Most of us probably think of the herb fenugreek as just one of the ingredients of curry. But it is much more than that.
What is fenugreek?
Fenugreek's botanical name is Trigonella foenum-graecum.
It means "Greek hay" and was so named because the Romans used the plant as cattle fodder. It's actually a member of the pea family.
The most popular part of the plant for use as a medicine or spice is the small, yellow-brown seed from the pods.
If you like curries, you will probably recognize the smell and taste of fenugreek seeds - a mixture of pungency and bitterness, yet also sweet.
In India, among myriad other uses, they're also used in making imitation maple syrup.
It's a useful food source, rich in protein, lecithin, vitamins and minerals, including A, B, D, iron and calcium.
Fenugreek, a legume, is mostly used in seed, sprout, capsule or as fenugreek tea, and is slightly bitter and nutty, with a similar taste to celery or burnt sugar.
It's commonly used as a source of imitation maple, vanilla, butterscotch and rum flavours. Sounds good? Visit our fenugreek recipes section for more ideas.
The seeds are medicinally the most potent parts of the plant, and are nourishing, often given to convalescents and to encourage weight gain after illness.
Other fenugreek uses - it is considered anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, tonic, expectorant, demulcent and hypo-tensive, so has been used for a wide variety of ailments.
The seeds contain chemicals similar to estrogen, so it has been used for menstrual disorders and menopause, to increase lactation in nursing mothers, and reportedly for breast enlargement.
Studies have shown that fenugreek can lower LDL or 'bad' cholesterol levels and support blood sugar levels in diabetes, and help muscle tissue and the liver respond better to insulin.
Fenugreek also contains a gum-like substance, a source of bulking dietary fibre, so it can be helpful for constipation or diarrhea, and is sometimes used in weight-loss products.
The soothing qualities of its mucillage make it helpful for sore throats, coughs and chest complaints.
So it's easy to see that this little herb can do a lot more than just flavor curry. See more of the Fenugreek Benefits.
Where to buy fenugreek?
Fenugreek seeds can be found very cheaply at Asian grocery stores and supermarkets.
If you find the taste unpleasant, ask for alternative forms from your local health food store - they should have de-bitterised seeds, teas or capsules available.
You can find Fenugreek in many health food stores, including Whole Foods. Sounds expensive? Don't worry. Learn how to save at Whole Foods.