History

Botany

 

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum L.) has a significant past, and was even highly valued in antiquity on account of its salubrious characteristics. For instance, in ancient writings and also in modern literature one finds references (amongst other things) that fenugreek seed powder is utilised for invigoration of the hair and with skin irritations.

 

Fenugreek seeds were utilised in China under Emperor Shin-nong (3,700 BC). The plant came to Egypt via India, Arabia and Persia (one finds references in Indian names from Sanskrit, the oldest language in Indian literature). Here it is amongst the oldest salubrious plants, where it was already mentioned in the Ebers papyrus formulas around 1,550 BC. Seeds were also discovered as a burial object with Tutankhamun (“King Tut”). The fresh shoots of the plant were eaten as a vegetable in Egypt. In ancient Greece the plant was called “philosopher’s clover”, since the gentlemen of this profession were in the habit of chewing the seeds. Fenugreek seed is also mentioned in the writings of the Hippocratic physicians in the 5th and 6th centuries before Christ, and by Hippocrates in ancient Greece.

Made known through Hippocrates, fenugreek soon also appealed to the Romans. Benedictine monks endeavoured to acclimatise it in the monastery gardens north of the Alps. And fenugreek is recommended or prescribed for cultivation in the “Capitulare de villis” from Charles the Great (written around 795).
The seeds were also met with approval in other lands, for instance with St. Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century (as “Fenigrecum”), as well as with Albertus Magnus in the 13th century. Fenugreek was also mentioned by Paracelsus in the 15th century.
The seeds were utilised internally and externally by Bock.
Fenugreek seed has always been regarded amongst women as a cosmetic, since (amongst other things) it removes skin blemishes and rejuvenates the skin. It should also be helpful externally as an ointment in the event of dandruff and as a hair restorer.

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Fenugreek stems from the family of the papilionaceous plants and is annual. The upright, 30 – 60 cm high stalk with trifoliolate leaves on the branches from the long, arachniform tap root. The medium-sized, yellowish or yellowish-white papilionaceous plants sit stalkless – individually or in twos – in the leaf axils. The blossoms are frequented by bees and bumblebees — this is why fenugreek is regarded as a good grazing pasture for bees. The legume is 7 – 12 cm long and 4 – 10 mm wide. It develops up to 20 flatly pressed seeds. These are anomalously rectangular with a clearly offset rootlet, and are coloured green-brown, yellowish-brown to brownish-red and very hard. The seed husk is sickle-shaped and reminiscent of the horns of a billy goat.

In the Mediterranean countries, fenugreek is found in a natural environment. It is grown in many parts of Europe as a cultivated plant and forage crop. It is also cultivated in North Africa, India, the Ukraine, China, Iran, Pakistan, Asia Minor and France.

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