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Botanical Description & Habitat

Fenugreek :: effective on boils, cellulitis, and other skin problems, infectious or not
(click image to enlarge)
Trigonella foenum-graecum


Indigenous to the Mediterranian area, cultivated in southern Europe, north Africa, and India.

Grows to 20 inches in height. The taproot produces a smooth, round stem with few branches. The trifoliate leaves have hairy petioles and invertedegg-shaped leaflets. Sessile yellow flowers grow in the upper leaf axils during June and July. The fruit is a 16-seeded, sickle-shaped pod growing to eight inches in length.

Medicinal parts
Seeds - dried, ripe

Historical Properties & Uses

Fenugreek is a highly mucilaginous plant, with liberal amounts of other forms of fiber. Mucilage makes a very good demulcent for chapped hands and lips; peppermint or lemon balm will improve its taste and smell. As an external vulnerary it is effective on boils, cellulitis, and other skin problems, infectious or not. Internally, it soothes stomach problems.

Fenugreek seed contains many proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and saponins, which are beneficial during convalescence from tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other debilitating conditions. The seed extract has hypoglycemic properties, due to the presence of several individually hypoglycemic components. Fibrous portions of the seed significantly lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.

Research has validates other properties of fenugreek seed including uterine and intestinal stimulant, oxytocic, and spermicidal action. In some parts of the world, fenugreek is used as an aphrodisiac, but this property has not been verified.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E: internally for loss of appetite (see appetite disorders) and externally as an anti-inflammatory poultice.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Fenugreek Seed inhibits hyperglycemia
Extracts of fenugreek seeds, leaves and stems significantly inhibit hyperglycemia induced by cadmium or alloxan, but do not affect normal healthy animals. While the mechanism of action remains unclear, it is felt much can be attributed to the presence of trigonelline, nicotinic acid and coumarin, each of which is individually hypoglycemic. Probably, results can be explained by a synergism among the constituents. Nicotinic acid by itself causes profound hypoglycemia in diabetic and non-diabetic animals. It is felt the trigonelline modifies its action in such a way to prevent the latter effect. Trigonelline, it should be noted, is the end-product of nicotinic acid metabolism.

Recently, the defatted portion of fenugreek seeds has been isolated as the active portion. Analysis of this portion of the seeds revealed it was 53.9% fiber. Since dietary fibers reduce blood sugar levels, it was felt that fiber alone could account for the hyperglycemic effect. The fiber is high in steroid saponins and proteins. Since the defatted extract affected both normal and hyperglycemic animals, it is possible a different mechanism is involved than that of the previous paragraph.

Fenugreek Seed is hypocholesterolemic
The seeds contain diosgenin and tigogenin in the form of glycosides. These two aglycones affect cholesterol metabolism in the liver. It is suggested these saponin-containing plant fibers inhibit cholesterol intestinal absorption by absorbing bile acids which are subsequently lost in the feces. Another possibility could be based on the amino acid pattern of fenugreek proteins. It has been shown plants, such as soybeans, with amino acid patterns similar fenugreek proteins, can significantly lower serum cholesterol levels in experimental animals.

Other pharmacology of Fenugreek Seed
Extracts of the seeds have been shown to stimulate the uterus and intestines of guinea pigs, and to accelerate the heart beat. The uterine stimulating property is especially strong during the final days of pregnancy, and is felt to be strongly oxytocic.

During routine screening tests, fenugreek seeds have been found to be spermicidal in vitro against both rat and human sperm.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
The adrenocortical or corticosteroidal action of fenugreek may be antagonized by the use of heparin. Fenugreek's coumarin constituents contribute to anticoagulant effects.

The anti-inflammatory activity of fenugreek can be seriously inhibited by phenobarbital and certain other sedatives and hypnotics, such as chloral hydrate, meprobamate, as well as by beta-adrenergic blocking agents, such as propranolol.

The use of large amounts of fenugreek on a continuous basis may partially block the digestion, absorption or resorption of a wide variety of drugs and fat-soluble vitamins.

To the extent that fenugreek stimulates the liver to catabolize and excrete cholesterol and its by-products via the biliary route, the herb may potentiate the effects of oral anticoagulants.

The presence of tyramine and/or tryptophan in fenugreek could produce hypertension if a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) is also being used, although this is not a likely interaction.

To the extent that fenugreek's action depends on the presence of cholinergic substances, it will be affected by the decrease in cholinergic-receptor stimulation produced by anticholinergics.

The antidiabetic ability of fenugreek may be decreased by the concomitant use of acetazolamide, oral contraceptives, corticosteroids, dextrothyroxine, epinephrine, ethanol, glucagon, and marijuana.

The antidiabetic effects of fenugreek may also be decreased when used in conjunction with phenothiazines, rifampin, thiazide diuretics, and thyroid hormones.

Conversely, the antidiabetic action of fenugreek may be enhanced when used with allopurinol, anabolic steroids, chloramphenicol, clofibrate, fenfluramine, guanethidine, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI's), phenylbutazone, probenecid, and phenyramidol.

The antidiabetic action of fenugreek may also be enhanced when used in conjunction with salicylates, sulfinpyrazone, sulfonamides, and tetracyclines.

There is evidence to show combining bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the bacteriostatic agent. However, how this finding applies to herbal anti-infectives is still unknown.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

The toxicity level of fenugreek herb has not been determined at this time.

Fenugreek seed has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

Internal: 6 g herb.

External: 50 g powdered fenugreek seed with 250 ml water.

The tea has a maple syrup odor as can the urine, which can be misleading to doctors. (Bartley, 1981)


Bartley, GB et al., Maple syrup urine odor due to fenugreek ingestion. (letter) NEJM 1981, 305(8):467.

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.




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