Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a Medicinal Herb Used in Traditional Herbal Medicine.

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Medicinal Herbs & Therapeutic Botanicals

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Botanicals: Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Content provided on this page is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options. Information on this page should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional. The claims made about specific products throughout this article are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.


Fenugreek is a medicinal herb with a long history of use, dating back to the Egyptians (1500 B.C.), Greeks and Romans. The name comes from Foenum-graecum, meaning Greek Hay, the plant being used to scent inferior hay. The name of the genus, Trigonella, is derived from the old Greek name, denoting 'three-angled,' from the form of its corolla.1

Botanicals: Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)




Fenugreek Trigonella foenum-graecum (L.)


Biological Name:
Trigonella foenum-graecum (L.)


Other Names: 
Hu Lu Ba

Parts Used:
Seed, fresh leaves2

Active Compounds: 
Accordiing to the University of Graz, the following main constituents are present in Fenugreek:

Fenugreek seeds contains only minute quantities of an essential oil. In the essential oil, 40 different compounds were found, furthermore, n-alkanes, sesquiterpenes, alkanoles and lactones were reported.3

The dominant aroma component in fenugreek seeds is a hemiterpenoid γ-lactone, sotolone (3-hydroxy-4,5-dimethyl-2(5H)-furanone), which is contained in concentrations up to 25 ppm. It supposedly forms by oxidative deamination of 4-hydroxy-isoleucine. Sotolone has a spicy flavour and was also found a key flavour in fermented protein seasonings, e.g., Maggi sauce. There is chemical similarity between sotolone and the phthalides responsible for the quite similar flavour of lovage leaves3. (ACS Symposium Series, 660, 1997)

Toasted fenugreek seeds owe their altered, more nutty flavour to another type of heterocyclic compounds, the so-called pyrazines. See cumin for further information.3

Fenugreek leaves were found to contain small amounts of sesquiterpenes (cadinene, α-cadinol, γ-eudesmol and α-bisabolol). (Journal of Essential Oil Research, 16, 356, 2004)3

Among the non-volatile components of fenugreek seeds, the furostanol glycosides are probably responsible for the bitter taste; among the several more compounds yet identified, steroles and diosgenin derivatives (of potential interest for the pharmaceutical industry) and trigonellin (N-methyl-pyridinium-3-carboxylate, 0.4%) are most worth noting.3


A wide range of uses were found for fenugreek in ancient times. Medicinally it was used for the treatment of wounds, abscesses, arthritis, bronchitis, and digestive problems. Traditional Chinese herbalists used it for kidney problems and conditions affecting the male reproductive tract. Fenugreek was, and re-mains, a food and a spice commonly eaten in many parts of the world.


Traditional Applications in Herbal Medicine:

Western Herbal Applications:


Expectorant, demulcent, tonic, galactogogue.4


  • Inflammation of the skin - wounds, boils, sores, fistulas and tumours4
  • Indigestion4, Dyspepsia2, Diarrhoea2.
  • Insufficient lactation4, Stimulating development of the breasts4.

Chinese Herbal Applications:

Hu Lu Ba (Fenugreek Seed) has bitter and warm properties affecting the Kidney and Liver channels.5

Its Clinical uses include:

  • Warms the Kidneys, disperses Cold and alleviates pain: used for Kidney Yang Xu patterns with accumulation of Cold and Qi Stagnation. Symptoms include: Adominal or hypochonriac distension and/or pain; or hernia like disorders.4
  • Also used for Cold Damp Leg Qi.4
  • Research has shown that Hu Lu Ba is useful in both the prophylaxis and treatment of mountain sickness, but is not as effective as Ginger.4

Other indications include:

  • Taken as a tea for simple infective conditions like colds and sinus problems. Produces perspiration. Take in early stages of viral and bacterial infections of the respiratory tract. Also for bronchitis, fevers (reduces), and as a gargle for sore throats.
  • Used in poultice form for skin inflammations. Helps normalize skin function and is used in cases of acne.
  • Used for flatulence and digestive problems.
  • Used to treat diabetes.
  • Regulates pituitary gland to control appetite. Helps with difficulty of fat absorption.



Use of more than 100 grams of seeds daily can cause intestinal upset and nausea. Otherwise, fenugreek is extremely safe.



  1. Grieve, M. (1977). A Modern Herbal. Penguin Books Ltd, England.
  2. Stuart, Malcolm (1979). The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1979.
  3. University of Graz - Website: http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Trig_foe.html
  4. Hoffmann, David (1983). The Holistic Herbal: A herbal celebrating the wholeness of life. Findhorn Press, Scotland.
  5. Bensky, D. Gamble, A. and Kaptchuk, T. (1986) Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Eastland Press, Michigan.



The information provided here is not for the purpose of self diagnosis or self treatment. It is provided for the sole purpose of providing general information about herbs used in herbal medicine. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.

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