Fenugreek (European) / Ventayam (Tamil) / Methi (Hindi) / Shanbalileh (Farsi) [scientific name Trigonella foenum graecum] is a legume with historical ties worldwide. In Indian and Mediterranean regions it is considered a cool season crop – both rain fed and irrigated.
- In ancient Greece: Cattle feed, medicine for some ailments, wine flavouring and to make yellow dye for colouring wool
- In Iraq, remains of roasted and dried seeds were found, carbon dated to 6000 years in the past
- In ancient Egypt, it was used in food, medicine and incense for ceremonies
- It has been a part of south and central Asian cuisine and medicine, particularly in India, for 3,000 years.
About the plant
It grows from a hollow hairy stem and can grow up to 2 feet in height. The leaves are similar to clover leaves – small with elliptical leaflets. White, yellow and purple flowers grow from the nodes, resembling the flowers of common peas. And its aromatic yellowish brown seeds develop in delicate curved yellow pods.
The plant takes nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil for other plants to use. Also, the fast growing plant is shorter than many others and so it works well as a cover crop – retaining soil moisture and preventing weeds while the others plants grow.
Phytoestrogen (chemical compound that works like estrogen) is synthesized by the plant. The seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals. So, in the world of home remedies and medicine, the leaves and seeds are well-known for:
- easing menstrual irregularities or pain
- mitigating menopause symptoms
- improving metabolic symptoms tied to type 1 and 2 diabetes
- facilitating hair growth
- improving bone health
- preventing benign growth of prostate in older men
Planting should happen after the frost when the soil starts becoming warm.
In warm climates it should be planted in partial shade, while in colder climates it grows best in sunny spots.
Planting is best done from its seeds. Soil should be kept moist but ensure not to over-water as that is known to impede growth. Due to its shallow roots, a container 6-8 inches deep with proper drainage should be adequate. While it can grow in poor quality soil, adding a little compost before planting the seeds ensures robust growth.
Fenugreek doesn’t normally attract pests or disease. If concerned, apply Neem oil to the affected part of the plant. There are certain discolorations that can be identified and understood.
Suggestions on when to harvest and how to store or use:
Leaves can be harvested from the top third of the plant within 20-30 days of planting.
More leaves can be harvested each fortnight, until seed production begins. Then the leaves become tough and bitter.
- To maintain freshness, wrap in paper towel and refrigerate in an airtight container.
- Roughly chop them, wrap loosely in aluminum foil and place this in an airtight resealable pouch in the freezer
- Fresh or dried leaves can be used as herbs in cooking or tea.
- Can add to dough to make rotis or parathas as done in Indian homes.
Seed pods can be harvested 3-5 months after planting. Each pod contains 10-20 seeds.
- Can be lightly roasted to bring out the nutty flavour and aroma.
- Soak in water overnight; drain and pat dry; roast until colour deepens and then grind to powder – to use while cooking.
- Store dried, roasted or powdered seeds in an airtight container kept in a cool dry dark place.
Fenugreek flavour blends well with cumin and coriander.
While numerous articles online will scare one with side effects of excessive consumption of Fenugreek, our advice would be to start small and consume in moderation.