Fenugreek Leaves or Methi: Small Plant, Big Benefits

A staple in Indian cooking, fenugreek— or methi —is commonly used in garam masala and curry. It’s been utilized in alternative medicine since ancient times to treat a wide variety of ailments. The Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Indians, and Egyptians all used this herb for food and medicine. In the natural health community, fenugreek is hailed as a miracle herb that reduces cholesterol, improves sex drive, and decreases inflammation. So, what exactly is fenugreek and why should you consider adding it to your healthcare regimen?

What is Fenugreek or Methi?

Fenugreek, methi or Trigonella foenum-graecum Linn is an annual herb from the Fabaceae Family (Legume family) that grows 2-3 feet tall, has tiny white flowers and light green leaves, and whose seed pods produce flat, yellow-brown seeds. Both leaves and seeds are used in cooking. Leaves are eaten or cooked just as any other vegetable or dried and used in cooking. Whether whole or dried, fenugreek seeds make an excellent spice and add flavor to any dish. Seeds smell and taste similar to maple syrup.

fresh methi leaves

Fenugreek is used medicinally worldwide. It’s consumed orally or made into a paste and applied topically. Drinking fenugreek tea or ingesting capsules of crushed fenugreek powder are popular ways to access fenugreek’s amazing medicinal properties. Fenugreek extract can also be found in soaps and makeup.

Possible Fenugreek Benefits

Fenugreek is undeniably good for you. Every part of the body benefits from fenugreek, both internally and externally. Here are some of the major jobs fenugreek performs:   

Fenugreek leaves Help With Gastrointestinal Issues

Fenugreek’s antioxidant properties and high levels of fiber may help with digestion and other gastrointestinal problems. Fenugreek tea and tablets are said to help with issues like constipation, stomach pain, gastritis, and indigestion too. Fenugreek is mucilaginous, coating and protecting organs so they can heal and grow healthier. This is tremendously helpful for gut health, including issues like Leaky Gut Syndrome, intestinal inflammation, colon and stomach ulcers, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Fenugreek leaf is useful for treating dyspepsia, poor liver function, dysentery, reducing stomach acidity, and diarrhea.

Fenugreek could Reduce Cholesterol

Inhibiting intestinal cholesterol absorption as well as cholesterol production in the liver, fenugreek lowers cholesterol naturally. Studies have shown that the herb lowers cholesterol in those suffering from atherosclerosis and diabetes. Other studies have demonstrated that consuming fenugreek increases good cholesterol (HDL) while also reducing bad cholesterol (LDL), triglycerides, and overall cholesterol levels. Fenugreek may be taken internally in a capsule, or leaves can be seeped overnight and then strained to create a cholesterol-lowering concoction.

Methi Might Help Combat Diabetes

Not only does Fenugreek decrease cholesterol levels in those with diabetes, but it also reduces blood sugar levels. Just ten days of fenugreek consumption by Type I Diabetics reduced blood sugar levels and increased insulin sensitivity in one study. A scientific study involving Type II Diabetes patients showed that consuming methi soaked in hot water over a period of 8 weeks drastically reduced blood sugar levels; eating fenugreek in yogurt did not have as powerful an effect for some reason.  Methi contains 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which stimulates the pancreatic cells to produce insulin. Fenugreek’s high levels of soluble fiber slow digestion and carbohydrate absorption rates, which in turn lower blood sugar levels and benefit those suffering from diabetes. Methi shows real promise in diabetes research.

Fenugreek Leaves May Help Those with Heart Problems

Another well-known benefit of fenugreek is heart health. Consuming fenugreek regularly may help improve cardiovascular condition, reducing the risk of heart disease and combating other heart problems. As mentioned before, fenugreek has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and decrease overall cholesterol levels. These results all improve heart function. In addition, fenugreek may help those with hardening of the arteries or high levels of fat in their blood.  Reducing platelet aggregation, this beneficial herb reduces the risk of heart-attack and stroke-inducing blood clots. Not to mention that fenugreek is packed with antioxidants, which fortify the body and bolster cardiovascular health.

Hypertension is a dire medical epidemic in modern society and consuming methi is an excellent, natural way to reduce blood pressure and create a healthier heart. Healthy blood pressure equals a healthy cardiovascular system and methi is an easy way to bolster and protect heart health.

Other Possible Benefits

In addition to a healthy heart and gastrointestinal tract, fenugreek benefits the rest of the body as well. Fenugreek decreases inflammation inside and outside the body, helping with issues like chronic coughs, bronchitis, boils, tissue infections beneath the skin, gout, arthritis, kidney ailments, boils, pain and swelling in the lymph nodes or muscles, mouth ulcers, eczema and more.

In men, fenugreek is a natural aphrodisiac, assisting with erectile dysfunction and impotence while also boosting stamina, energy, and arousal. Researchers claim that fenugreek consumption increases men’s sex drive by a quarter. In one study, men experienced a significant increase in sexual arousal and stamina after taking fenugreek over a six week period. Saponins, a compound found in fenugreek seeds, stimulate the production of male sex hormones like testosterone.

Another benefit men may care about is fenugreek’s impact on exercise performance. Researchers studied how aromatase and 5a-reductase– two enzymes found in fenugreek—affected the hormones, body strength, and body composition of men supplementing 500 mg over a period of 8 weeks. Those consuming fenugreek (vs. a placebo) experienced greater athletic performance, increased testosterone, and reduced body fat too. Their upper and lower body strength increased noticeably. Athletes may want to consider adding fenugreek to their diet for better performance and body composition.  

Fenugreek may also help with weight loss, improved skin health, preventing the division of cancer cells, and lowering the risk of developing kidney stones. Women may experience increased breast milk supply and reduced menstrual cramps.

Ways of Consuming Fenugreek Leaves

Fenugreek leaves and seeds are used in a wide variety of ways. Methi seeds are often used in cooking spices or made into powders, capsules, liquid extracts, dressing, or pastes. Fenugreek essential oils are popular too, providing all the benefits of fenugreek in concentrated liquid form. Fresh fenugreek leaves are eaten in salad; or cleaned, chopped, boiled, and used in cooking. A popular Indian bread called methi dhebra is made of pear millet flour and flavored with methi leaves. Aloo Methi, made of potatoes and fenugreek leaves, and Methi Mushroom, a curried dish made from mushrooms and fenugreek leaves, are two more ways to incorporate this beneficial herb into your diet.  If you don’t have access to fresh fenugreek leaves, then tea, powder, and dried leaves are simple ways to obtain the health benefits you’re missing.

Aloo methi - fenugreek leaves cooked with potato

Fenugreek Tea

Made from the nutrient-rich seeds of the fenugreek plant, fenugreek tea packs a medicinal punch.  This tea tastes like maple syrup and it reduces inflammation and indigestion. It eases menstrual cramps and arthritis. It lowers high blood pressure and fevers too. A natural laxative packed with fiber, fenugreek tea eases constipation and improves digestive problems. It lowers cholesterol and regulates blood sugar while also boosting the immune system and promoting weight loss. For nursing mothers, ground fenugreek tea increases breast milk production.

Fenugreek tea

Fenugreek tea is packed with vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamin A, B-Complex, Vitamins C and D, calcium, iron, potassium, iron, selenium, and zinc. It stabilizes hormones and may provide relief to women, lessening PMS symptoms and regulating the monthly cycle. A warm mug of fenugreek tea provides comfort to those suffering from illness as well, treating pneumonia and bronchitis, coughs, allergy and sinus symptoms, and sore throats too. Fenugreek tea is a beneficial addition to anyone’s medicine cabinet.

While it’s most common to make tea from leaves, flower buds, or sometimes roots, fenugreek tea is unique in that it is generally prepared from the seeds of the plant. Crush the seeds, seep the seeds in hot water, sweeten with honey or sugar if you like, and enjoy.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of fenugreek tea but don’t want to make your own from scratch, you’re in luck. Fenugreek tea is easily obtainable online. The Vitamin Shoppe sells Organic Fenugreek Tea in boxes of 24 tea bags. Amazon offers the same products at a comparable price. Buddha Teas sells Organic Fenugreek Seed Tea and provides detailed information about the tea and its health benefits on their website.

Fenugreek Powder

Dried, ripe fenugreek seeds crushed into a powder creates a multipurpose health supplement that can be used as a cooking spice, encapsulated and digested as medicine, or made into a tincture or poultice. It can be incorporated into baked goods, cooking, or even sprinkled on yogurt or mixed into drinks. One can make their own fenugreek powder from dried fenugreek seeds, or buy pre-crushed powder.  Rose Mountain Herbs sells Fenugreek Seed Powder from India by the ounce or pound. Starwest Botanicals Organic Fenugreek Seed Powder from Egypt is available on Amazon.

Dried Fenugreek Leaves

Called Kasuri Methi in India, dried fenugreek leaves are used as a cooking spice to add a slightly bitter but intriguing flavor with hints of fennel and celery. The dried leaves smell a bit like hay. They’re popular in Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African cooking. Try adding dried fenugreek leaves to soups, potato dishes, flatbreads, sauces, gravies, or curries for a unique and delicious flavor. Dried fenugreek leaves work well alone, or can be combined with other spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, garlic, pepper, or turmeric.  In addition to flavor, dried fenugreek leaves offer the same health benefits discussed above. Amazon sells a variety of dried fenugreek leaves, including Peacock Kasoori Methi and National Fenugreek Leaves. The Spice House carries Fenugreek Leaves too. If you have access to fresh fenugreek, the leaves can be easily dried and stored at home.

Fenugreek Leaves Substitute

If fenugreek is not readily available in your area or you are unable to order it off the Internet, there are a handful of substitutes that will provide nearly the same flavor. Celery leaves are one decent alternative that will add rich flavor to your cooking, as will alfalfa and watercress. Spinach can be used in place of fenugreek in recipes too. Maple syrup is a good alternative, as both maple syrup and fenugreek share the chemical compound sotolone.

If you can’t find fresh fenugreek or seeds, check a local ethnic food store or the Internet for fenugreek powder or dried fenugreek leaves. This is a great substitute for fresh fenugreek. Curry powder works too, as fenugreek is an ingredient in most curry powders.

Fenugreek or Methi Side Effects

While fenugreek is a multi-faceted wonder herb, it doesn’t come without its warnings. It may induce diarrhea, flatulence, and dizziness in some people. Other side effects include maple-syrup-scented urine, breast milk, or sweat. Asthmatics have reported worsening symptoms. Pregnant women should be especially cautious in taking fenugreek, as it has historically been used to promote labor. Its uterine-contracting properties could potentially cause a miscarriage or early labor and delivery.

People who have allergies to chickpeas or peanuts may also experience a reaction to fenugreek, like restricted airways, wheezing, hives, or fainting. Fenugreek, chickpeas, and peanuts contain very similar allergens and proteins.

Also, those suffering from thyroid problems should avoid fenugreek as it is thought to cause hypothyroidism.

Since fenugreek decreases blood sugar, diabetics must be particularly careful if they use other diabetes medications, such as glimepiride, insulin, or glyburide. The combination of fenugreek and some diabetes medications may result in dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Final Thoughts

Used extensively in medicinal practices since ancient times, fenugreek is an incredibly useful herb. Whether you prefer fenugreek leaves, seeds, or a combination of both, well-being awaits. From heart health to digestion, reduced inflammation to improved libido, fenugreek is an incredible plant. Its unique flavor will spice up your cooking. A mug of steamy fenugreek tea promises relief from a sore throat and cough when you’re sick. As with all herbs, one must exercise caution and be aware of how fenugreek interacts with your body. Always tell your doctor about your vitamin and supplement usage. Fenugreek is a fragrant, delicious, and simple way to add long-lasting health benefits to your life.