It’s that time of year where I delve into the mysterious, the magical, the dark, and the spooky. Today I want to talk mummies.
In ancient Egypt, it was very important to preserve the bodies of their dead as true to life as possible. So they developed a specific method of embalming that removed all the moisture from the body leaving the dried body in a state where it was very difficult to decay. This process is called mummification and mummies have captivated our minds for centuries, holding a special place of wonder, mystery, and even a bit of horror. While most of the techniques are not completely known, even today, we do know a few things about how the Egyptians were able to perform this amazing task. One of the key ingredients is an herb that is used today for many health benefits.
Fenugreek, or Trigonella foenum-graecum, is a member of the Fabaceae family and is indigenous to the countries to the east of the Mediterranean. Today it’s cultivated in India, Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and even occasionally in England. The scientific name is from ancient Greek. Trigonella means ‘three-angled’ which refers to the shape of the plant’s corolla and foenum-graecum means ‘Greek hay’ which is a reference to its use to scent poor quality hay and to fortify cattle feed. This plant is used in traditional foods and medicines all over the East and the Middle East and modern archaeologists believe it was used as a spice as early as 4000 BCE, when remains of this herb were discovered in Tell Halal, Iraq.
Fenugreek is an erect, smooth, herbaceous plant that can grow up to a height of about 15-32 inches. It has a taproot and its stems are erect, up to 20 inches high, sometimes branched. The leaves are alternate, compound, trifoliate, 2-5 inches long, light green in color. The leaflets are oval, up to 2 inches long, hairy on their lower sides. The flowers are papilionaceous, borne in leaf axils, white, lemon-yellow, or purplish-blue in color. The fruits occur as straight or sickle-like pods of ½ inch to 4 inches, long, thin and pointed, and contain 10-20 seeds. The seeds are 6-8 mm long, oblong or square, green-olive or brownish in color, with a very strong and spicy odor, reminiscent of maple syrup. Fenugreek is naturally found in field verges, uncultivated ground, dry grasslands, and hillsides in semi-highland and highland regions. It grows on a wide range of preferably well-drained soils with a pH ranging from 5.3 to 8.2. Fenugreek does not do well in wet soil.
Scientific Name- Trigonella foenum-graecum
Common Names- Fenugreek, Methi, Bird's Foot, Greek Hayseed, Greek Clover, Helba, Bird’s Foot, Bockshornklee
Summary of Actions- Galactogogue, demulcent, antiatherosclerosis, astringent, carminative, laxative, antispasmodic, emollient (vulnerary), febrifuge (mild), appetite stimulant (though some find it to be appetite suppressing), hypocholesterolemic, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, oxytocic, diuretic, cardiotonic, diuretic, hypoglycemic, antiviral, and antihypertensive.
Energetics & Flavors- Dry and warm.
Parts Used- Seeds & Sprouts. Though some traditions make use of the leaves as well.
Active Constituents- Volatile oils, alkaloids (trigonelline, genitanine, carpaine), saponins (fenugreekine, diosgenin, tigogenin, gitogenin, trigogenin, etc.), flavonoids, mucilage
Edibility & Nutrition- Many parts of the world consider every part of this herb to be edible. In India, the leaves are often cooked as a potherb. In Ethiopia and Egypt, the seeds are used to bake bread while in Switzer-land fenugreek is used to flavor cheese. In Cairo, the seeds are traditionally sprouted and consumed raw or soaked in water and crushed into a thick paste. The ground seed has often been used to give a maple flavor to traditional confections. This powder is also one of the ingredients in traditional curry seasoning. Some of the nutrients present in this herb include protein, fats, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C, & K, as well as fiber. Fenugreek’s flavor combines well with other spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, fennel, and dried ginger.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- This common herb, known as Hu lu ba in TCM, is considered to be a yang tonic and is especially important for treating kidney yang deficiency. This is why it’s often used to treat kidney issues as well as reproductive ones as, in TCM, the kidneys are seen as the rulers of the reproductive system. It is considered to be bitter, sweet, and pungent in flavor as well as heating or warming in nature. This lends it well for use to dispel dampness and cold and to warm the kidneys. In addition to the kidneys, its other main effects are on the lung and large intestine meridians. It’s known to circulate Qi, disperse cold, clear damp, and resolve water accumulation along these meridians. Ancient Chinese medical texts cite that it enders the Lung, Spleen, Kidney, and Liver.
Ayurvedic- Known as Chandrika or Medhika, this is considered to be a highly effective herb when it comes to imbalances of vata and kapha by pacifying both kapha, and vata (though this is done in smaller quantities), but it also increases pitta . It’s warming and has bitter, pungent, and sweet tastes as well as having a nourishing and humble quality, which creates a strong grounding effect in the body. It’s also known to break up stuck energies in the body helping to reduce inflammation. It’s often used to enhance digestion and prevent stomach disorders. It is also good for the skin and hair. As in Western medicine, the seeds are used both whole and ground. It is thought that the best way to use this herb is to sauté whole or ground fenugreek in ghee before adding it to dishes.
Cardiovascular System- Fenugreek helps to balance cholesterol in the body, lowering the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and improving the balance between that and the “good” cholesterol (HDL). This is likely thanks to a flavonoid called naringenin. It does have some effect on triglycerides, but more research needs to be done to confirm any benefits. The research does show that people who consume raw fenugreek seeds or powder tend to have low cholesterol and healthier hearts in general.
Gastrointestinal- Fenugreek is traditionally used for a large number of stomach complaints. It helps prevent constipation as well as digestive issues created by stomach ulcers. It’s also a great herb for treating gastritis and indigestion. It’s a natural digestive tonic and the mucilage provides lubricating benefits to help soothe the stomach and intestines by providing a soothing, demulcent coating over the lining of the digestive tract. It’s often used to support a weakened or inflamed digestive system.
Diabetes- One of its most well-studied properties includes its ability to improve blood sugar. Fenugreek helps to slow the absorption of sugars in the stomach and boosts the production of insulin. This makes it a great ally, not only in the case of diabetes but for all metabolic and cardiometabolic issues.
Skin & Hair Health- Fenugreek helps to promote hair growth and prevent dandruff. Its anti-microbial properties help to treat several scalp and hair infections and it helps to nourish the hair follicles, improve blood circulation, and strengthen the hair from the roots. It’s also extremely effective in healing wounds. It’s packed with vitamin C and antioxidants which help treat oxidative free radical damage done by the sun, this means it’s great for reducing the signs of aging. It also reduces acne and makes the skin glow with its natural oils that help to moisturize the skin.
Milk Production- For centuries, fenugreek has been valued for its properties as a galactagogue. It can increase milk supply in a women’s body and can substantially increase milk production in as little as 24 hours. This makes it a great herb for breastfeeding women who are experiencing a low milk supply. However, this should not be taken until the baby is born as it's overly stimulating for pregnancy.
Male Reproductive System- Powder, made from the seeds, is often indicated for men’s health in general, but especially for their reproductive systems. This powder is a natural antioxidant and helps to improve the production of male hormones such as testosterone and luteinizing hormone. It also has powerful spermatogenic properties that are beneficial for treating conditions such as hypospermia, oligospermia, asthenozoospermia, and it enhances spermatogenesis. It has also been known to treat erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and improve sexual function and libido overall.
Other Uses- Many ancient cultures would add fenugreek to their livestock’s feed to improve the nutrient quality and hide the smell of bad hay. The ancient Egyptians used this herb for mummification as well as for incense. It was also mixed with boiling oil during the first Jewish-Roman war. This mixture was used to repel invaders.
Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- Do not use when pregnant. This herb lowers blood glucose so carefully monitor glucose levels when using this herb. It can also interact with several medications so talk to your doctor before taking this herb.
I only included a basic introduction to this ancient mummification herb. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram or updates on my adventures in Nature. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on Teespring, check it out! Also, if you like what I do and what to see more, Become a Patron!
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