Fenugreek is a nutritional herb that has historically been used as a culinary spice and for herbal medicine to support optimal health for a variety of bodily functions – from supporting breastfeeding mothers to promoting men’s sexual health and much more. Read on to learn about the many potential health benefits and uses of fenugreek!
What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is part of the Legume family and is native to western Asia. However, it also grows in other parts of the world too, including India, northern Africa, and in the U.S. (1) The name “fenugreek” comes from the Latin word faenugraecum, meaning "Greek hay.” It is an annual herb that grows to around 2 feet high. Its seeds are brown and contained in a cluster of 10-20 seeds in each long, narrow pod.(2)
Fenugreek is often cultivated for its mucilaginous seeds, which are believed to have potential health benefits. For instance, they have been used to support wound healing and to provide temporary relief for symptoms related to arthritis, bronchitis, and digestive issues. Traditional Chinese herbalists used fenugreek to support kidney health and the male reproductive system. (3)
Women who are nursing may use fenugreek to promote healthy breast milk flow. Some pregnant women have also used fenugreek to induce childbirth, but that that is not recommended. In addition, fenugreek may also be used as a poultice to temporarily relieve muscle and joint pain by wrapping the herb in cloth and applying it to the skin. (4) Outside of its many medicinal uses, fenugreek is a food and spice commonly eaten in many parts of the world. It is one of the ingredients in the spice blend known as garam masala. (5) Today, fenugreek seeds are used in dietary supplements, commonly available in capsules, powders, teas, and liquid extracts.
How Does Fenugreek Work?
The chemical composition of fenugreek is said to resemble cod liver oil. It contains fatty acids, including oleic (16.3%), linoleic (50%), and linolenic acids (24.4%). (6) Fenugreek seeds also contain many other important compounds, including up to 28 percent mucilaginous fiber; 5 percent bitter oil, which can be extracted by ether; 22 percent protein (lysine and L-tryptophan); alkaloids (trigonelline and choline), phosphates, lecithin, steroidal saponins (diosgenin, yamogenin, tigogenin, and neotigogenin), and other chemical compounds. The steroidal saponins and mucilaginous fiber in fenugreek seeds are believed to account for its potential health benefits. (7, 8)
One tablespoon of whole fenugreek seeds also contains these helpful ingredients for the human body, which add to their nutritional value. (9)
Nutritional Value of Fenugreek (1 tbsp)
- Fiber: 3 g
- Protein: 3 g
- Carbs: 6 g
- Fat: 1 g
- Calories: 35
- Iron: 20% of the daily requirements
- Manganese: 7% of the daily requirements
- Magnesium: 5% of the daily requirements
How is Fenugreek Used?
Medicinally, fenugreek is taken as a dietary supplement (as capsules, powders, teas, or liquid extracts) or can be used topically as a poultice to temporarily relieve minor skin irritations or muscle discomfort. As a spice, its aromatic seeds are used to imitate the flavor of maple syrup and to flavor cuisine. In India, fenugreek leaves are also consumed, because they are considered vegetables. Fenugreek extracts are also in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, and in some tobacco products. (10)
Brief History of Fenugreek
For thousands of years, fenugreek has been used in alternative and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In addition, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used fenugreek for medicinal and culinary purposes. In Egypt, fenugreek was used in a medicinal preparation known as Helba, where the seeds are soaked in water until they swell into a thick paste and then allowed to sprout to 2 or 3 inches high and then eaten to support digestive health. In addition, the seeds have been used in ointments and herbal plasters. (11)
Potential Health Benefits of Fenugreek
Fenugreek seeds are believed to support digestive system health, kidney health, reproductive system, respiratory system health, skin health (as a poultice), and men’s sexual health, including male vitality and performance, libido, and testosterone levels already in the normal range. According to other research, fenugreek may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels already in the normal range, but the scientific evidence is minimal. In addition, some studies suggest that fenugreek may promote milk production in women who are breastfeeding. However, further research is needed to support these claims. The main consensus is that fenugreek may support the following issues. (12)
May Support Healthy Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Levels Already in the Normal Range
The steroidal saponins in fenugreek seeds are believed to support cholesterol absorption and synthesis, while its mucilaginous fiber may help maintain healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range. More specifically, “fenugreeks most well-known compound is 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which works to normalize glucose metabolism. The other compounds, called trigonelline, galactomannan, and trigoneosides, also work together to provide benefits for blood sugar.” (13)
According to one study, fenugreek helped lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in people with moderate type 2 diabetes. Other clinical trials suggest fenugreek may help promote blood sugar control in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes and may help lower low-density lipoprotein, or LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels in the blood. However, fenugreek does not lower high-density lipoprotein, or HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels. (14)
May Support Men’s Sexual Health
A second major potential health benefit of fenugreek is promoting men’s sexual health.
As the male body ages, testosterone – the male sex hormone – and normal energy levels tend to decrease, which may affect sexual vitality and libido. Testosterone is also involved in mood, sex drive, muscle mass, and muscle strength. Taking a dietary supplement such as fenugreek, which seeks to promote healthy testosterone levels already in the normal range, may help maintain a man’s healthy mood, libido, muscle strength and more. Therefore, fenugreek seed supplements are believed to provide nutritional support for male reproductive function and healthy male aging.
According to some clinical studies as referenced below, taking a supplement of at least 500 mg of fenugreek per day may help maintain healthy testosterone levels already in the normal range and support men’s sexual function. (15) This may be attributed to fenugreeks ability to reduce the enzymes that convert testosterone into estrogen. (16)
One study tested a group of college men who received 500 mg of fenugreek per day over eight weeks. Results showed an increase in free and total testosterone levels, as well as greater fat loss and strength in the fenugreek group. (17) Another study involved healthy men between the ages of 25 and 52 years old who received a supplement of 600 mg of fenugreek per day for six weeks. The results found that fenugreek successfully increased libido for 81% of the group, improved sexual performance for 66% of the group, increased energy levels for 81% of the group, and improved overall well-being for 55% of the group. (18)
However, more research is needed to support these claims.
May Support Milk Flow for Breastfeeding Mothers
Other than supporting cholesterol, blood sugar, and men’s health, one of the most popular uses of fenugreek is to support the health of breastfeeding mothers.
Breast milk is considered the most nutritious and appropriate food source for newborns (for childhood development), but when complications cause insufficient breast milk production, mothers may need a safe, natural alternative to help promote breast milk flow. Fenugreek may be a natural alternative to prescription drugs used for this purpose. Fenugreek seed is thought to act as a galactagogue by affecting dopamine levels and the hormones involved in breastfeeding to promote a healthy breast milk supply in women who are nursing.
According to a clinical study, fenugreek herbal tea helped increase breast milk production in new mothers from 34 mL to 73 mL and had a positive effect on infants' weight gain patterns. (19, 20) In a similar study, 78 infant girls up to 4 months old were exclusively breastfed by their mothers, who received herbal tea containing 7.5 g fenugreek seed powder and 3 g of black tea three times daily. After four weeks, results showed that the weight of the infants in the fenugreek group increased significantly, confirming again that fenugreek herbal tea may help promote breast milk supply. (21)
Although these studies investigated the effect of fenugreek herbal tea on breastfeeding mothers, it is likely that fenugreek dietary supplements would have possibly had a similar effect. (22)
Other Potential Health Benefits
Fenugreek oil obtained from fenugreek seeds not only supports optimal internal health but may also support healthy-looking skin and promote natural beauty. That’s why fenugreek is a popular ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products. (23)
Fenugreek has also been noted to protect against oxidative liver damage. A 60-day study on rats found that a water extract of fenugreek seeds given orally had a positive protective effect on liver enzymes. (24, 25) In addition, a blend of 900 mg fenugreek in conjunction with 3.5g creatine monohydrate appeared to be as effective at increasing lean body mass and strength over 8 weeks as creatine alongside 70 g dextrose, according to another study. (26) Also, some research suggests fenugreek may support eye health. (27)
However, while scientific communities may not completely agree with all of these claims, researchers around the world are seeking to validate fenugreeks usefulness as a modern medicinal aid.
How to Buy Fenugreek
A typical daily dosage of fenugreek as a dietary supplement varies by product. Always consult first with your healthcare provider before use and refer to the nutritional label and instructions on the product you’re using. However, a daily intake of 6 g of fenugreek supplement is fairly common. For those taking fenugreek to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range, 5–30 g with each meal or 15–90 g at once with one meal can be taken. As a tincture, 3–4 mL of fenugreek can be taken up to three times per day. (28)
It is recommended that new mothers needing to support breast milk supply should take 500-1,000 mg of fenugreek. Men who want to support testosterone or libido should consider taking between 500-600 mg of a standardized fenugreek formulation. In addition, an oral dose of 2-5 g of fenugreek seeds may help maintain healthy blood glucose levels already in the normal range. (29)
However, keep in mind that there is little conclusive evidence about the effects of fenugreek, other than its possible side effects. That’s why it is important to first consult with your healthcare provider before considering the use of fenugreek supplements.
Possible Side Effects
When considering the use of fenugreek as a dietary supplement, it is important to understand the possible side effects. Ingesting more than 100 grams of fenugreek per day may cause nausea or diarrhea; smelly urine, breast milk, or perspiration; or asthmatic symptoms. Fenugreek may act like estrogen and induce uterine contractions or trigger hormone sensitivities. Therefore, women who are pregnant should never take fenugreek. (30, 31) In addition, people with allergies to soybeans, peanuts, green peas, and other legume-related plants could also have allergies to fenugreek. (32)
Shopping for Fenugreek
When shopping for fenugreek, it’s important to buy from a reputable source to avoid any possible contaminants or harsh chemical additives. When you shop for fenugreek supplements from Natural Healthy Concepts, you don’t have to worry about looking for quality products – that has already been done for you! Our certified nutritionist has vetted all products from quality and safety standards. We add new products to the site monthly and have been doing so for over 10 years. Plus, all domestic orders receive free shipping! Try fenugreek from Natural Healthy Concepts today, and experience the difference it may make to your health! (33)