Fenugreek is a plant that grows in parts of Europe and western Asia. The leaves are edible, but it’s the small brown seeds that are famous for their use in medicine.
The first recorded use of fenugreek dates all the way back to 1500 B.C.E., in ancient Egypt. Across the Middle East and South Asia, the seeds were traditionally used as both a spice and a medicine. Its uses included helping with:
- digestive issues
- problems breastfeeding
- inducing childbirth
- kidney problems
- menopausal symptoms.
The dried seeds were also sometimes ground into a paste and used to treat skin infections and injuries.
Today, fenugreek is typically used to treat:
- loss of appetite
- high cholesterol
It claims to increase milk production for women who are breastfeeding. You should be wary of this claim, however. The safety of this herb has not been studied for lactating mothers or infants, and it is not recommended for pregnant women, as it may stimulate contractions.
You can buy fenugreek as a spice (in whole or powdered form), a supplement (in concentrated pill and liquid form), as a tea, or as a skin cream. Fenugreek is also still used in many Indian-style recipes. Seeds for cooking are usually found in Indian spice stores or in the international food section of your grocery store. Supplements, teas, and creams can be purchased at a health food store or online.
Doses can range from 5 to 30 grams per day. They vary depending on the person and reason for use. If you’re thinking of taking fenugreek as a supplement, talk to your doctor first.
How It Can Help with Blood Sugar
There are very few studies to support fenugreek as an effective treatment for various medical conditions. Most of the scientific studies that do exist focus on the seed’s ability to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Fenugreek seeds may be helpful to people with diabetes because they contain fiber and other chemicals that are thought to slow digestion and the body’s absorption of carbohydrates and sugar. The seeds may also help to improve the way the body uses sugar and increase the amount of insulin released.
For example, one study found that a daily dose of 10 grams of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water may be helpful in controlling type 2 diabetes. Another study suggests that eating baked goods, such as bread, made with fenugreek flour may help to reduce insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.
Is It Safe?
The amounts of fenugreek used in cooking are generally considered safe. When taken in large doses, reported side effects include gas and bloating.
Fenugreek can also react with several different medications, particularly those that treat blood clotting disorders and diabetes. If you’re on these types of medication, talk to your doctor before taking fenugreek. Your diabetes medication doses may need to be reduced while on fenugreek to avoid low blood sugar.
Pregnant women are advised to limit fenugreek use to only amounts used in cooking because of its potential to induce labor.
Additionally, fenugreek supplements have not been evaluated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the manufacturing process is not regulated, so there could be health risks that haven’t been discovered yet.
How to Add It to Your Diet
Fenugreek seeds have a slightly bitter, nutty taste, so they’re often used in spice blends rather than alone. Indian recipes use them in curries, pickles, and other sauces. You can also drink fenugreek tea or sprinkle powdered fenugreek over yogurt.
If you’re not sure how to use fenugreek, a dietitian can help you add it to your current diabetes meal plan.