Scientific name : Trigonella foenum-graecum
Once used to embalm mummies in ancient Egypt, fenugreek has numerous medicinal uses in Ayurveda. A bitter tasting plant having a strong and peculiar odor, fenugreek seeds and leaves are frequently used in several Indian food preparations.
Fenugreek is a high calorie spice, delivering about 36 calories in 1 tablespoon of seeds. The seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber and several nutrients such as potassium, copper, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, carbohydrates, protein, folate, vitamin D, C, A and B vitamins.
A multifaceted plant popular for its culinary usage as well as for its medicinal qualities, fenugreek has been researched for the following health benefits.
1. Fenugreek as Detoxifier
In Ayurveda, all foods are categorized into six tastes or ‘rasas’ – madhur (sweet), lavana (salty), katu (pungent), tikta (bitter), amla (sour) and kashay (astringent). Ayurveda says that a wholesome diet must contain food items from all 6 food groups. Fenugreek’s bitter taste is owed to the tikta rasa, which helps in detoxification of the body by eliminating ‘Ama’ or toxins. Tikta rasa renders a cooling effect on the body and improves gastrointestinal health.
2. Fenugreek for Hair
Fenugreek has been historically used to treat dandruff, dry scalp and baldness. To get benefits of fenugreek, apply its paste for 30-45 minutes on the scalp before hair wash. Hair mask made with fenugreek powder and curd works as a natural conditioner and can add lustre and volume to dull hair.
3. Fenugreek for Lactation
Since ancient times, lactating mothers have been given fenugreek to increase their milk production. Considered safe for both mother and baby, fenugreek can be either taken as powder, capsule or can be brewed with tea. It can also be added to cereals and wheat flour which is used to make breads for the nursing mother.
4. Fenugreek for Digestion
Fenugreek is a popular home remedy for digestive problems. It is used to enhance appetite, boost metabolism, relieve constipation, heartburn and gastritis (stomach inflammation) and to soothe an upset stomach. Ayurveda suggests use of fenugreek for relief from digestive agni or fire. To use, soak fenugreek seeds in water overnight, add grated ginger and eat a spoonful before meals.
5. Fenugreek for Diabetes
A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research showed that fenugreek, if taken 15 minutes before meals, can provide relief in type 2 diabetes. It has shown convincing long lasting results in reducing blood glucose levels. Fenugreek elongates the time taken by food to release glucose into the blood which helps control blood sugar levels.
Fenugreek seeds, soaked overnight, can be taken in the morning,You can also take 25 grams fenugreek powder with water or buttermilk 15 minutes before a meal. The easiest way to include fenugreek in your family's diet is by adding it to your chapati dough, curries, vegetable dishes and even curd.
6. Fenugreek for Cholesterol
Compounds present in fenugreek and the high fiber content of fenugreek seeds work in two ways to control cholesterol in the human body, first by restricting cholesterol absorption in the intestines and, second, by altering cholesterol production in the liver. Researchers have found that fenugreek can lower bad cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides) and promote good or HDL cholesterol which in turn protects the heart.
7. Fenugreek for Respiratory Health
Respiratory infections are a constant risk factor in polluted cities. Fenugreek is extensively used in Ayurveda for treatment of respiratory problems. It is used to treat sore throat, sinusitis, bronchitis, cough, infections and respiratory inflammation. Fenugreek acts as a cleansing agent by dispersing ama (toxins) and blocked mucous out from respiratory system. Fenugreek tea is recommended for sore throat and other respiratory problems.
8. Fenugreek as Aphrodisiac
This pungent smelling spice can be used as natural aphrodisiac. A study to evaluate effects of fenugreek on male sexuality has suggested usage of fenugreek as a natural testosterone booster. Fenugreek not only works for men, it is used for enhancing female libido as well.
9. Fenugreek for Skin
Fenugreek is used to treat various skin aliments such as wounds, boils, sores, skin infections, swelling, blisters, ulcers, pimple and eczema. Paste of fenugreek seeds soaked overnight can be applied on the skin to relieve inflammation pains. A mask of fenugreek and honey can be used to treat acne and to tone the skin’s outer layers. Honey not only intensifies fenugreek’s benefits, but also makes it tastier, so it can either be applied as a face mask or ingested.
10. Fenugreek for Female Health
Fenugreek contains compounds having phytoestrogen qualities. Phytoestrogens are plant based compounds which imitate estrogen hormones and have been researched for benefiting women in menopause, bone loss, osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes.
A word of caution: Fenugreek is not recommended during pregnancy, as it may induce preterm labor.
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