Although little known in Western countries, this little herb of the clover family has an ancient history, dating back at least 3500 years, to the famous Ebers papyrus. The ancient Egyptians not only used it for cooking, but also made a paste from the seeds, with which they embalmed their dead. It was also an ingredient of Kyphi incense, which was burnt in copious amounts for both secular and sacred occasions. It is native to the Middle East, but is thought to have been exported to Asia at an early date. Today it figures prominently in the cuisines of Middle Eastern and Asian countries and has been absorbed into the Chinese Materia Medica. Fenugreek seeds are frequently used as a component of curry blends and the fresh herb is also often added to impart their unique flavour to curries and Naan bread. Western countries shun it, as its slightly bitter and decidedly pungent aroma is an acquired taste. Yet, the herb and seeds are highly nutritious and have some interesting healing properties. In Asia and the Middle East Fenugreek plays integral parts in folk-medicine and herbalism, but Western countries at best tend to use it for veterinary purposes. Here, it is grown for fodder - the actual translation of the Latin name in fact means 'Greek Hay', as it is thought to be beneficial for cattle, keeping them healthy and increasing their milk.
Fenugreek seed contain steroidal saponins, including diosgenin, which is used in the manufacture of birth control pills. The bitter principle stimulates appetite and digestion and may be useful in cases of anorexia and stomach ulcers. It is an excellent agent to stimulate the flow of milk in nursing mothers and also has a stimulating effect on the uterus. In folk medicine it has been used as a contraceptive, and it has also been used to induce labour contractions. In Chinese medicine pessaries containing fenugreek seed are used to treat cervical cancer and laboratory studies have shown it to exert an inhibitive effect on cancer of the liver. Fenugreek also has some marvellous tissue healing properties. The Ebers papyrus mentions Fenugreek in a recipe for an ointment that was used to treat burns and scalds. It was added to cosmetic lotions for chapped or cracked skin and it was thought to rejuvenate the tissues. A paste made from the seeds was also applied to abscesses, boils, burns and ulcers. In Chinese medicine it is also used for abdominal pain, kidney problems, arthritis and beriberi, while in Ayurveda it is used to treat heart disease as well as spleen and liver enlargements. Do not use during pregnancy.
Fenugreek can be used for psychic protection and grounding. It helps the practitioner to return to the here and now after a shamanic journey. It can help with centring and focusing one's intention. It has also been used in money magic.