Fenugreek to reduce labor pains

Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum is an ancient herb which appears to have few other names, although I have come across Greek clover as a synonym. In the Indian subcontinent, it is extensively used in cooking, either as ground seed or fresh leaves, under the name Methi. Dried leaves are also used - the name of these is kazuri methi.

Don't feed fenugreek seeds to fish, as it may kill them.

Seeds of fenugreek have been found in the tombs of the Pharoahs in Egypt, and the latin name means "Greek hay", as it was one of the herbs used by the ancient Greeks to feed cattle. It's rarely used in Western cooking, but the leaves are a delicious ingredient in such Indian dishes as Methi Chicken. The seed can also be soaked in warm water for 12 hours and then sprouted - which takes 3-5 days - as an ingredient in salads and so on.

Fenugreek is a member of the Leguminosae family, which is mostly peas, beans and clover. All members of this family have the ability to fix nitrogen with their roots (in the presence of the correct soil organisms), making it available for use by plants which follow them in the rotation, and are therefore useful as green manures - crops which are grown and simply dug into the soil. However, not all soils contain the correct diazotrophs for fenugreek, as it has not historically been grown in quantity in much of "the West". Inoculated seed, if available, would overcome this problem.

It is the seeds which are mainly used for medicinal purposes, and although it is possible to grow fenugreek to this stage in warmer parts, I have not managed to achieve this in the UK (which is not to say it can't be done). However, a visit to a decent Asian (Indian subcontinent) grocer will most likely yield a source of fenugreek seeds in any quantity you could wish for at a good price, either whole for preference or ground as a last resort. If you can't find them, ask the store owner for Methi seed (pronounced "metty"). He may have it, or he may even order it for you. It should be popular enough with his regular customers that he won't incur any loss.

As an aside, the seeds themselves are rhombic, very unusual, and almost look as if they have been manufactured in a sweet factory or something. They are usually amber in color.

Fenugreek is not suitable for use by pregnant women, as it can induce uterine contractions. Fenugreek seed, like most beans and peas, contain saponins, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Since they are rather bitter, this is unlikely to be a problem, and cooking or running under cold water for a time will remove much of them. The quantities used for medicine should not be a problem for most people - unless you are a mermaid!

According to Plants for a Future "Research has shown that the seeds can inhibit cancer of the liver, lower blood cholesterol levels and also have an antidiabetic effect".

A standard infusion is made from 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, left to stand for at least 10 minutes and then strained. To make a decoction soak 2 tsp of seeds in 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water for 5 hours or overnight, bring to a boil and boil for one minute, then strain. The dose for either is 500-600ml (2-3 US cups, 1.25 UK pints) a day. It will almost certainly need a fair amount of honey, sugar, or other sweetener added to make it palatable.

During labor either an infusion or a decoction will help to reduce pain. Period pains, indigestion, and bronchitis can be treated in the same way. You can also use either an infusion or a decoction as a gargle for a sore throat.

A poultice can be made from the leaves or seed. In the case of fresh leaves, just chop them up and mix with a little hot water, wrap in a cloth and apply to the area to be treated. To make a poultice from dried leaves, soak them in boiling water, then strain off most of the water, wrap the leaves and use in the same way. Seeds will need to be boiled for several minutes to soften them, then mashed up as much as you can. Use to treat gout pains, neuralgia, sciatica, swollen glands, boils and other skin eruptions, and skin infections.

If you grow your own fenugreek, it's important that it is grown organically, so as to eliminate possible corruption of its properties by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic fenugreek visit the Gardenzone.