Fenugreek is one of the oldest medicinal plants in the world.
In this article, we will discuss the many health benefits of fenugreek, as well as its safety and dosage.
Table of Contents
- What is Fenugreek?
- Potential Health Benefits of Fenugreek:
- Fenugreek Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is an annual legume that has been used medicinally for centuries. It is native to the Mediterranean and Southeastern Europe, often seen growing in grasslands and hillsides. The plant’s Latin name is Trigonella foenum-graecum.
Fenugreek is commonly used in women’s health for breast milk production, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), menopause, and gastrointestinal and cardiovascular conditions, as well as for its anti-inflammatory properties.
There are several bioactive and nutritional compounds found in fenugreek including:
- Saponins – glycosides, diosgenin
- C-glycoside flavones
- Oleic acid
- Linolenic acid
- Linoleic acid
- Vitamins A, B1, B2, niacin (B3), & C
- Minerals – potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, copper, iron, manganese
Potential Health Benefits of Fenugreek:
Below are the top research-backed health benefits of fenugreek:
1. May Help Menopausal Symptoms
Menopausal symptoms may occur in aging women when estrogen production declines. Some common menopausal symptoms include:
- Hot flashes
- Disruptive sleep
- Heart palpitations
- Vaginal dryness
- Low libido
- Weight gain
Researchers believe that due to this herb’s rich content of phytoestrogens (i.e. saponins), fenugreek and other herbs such as vitex, raspberry leaf, and red clover may be the most effective and beneficial herbs for managing menopausal symptoms.
In a clinical study, 88 menopausal women were given 1,000 mg of fenugreek extract per day and noted several improvements. Hot flashes decreased from 3-5 per day to 0-2 per day. Anxiety, depression, mood swings, insomnia, headaches, and vaginal dryness also improved. In addition, participants reported an increase in general well-being and mental health.
A study using FenuSMART®, a standardized fenugreek extract, reported significant improvements in various menopausal symptoms. There was a more than 20% reduction in hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and a more than 30% improvement in depression. Researchers noted that the phytoestrogenic and hormonal balancing effects of fenugreek may have contributed to these results.
Additionally, fenugreek seed powder has been shown to improve daily hot flashes and night sweats in another study of menopausal women.
Women’s health expert and herbalist, Dr. Aviva Romm states that fenugreek can be used to treat low libido in menopausal women.
Fenugreek tea is also thought to be a beneficial herbal tea for weight loss.
Summary:Clinical research has found that fenugreek may benefit several symptoms of menopause.
2. May Help Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder affecting women. It is typically associated with insulin resistance and obesity. Some of the common signs and symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Hormonal imbalance
- Enlarged ovaries
- Ovarian cysts
- Excess body hair growth
- Weight gain
A clinical study used Furocyst®, a standardized fenugreek extract, to analyze its effects on 208 women with PCOS. The treatment of Furocyst® appeared to normalize participants’ menstrual cycles and lipid profiles. Several lab markers including luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), testosterone, fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol), and triglycerides showed to be well-regulated.
In addition, fenugreek supplementation showed to significantly decrease the number of cysts and reduce hirsutism (excessive body hair growth).
Another study looked at Furocyst® for the treatment of PCOS. Findings showed an improvement in ovary function such as a reduction in ovary size and in the number of ovarian cysts. Participants revealed to have more regular menstrual cycles, which is thought to have led to 12% of the participants getting pregnant after treatment.
Summary:Clinical studies have found that fenugreek extract may work to benefit Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
3. May Improve Dysmenorrhea
Dysmenorrhea is the term used for painful cramps during menstruation.
A study evaluated the effects of fenugreek during menstruation revealing a significant reduction in period cramps, as well as decreased fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, and mood swings. Researchers state that this effect may be due to the plant’s anti-inflammatory and anti-histaminic properties.
The use of fenugreek and dry cupping therapy was assessed as an effective treatment for dysmenorrhea in a study. Results showed an over 65% reduction in lower abdominal pain using fenugreek alone or fenugreek with dry cupping therapy.
Dr. Aviva Romm notes that fenugreek can benefit a number of menstrual complaints, including dysmenorrhea.
Summary:According to human clinical studies, fenugreek may reduce menstruation pain as well as additional symptoms of menstruation.
4. May Improve Sexual Function
Testosterone is a sex hormone that plays an important role in regulating libido and sexual desire, as well as bone and muscle mass. It has been reported that 39% of young women have low sexual desire, which may be due to an imbalance of sex hormone levels.
Women’s sexual function and sex hormones were examined in a two-month clinical study using a daily dose of fenugreek extract (600 mg). Results indicated a significant increase in testosterone and estrogen, as well as an increase in sexual desire and arousal.
A study using Testofen®, a standardized extract of fenugreek, showed an increase in male libido by increasing sexual function and performance.
Summary:Fenugreek is thought to promote the production of both testosterone and estrogen, potentially making this an excellent herb for benefitting sexual health.
5. May Help Regulate Blood Sugar & Cholesterol
Fenugreek is widely known for its effects on regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
A study showed that the consumption of 10 grams of fenugreek seed powder per day may have a positive effect on high blood sugar and cholesterol levels. In this study, fenugreek lowered fasting blood sugar levels, HbA1c (average blood sugar), insulin, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, while increasing adiponectin levels, which helps to regulate the body’s glucose.
Fenugreek’s blood sugar effects were tested on obese and overweight patients in a study using 5.5 grams of fenugreek seed powder. Findings showed a reduced postprandial (post-meal) blood glucose response, thus preventing an after-meal blood sugar spike.
A two-month study investigated the blood sugar effects of fenugreek seed powder and ginger root on type 2 diabetes patients. Both fenugreek and ginger significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels, while, fenugreek alone reduced HbA1c levels. In addition, both herbs improved kidney function and lipid profile by reducing creatinine and triglyceride levels.
Summary:Clinical studies have found that fenugreek may work to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
6. May Increase Breast Milk Production
Fenugreek is known as a galactagogue herb, meaning it can help boost breast milk production.
Dr. Aviva Romm states that fenugreek may affect breast milk production due to its ability to stimulate sweat production as the breast is considered a modified sweat gland. Additionally, fenugreek may have estrogenic effects, which may contribute to the increase in milk flow.
A study found that mothers who drank fenugreek tea daily had a significantly higher breast milk volume compared to mothers who did not consume the herbal tea. In addition, the infants of the mothers who consumed the fenugreek tea had a much lower weight loss rate in early newborn days.
A herbal combination of fenugreek, ginger, and turmeric was evaluated for its effects on breast milk production in a clinical study. There was a 49% increase in milk volume in week two and a 103% increase in week four. No adverse effects were noted, indicating that this may be a safe, helpful herb for breastfeeding mothers.
The Botanical Safety Handbook and Dr. Aviva Romm consider fenugreek to be a galactagogue herb.
Summary:Clinical trials and traditional herbalism indicate that fenugreek may work to stimulate milk production, making this a beneficial herb for nursing mothers.
Safety Class: 2b
Interaction Class: A
Fenugreek is considered a safe herb that is well tolerated by most people.
The safety class of 2b suggests that fenugreek should not be used during pregnancy, while the interaction class of A indicates that no clinical interactions are expected when using this herb appropriately, according to the Botanical Safety Handbook.
Fenugreek is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Due to fenugreek’s hypoglycemia actions, those who take anti-diabetic drugs or have low blood sugar should use caution and closely monitor their blood sugar levels when consuming fenugreek. Consult with a qualified health practitioner to see if fenugreek is safe for you.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
The Botanical Safety Handbook states that the information regarding the use of fenugreek during pregnancy is conflicting, therefore, it should not be used during pregnancy unless under the care of a qualified health practitioner.
As a galactagogue herb, fenugreek can be used during lactation to help promote milk production with no adverse effects. The Botanical Safety Handbook states that fenugreek has been traditionally used as a galactagogue in Ayurvedic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Western medicine.
The Botanical Safety Handbook and Dr. Aviva Romm says that large amounts of fenugreek consumption by a nursing mother may cause the baby’s urine to have a maple-syrup-like odor. This is not considered to be harmful.
Below are some of the standard adult dosing recommendations for fenugreek:
- The German Commission E:
- 6 grams of dried seeds per day, in divided doses
- Dr. Aviva Romm:
- 1 to 6 grams of dried seeds 3x per day
- 2 to 4 mL of tincture 3x per day
- Fenugreek is often found in tea form and used in combination with other herbs:
- Mother’s Milk® Tea: each tea bag contains 35 mg of fenugreek seeds along with other herbs and galactagogues; Drink 3 to 5 cups of fenugreek herbal tea per day
Fenugreek is considered to be a sustainable herb. As a plant, it requires low water and adapts well to different soils. It is used as a forage plant for cattle and other animals.
Fenugreek is not on the United Plant Saver’s “species-at-risk” list of plants that are sensitive to the impact of human activities.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Fenugreek’s scientific name is Trigonella foenum-graecum. It belongs to the Fabaceae (legumes) family of plants.
In Latin, the plant’s genus name Trigonella means “little triangle”, relating to its triangular flowers.
Its Latin name also means “Greek Hay” which refers to its strong nutritive profile and popular use in feeding cattle.
This plant has many different common names from different cultures, including:
- Fieno Greco (Italian)
- Moshoseitaro (Greek)
- Methi (Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Marathi)
- Hulba (Arabic)
- Uluva (Malayalam)
- Shoot (Hebrew)
- Dari (Persian)
- Heyseed (English)
- Hu lu ba (Traditional Chinese Medicine)
- Chandrika or Medhika (Ayurvedic Medicine)
The plant has yellow-white triangular flowers and long-stalked leaves. It produces 2 to 8 pods, which contain 10 to 20 seeds per pod. The seeds of the plant are used medicinally.
History & Traditional Use:
Fenugreek has been used for thousands of years, traditionally used as a cooking spice, as food, and medicinally for treating diabetes, boils, cellulitis, and tuberculosis.
In ancient Egypt, fenugreek was used to embalm mummies and as incense. In modern Egypt, it is used as a wheat and flour substitute.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Western medicine, it has been traditionally used to increase breast milk production in lactating women, according to the Botanical Safety Handbook.
In ancient Rome, fenugreek was used to support labor pain and delivery.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the plant was used as a tonic to treat edema and leg weakness.
Fenugreek is an important medicinal plant in the Greek culture. It has been used as a poultice, ointment, or decoction to soothe irritation or inflammation. As a tincture, it has been used as a tonic to improve digestion, for uterine and respiratory conditions, or as an emmenagogue (increase blood flow to the pelvic region).
As one of the oldest medicinal herbs, fenugreek has strong evidence to support its health benefits. It can help treat many conditions within women’s health as well as other common conditions such as blood sugar dysfunction and high cholesterol.
As always, it is recommended to consult with a qualified health practitioner before adding a new dietary supplement to your regimen, especially if you are taking a medication, have an existing medical condition, or are pregnant or nursing.
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Gardner, Z. & McGuffin, M. (2013). Botanical safety handbook (2nd ed.). American Herbal Products Association.
Garner-Wizard, M., Henson, S., Hoots, D., Robbins, S. & Van De Walle, G. (1998). Fenugreek monograph: Fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum L). Herb Clip, The Journal of the American Botanical Council, 125. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbclip/issues/bin_125/review42041/
Mortel, M. & Mehta, S. D. (2013). Systematic review of the efficacy of herbal galactagogues. Journal of Human Lactation: Official Journal of International Lactation Consultant Association, 29 (2), 154-162. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23468043/
Romm, Aviva. (2018). Botanical medicine for women’s health (2nd ed.). Elsevier, Inc: St. Louis, MO.