Common Name: Fenugreek | Scientific Name: Trigonella Foenum Graecum

Family: Leguminosae

Chapter from Healing Plants of the Bible

Chapter from Healing Plants of the Bible

Trigonella foenum-graecum


Numbers 11:5-6 How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, and the water melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic. But now our soul is dried away. Our eyes are on nothing at all except the Manna.

Often, when we leave a bad situation for a better situation, things get worse before they get better! This was certainly the case with the Israelites. They left Egypt in the hope that life would be better some place else. The first thing they came across was a dry, bleak, foodless desert. Egypt had its problems, but it was filled with succulent vegetables. In these lines we read the Israelites bemoaning the life they left for the misery of the life they found. The highlighted word in these lines is chatzirin in the Hebrew text. In these lines the word has been translated as leeks and once again we are looking at a mistranslation. The plant in these lines is thought to be a clover
relative called fenugreek. The plant is used in the Middle East extensively, the seed as a spice and leaf as a vegetable. The word chatzir means leafy vegetable and it is more likely to have been fenugreek than the leek. Leeks are not exactly leafy.

The word chatzir appears 20 times in the original Hebrew Bible and is translated as a dozen different plants throughout the English Bible. Chatzir appears in the following lines I Kings 18:5, Job 40:15, Psalms 37:20,90:15,103:15,104:14,129:6,147:8, and Isaiah 37:27,40:6,44:4,51:12. There is some debate as to what vegetable was referred to when chatzir appears and one thing is for certain, it would have meant a commonly eaten vegetable. The leek is a European plant and scholars do not believe it was commonly grown in Egypt at the time the Bible was happening. Fenugreek, a common leafy vegetable in Egypt to this day, is the more likely candidate.

If you take a trip to the Middle East don’t miss the opportunity to go the one of the outdoor vegetable markets. The markets or shuks, as they are known, are filled with spices, fruits, and vegetables of all descriptions. As you walk through these markets you will be seeing a scene that would have been familiar to the ancient Israelites. In amongst the produce you will find big stacks of a clover like green with a somewhat peculiar odour. This is fenugreek and the juicy leaves have been a popular salad good since well before the days of Israelite captivity. The plant practically grows itself. In the ancient days and to an extent to day, fenugreek was the green of the poor.

In the above lines the Israelites complain they used to eat fenugreek greens as a matter of course and in their life in the desert they were forced to depend upon a rock growing lichen, manna, for survival. This lichen, by the by, is incredibly bitter to the taste. It has been used as a survival food in the desert, but, it would have been hard to gag down. While surviving on this unpleasant food, the lush and juicy greens of Egypt were well missed.

Fenugreek is a legume, that is a member of the bean family, and is closely related to clover and alfalfa. The later two are the favourite foods of animals, fenugreek having been used for both people and pet food. We are dealing with a common plant throughout the Middle East, not an expensive or imported one. It is indigenous to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, though it is now cultivated in Africa, India, and China.When the Arab traders made their way to the far east, fenugreek was one of the plants they spread along the way.

Its name in Arabic is helbeh, a conserve of which was made in Egypt and exported to England up until the last century. A Dr.Pickering, in his book entitled “The Chronological History of Plants”, written in 1879, says that Egyptians made a conserve of the plant. And, here is the best part, that “Arabs” used this fenugreek jam to steal children on the East Coast of Africa. A very strange statements and one that is a little more than racist. Did the writer mean that all Arabs stole children or just some Arabs? And most of all, how did they use fenugreek jelly to trick children into slavery ? These questions will not be answered any time soon. The plant was introduced into America in 1859 via Israel. It seems the American Patent office in the then Palestine collected the seed and shipped it to America as a potential field crop. As no one knows what it is, it clearly never took off.

On the medicinal front fenugreek has occupied an important role in healing and is likely to regain its former position. To begin with, the leaves are eaten as a salad green and the seeds were sprouted and eaten with honey as a general body stimulant. To give you some idea how long ago fenugreek spread from it native range, the Chinese physicians were working with it in the Sung dynasty(1057 AD). The Chinese had got it from the Indians, who got it from the Arab traders. Though it was well loved as a green leafy vegetable and source of spicery, the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Arabian, Indian, and Chinese physicians all knew of its medicinal applications and spoke highly of it. Fenugreek leaves were seen somewhat in the light that we see spinach today! They were said to make the body big and strong, rather like the popeye story line.

The leaf and the seed were thought to put flesh on the bones. Around the world plants that made a person thick and strong were held in high esteem. It is only in the last 50 years that being thin has been seen as a good thing. This preoccupation with looking starved to death is an example of how bizarre modern life is. At no time in the history of the world, to my knowledge, has looking on deaths door been a drawing card in the game of love. To the contrary, physical strength and health was considered attractive. Fenugreek seed was seen as a building medicine, one that would help to put a healthy layer of meat between you and the outside world.

Women in harems used the seed to increase their bust size which is one of the most ancient uses of this plants seeds. As the seed helps to increase girth in general, it is likely that an increase in bust size is merely a side effect of the general growth experienced under the influence of this medicinal seed. It must be said, if you are on a diet, fenugreek seed may not be a medicine for you. If however, you need to build up your strength, fenugreek may be ideal. Much like dates, fenugreek is a building medicine.

First and foremost, the cultures that know fenugreek say that it is a stimulant to the bodies vital forces. It is used in cases of bodily weakness and debility. Stirring is the word that was used by many physicians of the past to describe this plant, it stirred appetite, energy, strength, lust, and more. It was used for a body that had lost its shine. You can see vibrant health in a person, fenugreek was used when somebody was missing that particular twinkle.

Fenugreek is related to two other plants that are seen to have this same life force stimulating power, red clover and alfalfa. Both of these legumes have long been recognized as health jump starters. Red clover was a classic treatment for cancer in early American medical history and it is still used in European herbalism to treat the same. Alfalfa sprouts have really taken over the health food market and are now universally used as a health food. In Egypt, when a person is ailing, people take fenugreek seeds and sprout them as a health tonic. They use these delicate greens to help someone convalesce from a serious illness or a period of debility.

It is interesting to note that fenugreek was used to treat a range of illnesses that are now treated with steroid based drugs, asthma, eczema, chronic digestive complaints, and hormone irregularities included. The seed and the plant contain steroidal saponins, alkaloids, bitter principles, mucilage, and volatile oils. The key to this steroid like activity is likely to be due to one of the steroidal saponins found in the plant, diosgenin. Diosgenin is used in the manufacture of the birth control pills and other steroid based drugs.

I take a lot of heat from orthodox physicians for working in herbal medicine as they feel that it is a grand waste of time. I always laugh to myself when being scrutinized as I know something they have forgotten. The hormone drugs that have revolutionized their medical practices, the birth control pill and steroid drugs, are based upon nature made substances. There are some things that scientists just cannot make in the lab and this is true of all steroid based drugs. The basic building block for these drugs still comes from plants like fenugreek. Whether western orthodox doctors acknowledge it or not, without plants, medical science would not be where it is today.

At present, most of the raw materials used to produce birth control pills and other steroid based drugs comes from the mexican yam. Fenugreek is now being looked at as a commercial source of diosgenin, the basic steroid building block, as it is loaded with diosgenin. Unlike the yam, fenugreek is an annual plant. The yam takes years to grow to a harvestable size, fenugreek completes its life cycle in 3 months. Whatever people may say about fenugreek, when you buy a birth control pill in the future, it will be made out of fenugreek.

Physicians around the world use fenugreek to build up the muscle tissue of their patients the way body builders use anabolic steroids to increase their muscle mass. The steroids contained in this plant are probably responsible for the increase in flesh that is seen in patients using the herb. It is so building that body builders are using it as a replacement for the harmful steroids certain members of the body building community use. It is also used to stimulate the sex hormones of both sexes.

Though chemicals like diosgenin may act on the sex glands directly, ie on the ovaries and the testis themselves, there is evidence that this plant may act higher up on the hormone chain. The pituitary gland, located in the brain, sends out hormones to ovaries and the testicles which stimulate those organs to produce their respective sex hormones, oestrogen and testosterone. Oestrogen in turn affects the uterus. Testosterone works on the male characteristics of the male body. This plant is used in traditional herbal medicine to treat both the male and the female hormone irregularities. Because it works on both sexes, it is likely that it acts on the pituitary gland directly which in turn works on the sex glands. Ancient physicians got out the fenugreek when they had hormone irregularities sitting in front of them. This could have been a lack of menstruation or poor erections and ejaculation.

When you take a look at what the ancient physicians used the plant to do you will notice that they were conditions that are now treated with cortical steroids. Take a walk into any doctors office and you will find patients suffering from asthma, eczema, ulcerative colitis, and menstrual irregularities, walking out of the doctors consulting room with prescriptions for steroids in their hands. Curiously enough, Gerard tells us that fenugreek was traditionally used to treat these same conditions.

In lung complaints: “And because it hath in it clensing or scouring facultie, it raiseth humors out of the chest, but there must be added unto it no small quantitie of honey, least the biting qualitie should abound. In old diseases of the chest without fever, fat dates are to be boiled with it, but when you have mixed the same juice pressed out with a great quantitie of hony, and have againe boiled it on a soft fire to a mean thicknesse, then you must use it long before meat.”

In chronic skin conditions: “The meale of fenegreeke, Dioscorides saith, is of force to mollifie and waste away; being boiled with mead and applied it taketh away inflammations, as well inward and outward. The meale of fenegreek boiled in mead or honied water, consumeth and dissolveth all cold hard impostunes and swellings, and being mixed with the roots of marsh mallows and linseed effecteth the same. Greene fenegreeke bruised and pounded with vinegar, is a remedie for weak and feeble parts, and that are without skin, ulcerated and raw. It is good to wash the head with the decoction of the seed, for it taketh away the scurse, scailes, nits, and all other such like imperfections.”

Inflammations of the digestive tract: “The decoction thereof is good against ulcers in the low gut, and foule stinking excrements of those that have bloudy flix. The decoction of fenegreeke seed , made in wine, and drunke with a little vinegar, expelleth all evil humours in the stomacke and guts.”

Female complaints: “It is good for women that have either impostumes, ulcer, or stopping of the matrix, to bathe and sit in the decoction thereof. Being mingled with goose grease and put up in manner of a pessarie, or mother suppositorie, it doth open and mollify all the parts, about the mother. It is very good for women that have any griefe or swelling in the matrix, or other lower pats, if they bath those parts with the decoction made in wine, or sit over it and sweat.”

Modern practitioners continue to use the plant as the ancients recommended. Dr. Christopher Hansard had this to say of it, “It is used to promote appetite and increase body mass. It is used in reproductive abnormalities, ground and applied to the genitals. It is taken as a tea to increase the female sex drive. It is also used in small amounts, ground and mixed with oil, and applied to skin problems to facilitate healing.”

Stuart Fitzsimmons chimes in with similar remarks, ” Because the seed contains phytosterols, it is used as a substitute for hormone replacement therapy. It is excellent in menopause or when women are coming off artificial oestrogen therapy.It is also a fabulous hypoglycemic, it lowers blood sugar.It is highly recommended in non-insulin dependant diabetes. To increase the oestrogen levels or to drop blood sugar, a teaspoon full of crushed seed is added to a cup of hot water and allowed to stand for ten minutes. Three cups of this per day is the usual prescription.”

The prescription given by Mr.Fitzsimmons is equally serviceable any where that cortical steroids are used, whether that is in asthma or chronic skin complaints. It can be used if you would like to put on some weight or as an alternative to the chemical steroids used in body building. If you lack sexual desire, fenugreek may put some fire back where drafts have taken over. If you are addicted to steroid creme for chronic skin problems you might want to try some fenugreek tea instead. Unlike the poor Israelites who could find no fenugreek in the desert, you can find some in the spice rack at the grocery store.