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Trigonella foenum-graecum


Trigonella foenugraecum

Vernacular Names:

Malaysia Halba
English Fenugreek

General Information


This plant is thought to originate from India or the Middle East. It is now primarily grown in India and in the Mediterranean countries. It is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Fabaceae family, 40-60 cm high, with alternate trifoliate leaves and pale yellow flowers. Its pods are curved, 10-15 cm long, with narrow ends. These pods contain 10-12 seeds, brown or yellowish, lozenge-shaped, 4-5 mm long, 2-3 mm wide.

Plant Part Used:


Chemical Constituents:

The composition of fenugreek seeds was extensively studied and their composition reveals a few specific features (1)(2).

  • Proteins: High content, around 30% of the seed weight.
  • Lipids: 5.5-7.5%. The fatty acids are dominantly linoleic acid (~40%) and linolenic acid
  • Galactomannans: ~15% of the seed weight.
  • 4-Hydroxyisoleucine 1, a non-proteogenic amino-acid, 0.6% of the seed weight, 85% of the free amino acids.
  • A pseudo alkaloid, trigonelline 2 (0.1-0.15% of the seed weight).
  • Phenolics: coumarins, flavonoids (~0.1%)
  • Volatile compounds: Over 50 volatile compounds were identified. However, the characteristic flavour of the seeds is mainly provided by a small g-lactone, sotolone 3.
  • Steroids and steroidal saponins: Free sterols, dominated by sitosterol, make about 0.2% of the seed weight. Steroidal saponins (4-6% of seed weight) include a homogenous series of steroidal sapogenins with furostan 4 and spirostan 5 skeletons and two glycosidic chains on C-3 and C-26.
  • Mucilage (39)
  • Tannicacid, fixed and vegetable oils, diosgenin, trigocoumarin, trigomethyl coumarin, steroidal saponin such as gitogenin and traces of trigogenin and vitamin A (40)


    Traditional Use:

    Fenugreek is above all a condiment used in Indian and North African cuisine. As a traditional medicine, there is a variety of claims relative to its use. It is widely considered as antidiabetic and anticholesterol herb. It is used as a tonic and appetite stimulant in North Africa. In India, it is used to treat various GIT disorders. It is also said to be galactogogue and uterine stimulant.

    Fenugreek also has been used in therapeutic treatment such as CNS stimulant, anti ulcer, anti-inflammatory, intestinal pain, skin diseases, sexual impotence, wound healing, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-neoplastic and anti-pyretic. (40),(41)

    Pre-Clinical Data


    Hypoglycaemic activity

    The hypoglycaemic activity of fenugreek seeds was demonstrated on several animal models (normal mice and rats, insulin-dependant dogs, alloxan-induced diabetic mice, rats and dogs) (3), (4), (5). The activity was related to various components of the seeds. The soluble dietary fibre fraction, the main components of which are the galactomannans, was shown to reduce glycaemia after glucose administration (3). This fraction was further shown to decrease the serum fructosamine level with no significant change in insulin level (6). Another experiment using fenugreek seed mucilage administrated to streptozocin-induced diabetic rats confirmed the antidiabetic properties (7). Trigonelline is known to have some hypoglycaemic effect. However, most attention was given to 4-hydroxyisoleucine. In vitro, it was shown to increase the insulin secretion by isolated Langerhans islets in a dose-dependant manner. It was also shown to induce a biphasic insulin response in isolated perfused rat pancreas. In vivo, it was shown to be effective in type 2 diabetic rats as well as in conscious fasted dogs in improving oral glucose tolerance after oral administration (3). 4-Hydroxyisoleucine has been shown to increase glucose-induced insulin release without interacting with other agonists of insulin secretion such as tolbutamide and glyceraldehydes, thus demonstrating a novel in vitro insulinotropic activity (8). The bio-molecular mechanism is still unclear. However, it was shown that seed powder was able to both increase the glutamate deshydrogenase and decrease that of D-b-hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase in aloxanized rats. Ultrastructures of the rat liver showed a reduction in abnormalities (9). An alcoholic seed extract exerted an anti-cataract in alloxanized diabetic rats (5).

    Hypocholesterolemic activity

    Fenugreek seeds showed some hypocholesterolemic activity. This activity was credited to both the galactomannans and the saponins. Galactomannans decrease the uptake of bile acids, lower blood and liver concentration of cholesterol and decrease hepatic cholesterol synthesis (3). Indeed, the soluble dietary fibre fraction of the seeds significantly decreases the atherogenic lipids in type 2 diabetic rats (6). Saponins were also shown to interact with bile salts in the GIT (3).

    Nutritive activity

    Studies to verify these traditional claims provide somewhat contradictory results. Some studies using fenugreek seeds as food supplement did not alter the food intake of animals (10). When given to type 2 diabetic patients, no significant changes were observed on the food consumption, mean energy intake or body weight. However, the seed extract was reported to increase appetite and food intake in rats. The saponins seem to be responsible for this effect, as a total saponin extract significantly increased appetite and body weight of normal as well as diabetic animals (3).

    Gastroprotective activity

    An aqueous extract and a gel fraction of fenugreek seeds were shown to protect the gastric mucosa as efficiently and more efficiently, respectively than omeprazole in protecting rat from HCl-ethanol-induced gastric ulcers (11).

    Antioxidant activity and chemopreventive activity

    Consumption of an aqueous extract of fenugreek seeds concurrently with ethanol for 60 days reduced liver and brain damage in rats compared with use of alcohol alone. The aqueous extract had an in vitro antioxidant potential in liver cells comparable to vitamin E and glutathione (12). Ethanol-induced lipid peroxidation was prevented to rise in rats by an aqueous extract of fenugreek seeds. Similarly, during 1,2-dimethylhydrazine-induced rat colon carcinogenesis the circulatory lipid peroxidation was decreased and chemoprevention was exerted by adding fenugreek to the diet (13). A water extract of fenugreek seeds showed chemopreventive activity against 7,12-dimethylbenz-(a)-anthracene (DMBA)-induced breast cancer in rats (14). A polyphenolic extract was able to prevent ethanol-induced cytotoxicity and apoptosis in Chang liver cells (15). The same extract was also shown to protect erythrocytes from H2O2-induced oxidative damage (16).

    Antidiabetic activity

    The studies reported the Trigonella foenum-graecum have antidiabetic properties when its combine with sodium orthovanadate. The low dose in vanadate is mixed with fenugreek seed to prevent toxicity and antidiabetic effects are evaluated on membrane-linked functions and antioxidant enzymes in diabetic rat brains. Vanadium salts play a role as mimic of promoting effects of insulin. The previous study has reported diabetes reduced Na+/K+ ATPase activity in brain microsomal membrane. The 21 days after effectiveness treatment of Trigonella and 0.2mg/ml vanadate was restored the reduced activity of Na+/K+ ATP, altered membrane fluidity and increased lipid peroxides. This alternative treatment can be explored further as a means of diabetic control. (39)

    Immunomodulatory activity

    Fenugreek seeds showed some stimulatory effect on immune functions in mice (17).

    Antiobesity activity

    A laboratory animal study found that T. foenum-graecum is useful as antiobesity properties. The result reported that the body weight gain induced by high-fat diet in obese mice was decreased. It also has been elucidated the potential of fenugreek in inhibition of lipid accumulation in the liver without affected tissue weights of the kidney and spleen, where as this process not involve toxicity activity of the extract. The absorption of triglyceride in the intestine also was investigated by a lipid-loading test to indicated reduction of body weight mechanism. The resulted was representing the corn oil administration caused reduction of plasma triglyceride. Also, 4-hydroxyisoleucine has the potential to decrease the plasma triglyceride gain by the same cause without reduce body weight gain induced by a high-fat diet. (38) In other study, the extract of sapogenins in the seeds of fenugreek is used to decrease the level of cholesterol as its potential to increase biliary secretion. (42)


    Fenugreek seeds are considered as essentially non-toxic, either in acute or sub-chronic studies (18), (10). There is a report that links fenugreek (whole plant) with myopathy in ruminants (19).

    Genotoxicity and Mutagenicity Studies

    No genotoxicity found when fenugreek seeds were evaluated by the standard battery of tests recommended by the US FDA for food ingredients (20).

    Clinical Data

    Clinical Trials

    Hypoglycaemic activity

    A study on cyclists showed that a fenugreek extract increases insulin concentration and glycogen resynthesis after exercise (21). Various clinical trials of fenugreek showed improvement in glucose tolerance in healthy volunteers as well as in type 2 and type 1 diabetic patients (22), (3), (23), (24). However, all these studies were considered as methodologically weak and classified as preliminary (25).

    Hypocholesterolemic activity

    A clinical trial on hyperlipidemic non-diabetic patients whom diet was supplemented in defatted fenugreek showed significant reduction of serum total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while HDL cholesterol levels were unchanged (3). In another trial, fenugreek seed powder did not affect the blood profile in healthy subjects, but significantly reduced the total cholesterol and triglyceride without affecting the HDL-cholesterol in patients with coronary artery disease (26). Similar results were obtained with germinated seeds, which are less bitter (27). Long lasting hypo-cholesterolemic activity was also demonstrated in diabetic subjects. Altogether, the methodology of these studies were considered as poor (28), (25).

    Galactogogue activity

    One study involving ten women indicated that fenugreek seeds would increase milk production. However a stronger methodology would be required before this claim could be endorsed.

    Adverse Effects in Human:

    • Minor gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhoea, flatulence) subsidising after few days (3).
    • Allergy after inhalation of the seed powder or topical application of a seed powder paste (29), (30).


    Used in Certain Conditions:

    Pregnancy / Breastfeeding


    • Fenugreek may increase lactation (31).
    • Ingestion of fenugreek by mothers during labour resulted in syrup-like odour in their new born infants, leading to a false suspicion of maple syrup urine disease (MSUD). This is due to the fact that fenugreek, maple syrup and urine of MSUD patients share sotolone as common component (32), (33).


      Age Limitations

      Neonates / Adolescents


      No documentation


      No documentation

      Chronic Disease Conditions

      No documentation


      Interactions with Drugs

      • Potential interaction with antiplatelet/anticoagulant drugs (incl. NSAIDs): the presence of coumarin in fenugreek may theoretically increase the risk of haemorrhage (speculative) (34), (35).
      • Potential interaction with exogenous insulin in diabetic patients who do not adjust insulin dosage: could lead to hypoglycaemia (speculative).
      • Potential interaction with oral hypoglycaemic drugs sulfonylurea, biguanides, or both: could lead to hypoglycaemia (speculative).
      • Potential enhancement of the activity of cholesterol-lowering agents due to additive effects (speculative).

      Interactions with Other Herbs / Herbal Constituents

      Fenugreek seeds extract and garlic extract are less effective in the regulation of hyperthyroidism in rats than administrated independently (36).



      Type 1 and type 2 diabetes (speculative).

      Case Reports:

      Interaction with warfarin

      • A woman stabilized on warfarin developed an elevated INR after several weeks of using a capsule of fenugreek before meals and 10 drops of boldo extract after meals. Her INR returned to the normal range after stopping the herbal products but became elevated again after resuming their use. It may be that warfarin metabolism was reduced or the serum protein bond of warfarin was modified (speculative) (37).


      • An Algerian student using fenugreek as an appetite stimulant and topically as healing agent developed a respiratory allergy. Handling this powder induced rhinitis and asthma. The prick test performed with fenugreek was strongly positive (29).
      • A 36-year-old housewife experienced sneezing, rhinorrhea and excessive tearing after opening a jar containing fenugreek and smelling it for identification. This was followed by persistent coughing, wheezing and fainting. She was admitted to the hospital in a state of shock. The past history revealed allergy to chickpeas and occasional mild asthma. On the day the incident took place she had not consumed chickpeas (30) .
      • A 45-year-old woman with a history of allergic rhinitis and asthma since childhood developed pruritus and dandruff. On advice from a relative she applied fenugreek seed paste on her scalp. Within minutes, she developed nasal congestion and hoarseness. Later, she experienced facial angiodema, wheezing and numbness of the head. She was rushed to the hospital casualty ward (30).

      False maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)

      • A male infant was born at term by normal delivery weighing 3470 g, with Apgar score of 9 and 10 at 1 and 5 min, respectively. Several hours after birth, the nursing staff in the nursery noted a strong smell emanating from the skin and the diaper of the infant. The odour resembles maple syrup, leading the staff to suspect MSUD. Physical examination revealed an alert infant with normal vital signs, normal primitive reflexes and without any abnormal physical signs. All biological analyses yielded normal results. It was subsequently realized that the mother, of Yemenite Jewish origin, had ingested a spicy paste prepared from fenugreek seeds during the early hours of her labour. The same maple syrup-like odour could be detected on the mother’s skin (32).

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          1)  Malaysian Herbal Plants


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        2. Sauvaire, Y., Petit, P., Broca, C., Manteghetti, M., Baissac, Y., Fernandez-Alvarez, J., Gross, R., Roye, M., Leconte, A., Gromis, R., Ribes, G. 4-Hydroxyleucine – a novel amino acid potentiator of insulin secretion . Diabetes. 1998; 47: 206-210
        3. Chemistry and pharmacology of fenugreek, in Herbs, Botanicals and Teas, Mazza, G., Oomah, B.D. eds. 2000, Technomic Publishing Co., Lancaster, USA.
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        39. Siddiqui M. R., et al. Amelioration of altered antioxidant status and membrane linked functions by vanadium and Trigonella in alloxan diabetic rat brains. Jour. Biosci. Sept 2005;4(30):483-490 – siddiqui 2
        40. SatheeshKumar N., Mukherjee P. K., Bhadra S., Saha B. Acetylcholinesterase enzyme inhibitory potential of standardized extract of Trigonella foenumgraecum L and its constituents. Phytomedicine;17:292-295 -2010 Kumar
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