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Botanical Name: Trigonella foenum-graecum
Family: Leguminosae Hindi
Fenugreek is indigenous to eastern Mediterranean countries, and West Asia. It is now cultivated in India, Egypt, Argentina and England.
The word Trigonella is a Latin by-name of Greek trigonon (triangle), and refers to the small, three-cornered flowers. The Latin species name foenum-graecum means 'Greek hay' which is a dried plant's leaves or seeds, and has a strong hay-like odour. Indian fenugreek comes in several well-known, varieties such as Desi and Champa. It is cultivated in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Fenugreek has a strong, pleasant and a peculiar odour. It grows best in well-drained soils with a low rainfall. The robust herb grows to a height of 30-60 cm. The leaves are light green, and the pods are slender and beaked, about 10-15 cm long.
Each pod contains about 10-20 yellowish brown seeds, which are about 3mm long. These smooth and oblong seeds are each grooved across one corner that makes it look like a hook.
Its composition is as follows:
Fenugreek seeds contain volatile oil, fixed oil and enzymes, besides being rich in essential amino acids. Fenugreek leaves and stems are rich in calcium, iron, carotene and ascorbic acid.
In India, this spice is often cultivated as cover crop in citrus fruit groves to take advantage of their leguminous nature. Indians like the fresh leaves, which are prepared like spinach, and are found in chapattis. It is also popularly used in pickles. Dry roasting enhances its flavour and reduces bitterness.
Fenugreek is also popular in South Indian cuisine, especially in sambars. It constitutes an essential part of the Bengali fivespice mixture-panch phoran. Dried fenugreek leaves appear in the spice mixture from Georgia, known as khmeli suneli. Iran has a particularly rich tradition in cooking with fenugreek leaves. Among its most famous examples is ghorme sabzi, a thick sauce made from fresh or dried vegetables with spices that include fenugreek.
Fenugreek is also commonly used in North and East Africa. Egyptian papyri mention the plant as necessary for the mummification process. The Ethiopian spice mixture berbere contains small amounts of fenugreek. The alcoholic extracts are used to prepare emollient cream, ointments and plasters. The mucilage is used externally as a poultice for skin infections such as abscesses, boils and carbuncles. It is also used in the treatment of rickets, anaemia and scrofula. Combined with the normal dose of conventional medicine, like insulin, it is helpful in gout, diabetes and neurasthenia.
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