Fenugreek seeds are small about 5 mm. long, hard, and brownish yellow although the color varies. The seeds are hard, yellowish brown and angular. Some are oblong, some rhombic, other virtually cubic, with a side of about 3mm (1/8″). A deep furrow all but splits them in two. They are available whole and dried, or as a dull yellow powder, ground from the roasted seeds.
The name Fenugreek (Methi) comes from the Latin term Foenum-graecum, or Greek hay. Fenugreek is an erect annual herb native to Asia and southern Europe. Fenugreek is a tender, erect annual with three-part leaves and pea-like flowers that grows in fertile, well-drained, alkaline soil in full sun. It reaches a height of less than three feet and has a sweet hay scent when dried.
As native of the Mediterranean area, the seeds have been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. Undoubtedly one of the oldest cultivated medicinal plants, fenugreek is widely grown today in the Mediterranean countries, Pakistan, Argentina, France, India, North Africa, and the United States etc as a food, condiment, medicinal, dye, and forage plant. The plant reaches a height of 0.3 to 0.8 meters and has trifoliate leaves.
White flowers appear in early summer and develop into long, slender, yellow brown pods containing the brown seeds of fenugreek commerce.
The reported life zone of fenugreek is 8 to 27 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.4 to 1.5 meters and a soil pH of 5.3 to 8.2. The plant thrives in full sun on rich, well-drained soils. Growth is slow and weak in cold temperatures and wet soils. As a leguminous plant, fenugreek needs little if any nitrogen fertilizer, and the plant can enrich soils with nitrogen.
Fenugreek seeds are ground and roasted and used to flavor to curry. The seeds are also soaked and then powdered and used to make lip balm and tonic.
The seeds can be used to make tea, which can reduce fever and menstrual pains, or they can be used in an ointment to treat skin infections.
Ground seeds are often used to give a maple flavor to sweets and candies. Ground seeds are also used to flavor cattle food, including different vegetable meals and hays.
Fenugreek seeds are used to treat bronchitis, coughs, respiratory problems, sinus conditions and to increase milk supply.
Fenugreek seeds are used in colic flatulence, dysentery, diarrhea, dyspepsia, chronic cough and enlargement of liver and spleen, rickets, gout and diabetes. It is also used as a carminative, tonic and aphrodisiac. They increase the secretion and discharge of urine, relieve flatulence and promote lactation in nursing mothers. They also arrest any secretion or bleeding and have an aphrodisiac effect. They are the best cleansers within the body, highly mucous-solvent and soothing agent.
Fenugreek seed powder has been used for centuries as a spice to increase the taste of curries by the Pakistani and the Chinese. This Fenugreek seed powder was first introduced to the Arabs and the Europeans through Spice Trading. Medicinally it was used for the treatment of wounds, abscesses, arthritis, bronchitis, and digestive problems. Traditional Chinese herbalists used it for kidney problems and conditions affecting the male reproductive tract. Fenugreek was, and remains, a food and a spice commonly eaten in many parts of the world.