Common names: Bird's Foot, Greek Hay-seed
Range: Native to the Mediterranean. Cultivated in Asia, Africa, Morocco and Egypt.
History: Fenugreek gets its name from the Greek Foenum-graecum to mean an inferior grade of hay. The seeds have been employed for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries.
Fenugreek seeds have a flavor and odor similar to celery, although being slightly bitter. They also have a high mucilage content. The powdered seeds are used in curries and also to flavor livestock feed. Traditionally, only the seeds are used medicinally. However, the entire plant is now being studied for its therapeutic potential.
Many of the pharmacological effects of fenugreek are due to the presence of an alkaloid called trigonelline, which has been the subject of several studies regarding its use in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. According to a review published in Current Medicinal Chemistry in 2012, "Trigonelline has hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, neuroprotective, antimigraine, sedative, memory-improving, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-tumor activities, and it has been shown to reduce diabetic auditory neuropathy and platelet aggregation. It acts by affecting β cell regeneration, insulin secretion, activities of enzymes related to glucose metabolism, reactive oxygen species, axonal extension, and neuron excitability." (1)
Another study published in the October 2013 issue of Oncogene shows that trigonelline promotes apoptosis (programmed cell death) in pancreatic cancer cells by inhibiting the activity of Nrf2 transcription factor and decreasing protease enzyme activity. (2)
Fenugreek preparations (tea or tincture) may also help to ease digestive complaints. The herb can also be applied as a poultice, or prepared as an infused oil, salve or tincture and applied to the skin to address inflammation.
Constituents: Mucilage (up to 28%), trigonelline, choline, lecithin, iron and alkaloids similar in composition to cod-liver oil.
Cautions: None known.
(1) Trigonelline: a plant alkaloid with therapeutic potential for diabetes and central nervous system disease.
(2) Inhibition of the Nrf2 transcription factor by the alkaloid trigonelline renders pancreatic cancer cells more susceptible to apoptosis through decreased proteasomal gene expression and proteasome activity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23108405
See Also: Fenugreek for Inflammation