The herb Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, southern Europe, and western Asia. In light of its widespread use in both cooking and herbal preparations like fenugreek seed tea, this annual is now cultivated on a large scale in North Africa, India, Western Europe, and China, and other places where they understand how to harness the numerous fenugreek tea benefits.
Fenugreek, a member of the pea family, has light green leaves – which are used in cooking – and attractive small white flowers. However, it is not either of these parts of the plant that are utilized the most for human consumption. The true value lies in the small, yellow-brown, flat, aromatic, and slightly bitter fenugreek seeds.
The seeds are usually dried and then either ground or left whole. While they are an important part of Indian cuisine and the oils or extracts are used in some cosmetics and soaps, the focus here is on the range of health benefits these unassuming-looking seeds offer. Part of their value lies in the minerals and vitamins that they contain: copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and vitamin B6.
Traditional and historic uses of Fenugreek
Although the ancient Greeks and Romans may only have used Fenugreek as cattle fodder, the Egyptians recorded medicinal uses for the plant dating back more than 3500 years. There are also records that this herb was grown in the imperial gardens of Charlemagne in the 1st century AD.
It was used for digestive and respiratory problems, to induce childbirth, as an anti-inflammatory, and in poultice form it was utilized for swollen muscles and joints, wounds, boils, and cellulitis.
Active ingredients found in Fenugreek Seeds
According to Organicfacts.net and other sources there are a range of substances found in Fenugreek seeds that are responsible for the health benefits:
- Compounds: Glycoside steroidal saponins (Graecunins), Diosgenin, and coumarin
- Fenugrin B
- Polyphenolic flavonoids
- Galactomannans (water soluble natural fiber)
- Amino acids: lysine and L-tryptophan
- Enzymes: aromatase and 5α-redactase
Each of these offers one or several benefits to the human body.
The health benefits of Fenugreek tea
As with many natural, plant-based substances and preparations there is a degree of skepticism from the medical fraternity about Fenugreek’s efficacy. However, according to various articles and studies published online by The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) there are several benefits of Fenugreek seeds which have already gathered a promising amount of clinical or scientific support.
- Digestion: Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, Fenugreek soothes the gastric lining which helps alleviate inflammatory conditions such as colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and it also aids with constipation.
- Cholesterol: This remarkable herb lowers the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol which reduces the risk of hardening and or narrowing of the arteries which are risk factors with several cardiac and cerebrovascular conditions.
- Blood sugar: Studies of patients with diabetes who are not on insulin / medication also reported a reduction in blood sugar levels as Fenugreek slows sugar absorption by the gut and stimulates insulin production.
- Internal inflammation: In addition to assisting with digestive conditions caused by or resulting in inflammation, Fenugreek also eases respiratory and kidney inflammation, joint inflammation such as that caused by arthritis, lymph node inflammation and swelling, coughs, and various sores including mouth ulcers and boils.
- External inflammation: As a topical application Fenugreek helps to ease and treat leg ulcers, gout, swollen muscles, wounds, dandruff, eczema, and even sciatica (inflammation of the sciatic nerve in the lower back).
- Benefits for men: Some studies indicate that this herb helps to overcome erectile dysfunction and impotence by increasing testosterone levels and libido. It may also help lessen or fight baldness in men.
- Benefits for women: Early results indicate that these seeds stimulate milk production in breastfeeding mothers. Furthermore, there is now some evidence that this herb eases dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods) and menopausal symptoms thanks to compounds in the seeds that are similar to the female hormone estrogen.
- Appetite stimulant: Indications are that regular consumption of this herb boosts appetite. While this is very useful for those who are convalescing or other individuals who don’t want to eat it does not prevent or cure eating disorders.
- Boosts physical performance: The creatine in Fenugreek has been shown to improve muscle strength and lean mass in athletes.
Drugs.com states that further research is necessary before firm claims can be made with regards to these seeds and the lowering of cholesterol and that there is no evidence that this herb is an effective anti-inflammatory! Webmd.com indicates that there are conflicting findings in relation to boosting physical performance and that there is insufficient evidence as to Fenugreek’s value when it comes to heartburn or stomach upsets, mouth ulcers, coughs, impotence or erectile dysfunction, improving appetite, constipation, hardening of the arteries, kidney disease, gout, or baldness. This does not mean that this source is dismissing these various claims but that they feel further studies and trials are warranted and necessary.
Possible side-effects, contraindications & interactions
As with any substance, one should exercise caution as there may be adverse reactions. Some individuals are also more vulnerable than others.
Some side-effects may be experienced but only if large quantities of seeds are consumed. Negative effects from drinking Fenugreek Seed Tea are unusual. However they are not unheard of and include bloating, indigestion, gas, and diarrhea.
In rare cases there may be nasal congestion, wheezing, and coughing. With some exceptions all the side-effects settle after just a few days.
Contraindications & interactions
There are individuals and groups of people who should use Fenugreek with caution:
- Patients on medication for diabetes
- Pregnant women
- Individuals with bleeding disorders
- Those on anticoagulant (blood thinners) medication
- People with hypersensitivity to any of the substances in Fenugreek
- Children and infants
- Those with allergies to plants in the Fabaceae family (soybeans, peanuts, or peas for example).
How to make Fenugreek Seed Tea Recipe
Making Fenugreek Seed Tea is a simple process and the seeds can be purchased with ease. This health-giving tea can be consumed hot or cold.
- Use 1 teaspoon of seeds for each cup of tea
- The seeds must be gently crushed in order to break the husk and allow access to the inner part of the seed (using the flat of a knife blade works well)
- Boil water and add the seeds to the water
- Cover the container
- Allow the seeds to seep for anything between 3 and 45 minutes
- Strain the liquid to remove the seeds.
As with other teas it is a case of personal taste as to whether a sweetener such as honey, stevia, or sugar is needed. Although other herbs can be added, milk should not be.
Despite the fact that there is some contradictory scientific evidence and further clinical studies are needed, there seems little doubt that Fenugreek seeds offer a range of valuable health-promoting benefits.
However, as with any other substance—natural or not—that one consumes, caution must be used. It is crucial to consult one’s pharmacist or medical practitioner before starting to drink this tea to ensure that there are no potential risks or contraindications in terms of medical conditions one is suffering from and medications or supplements one is taking.