Saturday, May 4, 2013

herb of the week: fenugreek.

*Any information found on this site is not intended to be taken as a replacement for medical advice. Before taking any herbal remedy for medicinal purposes, always consult with your physician, and any persons with conditions requiring medical attention should always consult a qualified practitioner or therapist.*

Trigonella foenum-graecum
(Common names: Fenugreek, Bird's Foot, Greek Clover, Greek Hay, Trigonella)

Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany
Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stueber

Fenugreek is an herb that has been used around the world for a very very long time. It has quite a history and is used all around the globe both as an herbal remedy and for culinary purposes.

In the West it is primarily the seeds that are known for medicinal uses, but in much of the East the leaves (fresh or dried), sprouts and greens are used in local cuisine.

As an herb, the seeds are used as an expectorant, demulcent, tonic, emmenagogue, emollient and vulnerary (read up on the actions of herbs), but Fenugreek is most well-known for its use as a galactagogue to help breast-feeding women increase their milk supply. It also has a reputation for stimulating development of the breasts, aiding in increasing sexual desire in women and calming symptoms of both PMS and menopause. 

Like other bitter herbs, it can help soothe the digestive tract and help with indigestion and ulcers, though decoctions and tinctures can be so bitter as to be unpalatable to some people. It can also be taken as a remedy for bronchitis as it is recommended to help clear the chest and lungs. As a gargle it helps soothe a sore throat.

Externally poultices can be applied to help heal wounds and reduce inflammation and is especially useful for sores, boils, eczema, fistulas and tumors.

The seedpods are collected in early to mid-fall.

To make a decoction to increase milk production:
Simmer 1.5 tsp of the seeds in 1 cup water for 10 minutes.
Drink 3 times a day.
To make it less bitter, add 1 tsp Aniseed or add a bit of lemon juice.

An infusion (just steeping it in boiled water) is not bitter at all and actually tastes a lot like maple syrup (in fact it is often used to flavor imitation maple syrups) but it doesn't have the same potency medicinally as a decoction (where the seed is boiled/simmered in water). To make an infusion for a sore throat or to ease digestion:
Add boiling water to 1 tsp of the seeds and let infuse 5 minutes.
Drink freely.

If taking as a tincture, take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times daily.

If taking in capsule form for milk production, take 1500mg three times daily. Most women have found once their supply has gone up, they can reduce or stop taking the herb and still maintain their elevated supply as long as they continue to stimulate production through nursing or pumping.

To use externally as a poultice, crush the seeds and add a enough water or apple cider vinegar to make a paste. Apply this paste to the affected area (you can first apply a little oil to the area if desired to make it easier to remove the poultice later) and cover it with a hot cloth (heat enhances the action of the herbs).

The only side effects are possible loose stools (usually with very high doses, and which go away when stopped being taken) and sweat or urine smelling like maple syrup (and possibly baby's sweat and urine smelling like maple syrup).

DO NOT USE THIS HERB in medicinal quantities (culinary use is still fine) if:
- You are pregnant.
(As an emmenagogue it stimulates the uterus and in high doses could potentially cause uterine contractions. That being said, it can be used to help stimulate contractions while in labor.)
-You are hypoglycemic.
(Studies have shown Fenugreek lowers blood glucose, so monitor your use closely if you are being treated for hypoglycemia.)

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