Fenugreek: What It Is & Why You Should Be Using It
When it comes to natural skincare and healthcare practices, we are constantly discovering new uses and benefits of substances we may have thought that we already knew everything about. On the other hand, we are also constantly “rediscovering” substances that may have been popularly used in ancient times for their many significant health benefits but which were forgotten as history progressed.
As every day passes, our natural world provides us with more and more information, proving that we may never truly know all that there is to know about natural health and beauty practices.
If you have never eaten fenugreek and are unaware of its excellent health properties, then you have come to the right place. Fenugreek may not be the most popular herb in the West but its health benefits are quite remarkable and they start with inflammation.
Recent research has found that fenugreek can help combat both internal and external forms of inflammation which can have some dramatic long-term benefits on your overall health.
What exactly is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is one of the oldest and most useful herbs that has been utilized since ancient and traditional times. It seems to have been forgotten as time passed, but many people are “rediscovering” it and including it in mainstream health and beauty practices today.
Today, it is commonly used as a household spice and a thickening agent, as well as an ingredient in many shampoos and soaps. Since ancient times, however, fenugreek was used in Chinese and alternative medicine practices as a treatment for many skin conditions and diseases.
Fenugreek is actually technically a crop, not an herb, that is part of the pea family. It is scientifically or botanically known as Trigonella foenum-graecum of the Fabaceae family, and it may also be referred to as “methi,” or Greek hay depending on where you are in the world.
The fenugreek plant itself is rather small, growing to only two or three feet tall. It grows small, white flowers that produce pods which contain the fenugreek seeds. These seeds are small and golden and are what provides the significant health benefits that have made them so popular today.
It’s an annual herbaceous plant is traditionally grown in areas of the Middle East, Mediterranean countries, and the Indian subcontinent. Over 80% of today’s production of fenugreek actually comes from India in the Rajasthan region; other popular producers of fenugreek include Argentina, Egypt, France, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey.
The seeds pods of the herb contain between 10 and 20 pungent, aromatic seeds. These seeds have a slightly bitter flavor resembling celery and are sometimes used to make a medicine.
When fenugreek is cooked, however, it has a much more palatable taste. While the leaves are sometimes used in cooking, its seeds are used most widely after being dried then ground.
Fenugreek can be eaten or used to make a topical paste that can help ease skin inflammation. A essential oil made from the herb is known to possess a variety of medicinal properties including antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions.
While fenugreek seeds are typically consumed in large amounts, their nutritional value is often measured in relevance to the amount of one tablespoon. With that said, one tablespoon of fenugreek seeds contains approximately 35 calories and many healthy nutrients, including fiber, protein, carbs, healthy fats, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
A tablespoon serving of fenugreek seed contains 35.5 calories, 6.4 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of protein. 2.7 grams of fiber and only 0.7 grams of fat. It also contains 20% of your daily requirement of iron, 5% of your daily requirement of magnesium, and 7% of your daily requirement of manganese.
Fenugreek Health Benefits
1. To Reduce Internal Inflammation
Fenugreek can help reduce internal inflammation meaning that it can help treat a number of conditions including bronchitis, coughs, kidney complaints, mouth ulcers and boils. Ayurvedic practitioners in India have long been aware of its potential health properties and have historically used it to treat a host of inflammatory conditions as well as nutritional and metabolic complaints like diabetes.
Traditional Chinese practitioners have used the herb to cool inflammation inside the body.
Research published in 2012 analyzed the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities of fenugreek on rats with arthritis. The researchers demonstrated that fenugreek was effective and may have a potential use as a natural treatment for arthritis. (1)
2. For Digestion
One of the best uses for fenugreek is to help the digestive system which it does in numerous ways. It can help to ease inflammation in the stomach, heal stomach upsets, constipation and bloating.
Fenugreek contains water soluble fiber which is an excellent remedy for constipation. Its anti-inflammatory properties also make it an excellent choice for people with ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory digestive issues.
3. For Cholesterol
Studies have demonstrated that fenugreek can help benefit the heart in several ways. It can help treat arterial hardening and reduce cholesterol levels in people with abnormally high cholesterol.
One Indian study published in 1997 demonstrated that fenugreek taken twice a day for a period of three months helped significantly reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with non-insulin dependent diabetes. The fenugreek also had no effect on the good HDL cholesterol. (2)
4. For Blood Sugar
Fenugreek may help to reduce blood sugar levels because of the presence of an amino acid known as 4-hydroxyisoleucin and the natural fiber galactomannan. This amino acid seems to increase the production of insulin in the body when blood sugar is high.
A boost in insulin production might reduce the amount of sugar which remains in the blood and studies have shown that fenugreek can both reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels in diabetic patients. (3)
5. For External Inflammation
Fenugreek can be used to make a poultice which is applied externally to treat external inflammation.
Among the types of condition that can be treated with a poultice made from fenugreek are minor wounds, gout, muscular swelling, burns, eczema and leg ulcers. (4)
To make a simple poultice follow these instructions.
- First, take a tablespoon of fenugreek seeds and grind them up into a fine powder.
- Add warm water to the fenugreek powder and mix into a paste.
- Soak a cloth in your mixture.
- Apply the cloth to the affected area of your skin.
6. To Improve Male Libido
Fenugreek might also have some specific uses for men’s health. It is used to treat erectile dysfunction, baldness, and hernias. It is believed to be effective because fenugreek can increase testosterone levels in men.
Supplements made from fenugreek seed extract have been analyzed scientifically and studies show that it can indeed boost male sexual performance and also might be a natural remedy for impotence. A study published in 2011 looked at the effects of fenugreek extract supplementation in 60 men with regard to their libido.
The men aged from 25 to 52 were either given a placebo or 600 mg of fenugreek daily for a 6 week period. The participants self-evaluated and noted that the supplement improved their libido. The researchers concluded that fenugreek had a significant effect on sexual appetite, stamina, and energy while also helping the men to maintain healthy testosterone levels. (5)
Regarding testosterone boosts, studies showed that taking 500 milligrams per day of fenugreek supplements while participating in a weightlifting program that lasted for eight weeks provided an increase in testosterone and helped the men in the study reduced their body fat by 2%.
7. To Stimulate Lactation
Many women have difficulties producing sufficient milk when they are nursing their newborn child. Fenugreek might be a natural remedy to increase the supply of milk in mothers. It has galactagogic properties meaning that it can stimulate the milk ducts leading to increased production of milk.
Fenugreek is the most popular herbal choice for women looking to improve milk production but studies have noted that there needs to be more research with regard to the safety of herbal remedies while breastfeeding. (6) If you have any doubts, please inform your doctor before trying a herbal remedy.
8. Reduce Menopause Symptoms
Other than being used for lactation purposes, fenugreek seeds may also be helpful in reducing uncomfortable symptoms that are present in many women during menstruation. The seeds are natural emmenagogues, which means that they open up menses that may be obstructed, relieving the body from painful menstrual symptoms and disorders.
Fenugreek seeds may also help during menopause, as they contain diosgenin and estrogenic isoflavones, which can imitate the female sex hormone estrogen. Consuming the seeds can help reduce menopausal symptoms such as depression, cramps, hunger, and mood swings.
9. To Boost Exercise Performance
Several studies have demonstrated that fenugreek extract combined with creatine can improve stamina, energy and body composition.
In a study published in 2011, 47 athletes with resistance training were separated into 3 groups. They were either given a placebo, a combination of creatine and dextrose or a supplement containing creatine and fenugreek extract. They then took part in a resistance training program 4 days a week for 2 months. (7)
The participants were tested with regard to strength, endurance, aerobic ability and body composition. By the end of the study, the group of men who took the supplement made from fenugreek and creatine exhibited a significant increase in lean body mass as well as improved strength in bench and leg press exercises.
The researchers concluded that fenugreek combined with creatine had a major impact on body composition and strength (8).
If you are an athlete, adding fenugreek to your diet may result in great improvements.
10. Improve Your Skin with Fenugreek
People all over the world are constantly looking for a way to improve their overall health and the way that their skin looks, and fenugreek can help with improving the appearance of your skin and keeping it as healthy as possible.
This is because it is packed with anti-inflammatory compounds that can help to fight and control skin inflammation as well as bacterial infections and breakouts. Due to its antibacterial properties, fenugreek oil is a great option for a moisturizer that will not only improve the tone and hydration of your skin but also fight against breakouts and blemishes.
Anyone who suffers from acne has probably tried a number of different medications to treat the problem, but natural fenugreek oil may be just what you actually need. By applying a drop of fenugreek oil to your acne each day, you will find that in under a month your face looks less red and that your acne will have all but disappeared. The same chemicals that the plant uses to defend itself can help to combat your acne.
Another way that you can use fenugreek to combat skin problems is by eating it. When you consume fenugreek oil it will actually encourage your liver to produce prostaglandin, which is necessary to help control sebum production. One of the reasons that you may have acne and pimples not only on your face but the rest of your body is because of an overproducing of sebum, which causes the glands and pores to clog and acne to form.
Finally, using fenugreek oil every day as a moisturizer for your skin that has been exposed to the sun will help to protect your skin from the damage caused by UV rays as well as any toxins that are in the air. It’s a good idea to massage this oil into your face and hands to ensure that you are protected.
Fenugreek is generally considered to be safe but like most herbal remedies there are some precautions that you should be aware of.
Minor side effects from eating fenugreek include bloating, flatulence and diarrhea.
When applied to the skin, fenugreek may cause irritation in some people so you should always perform a patch test on a small area of skin to ensure that you don’t react.
Because there are no studies of the effects of fenugreek during pregnancy, women should exercise caution. The same thing applies to women who are breastfeeding despite it being a popular remedy for poor milk production. If in doubt, talk to your doctor.
Fenugreek might also cause excessive bleeding and should be avoided by people taking blood thinning medication.