Fenugreek Uses, Benefits, Side Effects

Fenugreek has long been an integral part of Ayurveda. It is known as methika in Sanskrit and methi in Hindi.  Fenugreek or methika is a very popular culinary spice, flavoring agent, and medicinal plant in Indian households.

It is used in bakery products, dairy products, condiments, spices, pickles, and beverages for its flavor and numerous health benefits. 

Fenugreek or methi also has industrial applications as it is used for synthesizing steroidal hormones.

Due to its vital role in healthcare, the food industry refers to fenugreek as a potential nutraceutical. A nutraceutical is a food with both nutritional and pharmaceutical properties.

While the origin of fenugreek is unknown, it is believed to be native to the western Mediterranean. Various species are available throughout the world.

Methi or methika grows in Asia (India and China), parts of Europe, Africa, Australia, and North and South America.

Botanical Description of Fenugreek

  • Fenugreek is an herbaceous annual plant. Annual means that it grows only once a year.
  • The plant is self-pollinating.
  • The fenugreek plant can reach a height of 20 to 130 cms (about 8 to 50 inches).
  • The plant is spreading, moderately branched, and weak.
  • The plant has taproot growth initially, followed by a large number of secondary roots.
  • The stem of the fenugreek plant can either be a single unit or branched at the base.
  • The stem of the plant is erect, branched, green, smooth, and herbaceous.
  • The leaves of the plant are small and trifoliate with oval leaflets. The leaves are green to purple in color.
  • The flower of the fenugreek is solitary and pale white or purplish in color. It has a straight or occasionally curved yellow pod which contains the seeds. A single pod contains between 10 to 20 seeds.
  • Seeds are small, smooth, and brown and each seed is divided into two lobes. Fenugreek can be easily grown at home in a garden or in a pot.

methi

Botanical Name: Trigonella foenum

Botanical Family: Leguminosae

Sanskrit Synonyms with Meanings1

Methika or methi: It is helpful in curing Vata and Kapha javara (fever) hence it is called methika or methi.

Bodhini: It is called bodhini because it stimulates the appetite and aids digestion.

Peet beeja: The color of its seeds (beeja) are yellow (peet).

Read More: Ayurvedic Medicinal Herbs You Can Grow

Ayurvedic Properties of Methika or Fenugreek 2

Rasa or taste: Katu or pungent

Guna or qualities: Laghu or light, snigdha or oily

Virya or potency: Ushna or hot

Vipaka or taste conversion after digestion: Katu or pungent

Effect on dosha: It is Vata shamak. Vata shamak means that it pacifies an aggravated Vata dosha due to its ushna virya and snigdha guna.

Parts used: Seeds and whole plant.

Amount used as per Dravyaguna Vijnana (Ayurvedic Herbology): 1-3 grams.

Popular Ayurvedic formulation: Methi modaka.

Different Varieties of Fenugreek in Ayurveda.2

  • According to Dravyaguna Vijnana (Ayurvedic Herbology), there are two varieties – large and small. The small variety is consumed as a leafy vegetable in many cuisines while the large variety is used as fodder.
  • In the classical text Nighantus, the varieties of fenugreek are also classified as gramya and vanya. The gramya variety is cultivated in fields while the vanya variety grows wildly.

Fenugreek Uses + Fenugreek Benefits In Ayurveda 2,3

  • It keeps the nervous system healthy.
  • It is helpful in increasing appetite.
  • It is helpful for low digestive fire.
  • It aids in digestion.
  • It has laxative properties.
  • It has analgesic properties.
  • It is a galactagogue.
  • It strengthens the body.
  • It is helpful for various Vata disorders.
  • Powdered fenugreek is helpful in painful conditions associated with inflammation and abscesses.
  • It is helpful in relieving bloating.
  • It is helpful for emaciation.
  • It is rakta pitta prakopaka (which means it can aggravate bleeding disorders) and is contraindicated in rakta pitta.

Read More: 50 Ayurvedic Herbs You Need To Know

fenugreek methi

Chemical Composition4

The main chemical components of fenugreek are fibers, flavonoids, polysaccharides, saponins, fixed oils, and some known alkaloids.

  • Mature seeds primarily contain amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, saponins and large quantities of folic acid (84 mg/100g).
  • It’s seeds also contain diosgenin, gitogenin, neogitogenin, homorientin saponaretin, neo tigogenin, and tigogenin.
  • The endosperm seeds is galactomannan rich. The younger seeds mainly contain carbohydrates.
  • The alkaloids present in fenugreek are trimethylamine, neurin, trigonelline, choline, gentianine, carpaine, and betaine.
  • The amino acids present in fenugreek are Isoleucine, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, histidine, leucine, lysine, L-tryptophan, and arginine.
  • Fenugreek contains fibers like gum.
  • The flavonoids present in fenugreek are quercetin, rutin, vedixin, and isovitexin.
  • The saponins present in fenugreek are grecunin, fenugrin B, fenugreekine,  and trigofoenosides A-G.
  • Steroidal chemicals present in fenugreek are sapinogens, yamogenin, diosgenin, smilagenin, sarsasapogenin, tigogenin, neo tigogenin, gitogenin, neogitogenin, yucca genin, and saponaretin.

Scientific Research

Various clinical studies have been performed on fenugreek. These studies have demonstrated fenugreek to have the following properties.

Anti-diabetic properties: Chemical components contribute to its anti-diabetic effects are its galactomannan rich soluble fiber, saponin, and the amino acid called 4-hydroxyleucine which helps in increasing insulin in hyperglycemic rats and humans.5

Studies done on animals at the National Institute of Nutrition in India have successfully demonstrated the anti-diabetic effect of fenugreek in both type-1 and type-2 diabetes.4

Fenugreek’s anti-diabetic effects have been successfully demonstrated in both type-1 and type-2 diabetes

Antioxidant activity: The chemical components that are responsible for its antioxidant activity are its flavonoids and phenolic compounds. The extracts have shown to neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals in the body. 5

Anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic activity: Phytoestrogens and saponins in fenugreek extracts are responsible for its anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic activities.  Saponins selectively inhibit cell division in tumor cells and can activate apoptotic programs (programmed cell death of cancer cells).5

Hypocholesterolemic activity: The administration of fenugreek seeds and extracts has shown to significantly decrease plasma cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL cholesterol levels. The chemical components of fenugreek responsible for its hypocholesterolemic activity are its saponins, specifically diosgenin, galactomannan, and fibers.5

fenugreek

Antigenotoxic activity: In genetics, genotoxicity describes the property of certain chemical agents that can damage the genetic information within a cell causing mutations, which may lead to cancer. The methanolic extract of fenugreek leaves has shown a dose-dependent decrease in chromosomal aberration in Allium cepa roots.

Studies have also been done in microbial systems to observe its antimutagenic effect. Aqueous extract of fenugreek seeds have shown to inhibit the mutagenic activity of direct-acting mutagens against Salmonella typhimurium.5

Anti-inflammatory activity: The alkaloids, saponins, and flavonoids found in fenugreek are responsible for its anti-inflammatory activity. It has been observed that the chloroform fraction of seeds and the aqueous extract of fenugreek leaves show significant anti-inflammatory activity.5

Aqueous extract of fenugreek leaves show significant anti-inflammatory activity

Antimicrobial activity: Secondary metabolites found in fenugreek seed extracts possess antimicrobial activity. Fungus has also shown its sensitivity towards one of the proteins called defensin extracted from fenugreek leaves.

In studies, defensin not only inhibited the mycelial spread of Rhizoctonia solani (a type of fungus) but also inhibited spore germination and consequential hyphal growth of Phaeoisariopsis (a type of fungus).5

Gastroprotective effect: In addition to the various kinds of extracts tested, researchers have also tested the oil extracted from fenugreek seeds. This oil is also known to possess a slew of pharmacological properties.

One such property is the gastroprotective activity observed in oil extracted from fenugreek seeds. 

Oil extracted from fenugreek seeds showed a marked gastroprotective effect

The incidence of gastric ulceration, mean ulcer score and ulcer index was found be significantly decreased in a group of mice subjected to an indomethacin-induced ulcer.

The decrease in the gastric ulcers may be attributed to the phytic acid, saponins, and trigonelline found in the oil extracted from fenugreek seeds.

One of the studies revealed the protective effect of aqueous extract of fenugreek seed against reflux esophagitis (RE) in rats. It has also been demonstrated that fenugreek accelerates the body’s wound healing process in injured rats due to its antioxidant potential.5

Analgesic activity: Aqueous and methanolic extract of fenugreek seeds showed potential analgesic activity in comparison to that of an established analgesic drug like diclofenac potassium.4

Possible Side Effects of Fenugreek or Methi Consumption 4

  • It may increase the risk of bleeding.
  • It may reduce potassium levels in the blood.
  • It may cause loose stools or diarrhea in some women.
  • It may cause facial swelling, rashes, hives, and difficulty in breathing (if allergic to it).
  • Sometimes it can produce uterine contractions or hypoglycemia in pregnant women.

Contraindications And Interactions

Fenugreek is contraindicated in bleeding disorders. It can enhance the anticoagulant activity of other herbs and medications like heparin, warfarin, and ticlopidine. It should not be used in patients on anticoagulants.

It can also interfere with diabetic medicines as it has a known hypoglycemic activity. Diabetics should always take fenugreek only under strict medical supervision.

Fenugreek can also affect the potency and activity of corticosteroids, exogenous hormones, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

It is always advised to use fenugreek only after discussing with your Ayurvedic practitioner or general physician.

References

  1. Aadrash Nighantu, vol. 1, page no.411, by Shri Bapalal Vaidya, Chaukhmbha Bharti Academy,2016.
  2. Dravyaguna Vijnana by Aacharya Priyavrat Sharma, Volume 2, page no.824, Chaukhamba Bharati Academy, 2017
  3. Dravyaguna Vijnana by Aacharya Priyavrat Sharma, Volume 2, page no.825, Chaukhamba Bharati Academy, 2017
  4. (PDF) Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum gracum L.) and its necessity (A Review Paper). Author- Sabyasachi Chatterjee, 2015.
  5. Investigating Therapeutic Potential of Trigonella foenum-graecum L. as Our Defense Mechanism against Several Human Diseases. Authors-Shivangi Goyal, Nidhi Gupta, and Sreemoyee Chatterjee

 

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Dr. Alka Sharma, BAMS is an Ayurvedic practitioner and an avid learner of the field. She graduated with a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) from Dayanand Ayurvedic College, Jalandhar, Punjab in India. She has been practicing Ayurvedic medicine and doing related work for the last six years. She works as an independent consultant in Ayurveda through online consultancy services. She has a personal app on the Google play store where she consults patients on their health problems following the Ayurveda medical sciences. She additionally has a Masters degree in Business Administration for Health Sciences from Sikkim Manipal University (SMU), India.

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