Livestock Research for Rural Development 27 (11) 2015 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.): A phytochemically-rich chemurgic plant with agronomic, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical potential

S K Basu

UFL, Lethbridge, AB Canada


Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) is an old world annual, legume forage crop and grows under rainfed conditions of agro-climatic regions with dry climatic areas, long summer and high average annual temperature. It is also a well known spice herb from the Indian subcontinent and a well known medicinal plant due to the presence of a number of important phytochemicals like galactomamnan, disogenin and 4-hydroxyisoleucine. Hence, the plant has been found to be important for the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and functional food industries.  It is a phytochemically-rich chemurgic plant with potential agronomic, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical properties.

Key words: forage, herb, legume, medicinal, nutrition, phytochemicals, spice


Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) is an annual, legume forage crop that is grown in the Mediterranean Europe, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent, China, Australia, parts of West Asia, Russia, Canada and the US. India is the largest global producer of fenugreek seed; however, major part of the produce is consumed within the boundaries of the nation. The high demand for fenugreek seed in Central, South, South East and West Asia, North Africa, Europe and the Americas has been due to the fact that fenugreek is a well known traditional spice herb and is one of the principal ingredients of the globally celebrated Indian curry powders for its unique flavor or aroma and characteristic taste.

Fenugreek is a well known, traditional forage crop and usually grows under rainfed conditions of agro-climatic regions with dry climatic areas with long summer and higher average annual temperature (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A. Fenugreek seed; B. Germinating sprouts; C. Seedlings, D. Close up of the plant showing characteristic papilionaceous flowers
and pods under field conditions; E. Fenugreek plant under greenhouse conditions; F. Single leaflet; G. Scanning Electron
Micrograph (SEM) of the dorsal (upper) leaf surface; H. Cattle grazing on forage fenugreek. (Photo: S K Basu)

Loamy soil with slightly alkaline nature (pH of 8-8.5) is suitable for the cultivation of the crop. However, the crop shows strong Genotype X Environment interaction or fluctuations in seed and forage production under different climatic regimes. Hence for optimal performance of the crop it is suggested to be developed as locally adapted cultivar. The crop has potential to be grown in different continents of Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America with similar agro-climatic conditions suitable for the production of the crop. Different species of fenugreek have been reported across the globe; however, the species Trigonella feonum-graecum L. is the most commercially well known and successful species. Several cultivars of fenugreek with different agronomic, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical traits are also available in fenugreek producing regions and countries (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Fenugreek crop. (Photo: S K Basu)

The fenugreek seed due to similar flavor to maple syrup is also used extensively in the artificial preparation of maple syrup and hence fetches high economic returns as an important chemurgic crop (crop generating industrial products). The fenugreek gum is used as a food emulsifier and ice cream stabilizer. The plant is a very rich source of different steroidal sapogenins and hence used in the manufacture of several synthetic drugs like sex steroids. However, the most significant aspect of this elixir plant/crop is numerous pharmaceutical (medicinal drugs) and nutraceutical (food source with medicinal and nutritional value) properties attributed to it. Fenugreek seed is being experimented in several western nations for investigating its potential use as a functional food (modified food with claims for providing medicinal, nutritional and health benefits). Fenugreek has been reported to be an important medicinal plant in traditional medicinal practices of Indian Ayurveda as well as in the ancient medicinal practices of Tibet and China. The seed and leaves of the plant are extensively used in traditional medicinal practices in the Indian subcontinent, West Asia, North Africa, China and Tibet till date. Fenugreek has been slowly introduced in the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and functional food industries of India, China, Japan, West Europe, the US and Canada. The plant is globally known for its excellent role in the treatment of diabetes and also for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia.

Fenugreek seed and leaves are excellent sources of different phytochemicals (plant based chemicals) with a number of medicinal and nutraceutical properties such as complex carbohydrates like galactomannans, different streroidal sapogenins such as diosgenin, yamogenin, tigogenin, gitogenins; triterpenoids; alkaloids such as trigonelline, fenugreekine; flavonoids usch as quercetin and atroside; and spirostanol saponins (eg: Graecunin B, C, D, E, G); and amino acids such as 4-hydroxyisoleucine. The three most important phytochemicals present in fenugreek seed and leaves are Galactomanans, diosgenin and 4-hydroxyisoleucine. Galactomanans and amino acids in the seed plays important role in reducing elevated levels of blood sugars in both experimental animals and human subjects across the globe; and hence has been found to be effective in reducing blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels. The steroidal sapogenins are responsible for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia. It has been also reported to have anti inflammatory, anti cancer, anti pyretic, anti microbial and anti diarrheal properties and also act as a rich anti-oxidant capable of scavenging radicals and preventing lipid peroxidation.

Fenugreek leaf extracts have also been used to cure human head lice infection and dried leaves have been found to be effective in controlling stored grain pests in the granaries due to its insect repellant properties. Fenugreek seed is an important galactogogue (substance promoting lactation in both animals and humans) and has been used for centuries in the Indian subcontinent for milk letdown in dairy animals and lactating women as a traditional treatment for increasing lactation.

Suggested reading

Acharya S N, Acharya K, Paul S and Basu S K 2011 Variation in the antioxidant and anti-leukemic properties among different Western Canada grown fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) genotypes. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 91 (1): 99-105.

Acharya S N, Basu S K, Datta Banik S and Prasad R 2010 Genotype X environment interactions and its impact on use of medicinal plants. The Open Nutraceutical Journal. 3: 47-54.

Acharya S N, Thomas J E and Basu S K 2006 Fenugreek: an “old world” crop for the “new world”. Biodiversity. 7(3&4): 27-30.

Acharya S N, Thomas J E and Basu S K 2008 Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) an alternative crop for semiarid regions of North America. Crop Science. 48: 841-853.

Basu A, Basu S K, Kumar A, Sharma M, Chalghoumi R et al 2014 Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.), a potential new crop for Latin America. American Journal of Social Issues and Humanity. 4(3): 148-162.

Basu S K and Prasad R 2011 Trends in new technological approaches for forage improvement. Australian Journal of Agricultural Engineering. 2(6): 176-185.

Basu S K, Acharya S N and Thomas J E 2008 Genetic improvement of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) through EMS induced mutation breeding for higher seed yield under prairie conditions of western Canada. Euphytica.160:249-258.

Basu S K, Acharya S N and Thomas J E 2006 A report on powdery mildew infestations caused by Erysiphe polygoni D.C. in North America grown fenugreek. Journal of Mycopathological Research 44(2):253-256.

Basu S K, Acharya S N and Thomas J E 2008 Application of phosphate fertilizer and harvest management for improving fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) seed and forage yield in a dark brown soil zone of Canada. KMITL Science and Technology Journal. 8(1):1-7.

Basu S K, Acharya S N, Bandara M S, Friebel D and Thomas J E 2009 Effects of genotype and environment on seed and forage yield in fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) grown in western Canada. Australian Journal of Crop Science. 3(6): 305-314.

Basu S K, Acharya S N, Cárcamo H A and Thomas J E 2006 Study on the potential insect pests of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) in North America with particular emphasis on the western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis Pergande) in the greenhouse and plant bugs (Lygus and Adelphocoris, Miridae, Hemiptera) in the field. Journal Environment and Sociobiology. 3(1):1-7.

Basu S K, Thomas J E and Acharya S N 2007 Prospects for growth in global nutraceutical and functional food markets: a Canadian perspective. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Science 1(4):637-649.

Chakraborty N, Chatterjee S, Basu S K and Acharya K 2014 Fungal diseases of fenugreek. American Journal of Social Issues and Humanity. Fenugreek Special Issue (March/April): 171-185.

Solorio-Sánchez F, Solorio-Sánchez B, Basu S K, Casanova-Lugo F et al 2014 Opportunities to grow annual forage legume fenugreek (Trigonella fornum-graecum L.) under Mexican silvopastoral system. American Journal of Social Issues and Humanity. Fenugreek Special Issue (March/April): 86-95.

Received 9 October 2015; Accepted 13 October 2015; Published 1 November 2015

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