Fenugreek for Inflammation
Fenugreek seeds are a staple seasoning in Mediterranean and Indian cuisines.
The seeds are also used in traditional healing systems to treat inflammatory conditions, including swelling and congestion of the sinuses. However, ask your physician if therapy with fenugreek is right for you, especially if you have diabetes or are taking other medications. Also see your doctor if symptoms persist or become severe, since this may indicate a bacterial infection.
The botanical name for fenugreek is Trigonella foenum-graecum. The plant is also known by several common names, such as Greek hay, bird's foot and, because of its resemblance to red clover, ram's horn clover. This member of the pea family is used as both an herb and a spice because the leaves and seeds are edible. For medicinal purposes, however, the ripe, dried seeds are used exclusively.
Fenugreek is widely cultivated throughout India, as well as Pakistan, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Egypt and China. The seed is a featured spice in Indian curries and rice dishes. You have likely sampled fenugreek if you have ever purchased artificial maple syrup since the seeds are a key flavoring agent. In fact, the maple-like flavor and aroma of fenugreek is so strong that consuming large quantities will cause your skin and urine to emit a maple syrup odor.
Fenugreek is traditionally used as a galactagogue, an agent that increases the flow of breast milk. In Chinese medicine, the seeds are used to treat hernia and kidney disorders. According to the Sloan-Kettering Institute, the herb has been historically used to treat a great range of conditions, many of which are unsubstantiated. Internal applications include the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, infections, inflammation, cancer, diabetes and hair loss. Topically, fenugreek is reputed to speed the healing of wounds and skin ulcers.
The “Physicians’ Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines” (PDR) says that fenugreek is also used to address catarrh of the upper respiratory tract. This is the technical term to describe the over production of mucus in the upper respiratory tract that typically accompanies chronic rhinitis and sinus infections.
The PDR says that fenugreek seeds contain between 25 and 45 percent mucilage. Other compounds present include steroid saponins, such as diosgenin; several amino acids, including lysine and arginine; trigonelline alkaloids; the antioxidant flavonoids, such as quercetin, luteolin, apigenin; various proteinase inhibitors and up to 30 percent proteins.
The whole and powdered drug is available as tea and compound preparations in capsule form. Of course, the seeds may also be added to cooking.
There is little evidence that fenugreek is helpful in treating conditions affecting the sinuses directly, if only because that particular function hasn't been studied. However, the high amount of mucilage in the drug does suggest that it produces a demulcent effect, which means it is soothing to irritated mucous membranes. The presence of proteinase inhibitors indicates that compounds in this herb may provide a defense against certain pathogens. In fact, Sloan-Kettering notes that fenugreek has demonstrated antibacterial activity in laboratory settings, although this effect has not been proven in clinical trials.
This herb is known to lower blood glucose levels, so you should not use fenugreek if you have diabetes without the supervision of your physician. In addition, the high fiber content in fenugreek may inhibit the absorption of other oral medications. This herb may also increase the effects of monoamine oxidase inhibitors, blood-thinning medications and anti-inflammatory drugs. Due to the presence of diosgenin, a phytoestrogen, do not take this herb if you are pregnant or nursing.