babies with that combo!
It’s believed the phytoestrogens (which are plant chemicals similar to estrogen) found in fenugreek are the contributing factor.
Relieve menstrual cramps and PMS
This herb might get you through those times when Aunt Flo is visiting and brings along cramps.
One study gave 900 milligrams of fenugreek seed powder to the participants 3 times daily for 2 menstrual cycles. Compared to the placebo group, fenugreek participants had less pain and a shorter duration of pain between the two cycles.
PMS symptoms such as nausea, headache, fatigue, vomiting, and lack of energy were also much lower in the fenugreek group.
Improve your libido
What’s more sexually healthy than being in the mood for sex? One 2011 study used Testofen (a fenugreek extract and mineral tablet) to see how it affected the male libido.
Participants took 600 milligrams of Testofen for 6 weeks and the outcome showed positive effects on physiological aspects of libido (including energy, sexual arousal, and orgasm).
It works for women too! A similar study tested fenugreek seeds on women at a dose of 600 milligrams per day for 2 menstrual cycles. The end result found that sexual desire and arousal was much higher in the fenugreek group compared to the placebo group (bow chicka wow wow).
Boost sperm count and testosterone
Sperm is one necessary factor if you’re looking to add to the family, but if the count is too low that could cause some complications.
Fenugreek might help you bump up those swimmers! One 2017 study tested Furosap (a compound made up of fenugreek seeds) on 50 male volunteers.
All the participants received 500 milligrams per day over 12 weeks and the end results showed improvement with sperm morphology (size and shape of the sperm), sperm count, and free testosterone levels.
Fenugreek is believed to be anti-inflammatory, although more research needs to be done on humans. The animal studies do look promising!
One study tested how fenugreek seed extract affected inflammatory and arthritic activities in rats. Rats who were given fenugreek seed extract had a significant decrease in inflammation and compounds that trigger arthritis.
Researchers believe this is due to the linoleic and linolenic acids in fenugreek seeds.
Nothing beats good ol’ fashion healthy eating and exercise when it comes to weight loss, but fenugreek may lend a helping hand.
An older 2003 study combined fenugreek with other stimulant-free compounds to create a supplement. Participants took this supplement daily for 6 weeks, with another group taking a placebo. Participants who took the supplement lost more body weight, body fat, and absolute fat mass.
However, more human research needs to be done on fenugreek alone when it comes to weight loss.
Lower cholesterol levels
With high cholesterol (especially “bad” LDL cholesterol) comes plaque buildup in your arteries. This can lead to heart attacks and strokes. More research needs to be done on humans to really confirm fenugreek can help cholesterol, but older research shows it may be useful.
A 1999 study gave fenugreek seed powder every day to 20 adults for 30 days. At the end of the study, participants taking the higher dosage saw a significant decrease in total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol. No changes were noted for “good” HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
It happens to the best of us, that burning pain in our chest after eating greasy pizza or spicy foods. Thankfully, a fenugreek fiber product could be a solid replacement for over the counter antacid medication.
A 2011 study gave a fenugreek fiber product to participants 30 minutes before 2 meals each day. Over 2 weeks, heartburn severity was decreased according to symptom diary results.
There are several ways to prepare fenugreek seeds to be added into meals or eaten as a snack.
Soak ‘em. Soaking the seeds overnight in warm water can help soften them up to eat directly. You can also sprout the seeds by taking the overnight soaked seeds and leaving them in a damp cloth for a few days. These can be added to salads or also eaten alone.
Mash ‘em. Fenugreek powder or paste can be added to certain foods while cooking. Fenugreek powder is simply made by processing the seeds into a fine powder and from there can be sprinkled on your food of choice.
Fenugreek paste is made similarly to the powder, but with the addition of water to help create the paste consistency. Fenugreek paste can easily be added to sauces.
If you’re not fond of the idea of preparing and eating fenugreek seeds, they also come in supplement or tea form.
Fenugreek supplements are widely available and at a reasonable price. You can also purchase fenugreek tea, or make your own with the water from soaked fenugreek seeds!
Like most supplements, fenugreek should not be consumed if you’re pregnant. It may also act like estrogen which can be unsafe for women with hormone-sensitive cancers.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) states side effects could include:
- maple-like smell to urine, breast milk, and perspiration
- worsening of asthma
Fenugreek can also interact with certain medications such as Warfarin (Coumadin), diabetes medication, and medicines that slow blood clotting. It’s best to touch base with your doctor before starting to consume this supplement on a regular basis.
This herb packs a big punch, with great benefits ranging from boosting testosterone to managing menstrual cramps.
More research (especially on human subjects) needs to be done before we rely on fenugreek for certain health conditions. But, overall the herb can easily be added to your routine and help you rack up its benefits. Make sure you always talk with your doc before starting any supplements.