For menopause, there are many popular Western herbs, such as wild yam, black cohosh and red clover. Plus, there are Eastern and Ayurvedic herbs for menopause – such as Ashwagandha and Shatavari. Honestly, the list of herbs suitable for use during menopause can go on and on…
Throughout history, different herbs for menopause have been popularised by a generation or a culture.
And today, I wanted to talk with you about a herb that is currently considered a not-so-popular herb, and that is fenugreek.
Now you might be wondering why we need another herb. Is it new? Is there something that has just been discovered?
The thing with fashion and herbs is that we have a modern fixation on herbs and supplements that will give us overnight results. But with all fashions and trends, it all comes in cycles.
Herbs that have been used for centuries and are readily available can be overlooked when seeking health support from our botanical friends. These herbs have a long history of empirical evidence showing their effectiveness for different health concerns.
This differs from evidence-based phytotherapy, the modern version of herbal medicine, which relies on research papers documenting evidence based on results from rodent or human studies.
And although there will not be some magical herb that will resolve all of your menopausal sensations overnight. There often can be an accumulative effect with all the little things you do daily; these can contribute to your long-term health.
So where does fenugreek fit into all of this?
Well, fenugreek is a remarkable herb; it is a medicinal herb used by Herbalists such as myself for many generations. Fenugreek is also a culinary herb, used predominantly in Indian cooking, but fenugreek can also be used as a food, as in functional or nutritional food.
The versatility and availability of fenugreek make it a readily accessible herb that can be used preventatively as a nutritious food or symptomatically as a medicinal herb.
The fact that this herb is readily available as a whole, dried seed makes it more user-friendly for women wanting to take more control of their health.
A Brief History of Fenugreek in Herbal Medicine
The botanical name for fenugreek is Trigonella foenum-graecum. The first part of its name, Trigonella, means three angled and refers to the ring of petals around the central part of the flower, or the corolla. Then foenum-graecum comes from the Greek term meaning Greek Hay. Back in the day, when farmers had inferior hay, they would use fenugreek as an additive to encourage livestock to consume the lesser quality hay. I’m guessing the fenugreek served to make the hay more palatable for the livestock.
The seeds of fenugreek have been used medicinally and as a culinary herb through the ages and were held in high repute by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
Fenugreek is indigenous to countries on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and is cultivated in India, Africa, Egypt and Morocco.
Frequently used in Ayurvedic herbal medicine and referred to as Methika. Fenugreek has a long history of use in India and contributes to the distinctive fragrant aspect of a traditional made Indian curry powder.
The constituents in Fenugreek
Best known for its mucilage, fenugreek is beneficial for the mucous membranes and supports the digestive system and respiratory tract. Mucilage is the gelatinous solution some plants produce, often in contact with water. This component in fenugreek seeds is attributed to the historical use of fenugreek for digestive complaints.
Phytoestrogens are compounds that are found within certain plants, especially seeds and beans, that have the potential to modulate oestrogen levels in the body. Fenugreek seeds contain isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen also found in soy and other legumes – known for their effect on oestrogen receptors.
Fenugreek seeds also contain steroidal saponins, including diosgenin. Much modern research has discovered that the steroidal saponins contained in herbs such as fenugreek have a beneficial effect on lowering cholesterol ¹. Steroidal saponin compounds are also beneficial for reducing inflammation and regulating blood sugar levels. Making fenugreek a potential superfood for the modern triad of high cholesterol, high blood sugars and inflammation ³.
The difference between a medicinal herb and a nutritional food can sometimes be a little hazy, and fenugreek is also considered a food because of its high nutrient profile.
Fenugreek seeds are one of the few plant sources of vitamins A and D, making them uniquely beneficial for health conditions associated with these vitamin deficiencies. Both vitamins A and D benefit mucous membrane function – digestive and respiratory systems. Fenugreek is also rich in choline and lecithin, which are nutrients that are beneficial for managing cholesterol levels. Plus, fenugreek seeds also contain natural oils, which are said to be structurally similar to cod liver oil, making it an excellent immune remedy and lung tonic in winter.
And if these constituents in fenugreek aren’t quite enough, we can also include flavonoids in this list. Flavonoids are commonly found in plants, so it’s no surprise that fenugreek contains some; fenugreek contains a trifecta of luteolin, quercetin and vitexin. Just as a quick bit of info on these three flavonoids are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities and are beneficial for health and wellbeing during the menopausal transition ⁴ ⁵.
These medicinal and nutritional compounds in fenugreek seeds make it a powerhouse of well-being for women heading into their wise woman years.
The Medicinal Uses of Fenugreek during Menopause
Fenugreek for Vaginal Dryness
The demulcent and soothing qualities of fenugreek are derived from the mucilage component of the seed. This component gives rise to the suggestion that fenugreek can be helpful for vaginal dryness ². While many studies show the effect through direct topical application of fenugreek to the tissues, herbs and foods with mucilage are known to generate a reflexive action^ on similar tissues throughout the body.
However, this is not the only compound in fenugreek seeds that hint at its value for women during their menopausal transition. The phytoestrogen content in fenugreek ranks highly as a beneficial nutrient for menopause. The key to phytoestrogens is that they serve to modulate oestrogen levels in the body. And with perimenopause, women can experience fluctuations in oestrogen levels, particularly in the earlier stages of their transition.
Vaginal dryness is often associated with these lower oestrogen levels, particularly after menopause, and the phytoestrogen compounds in fenugreek are purported to help balance oestrogen supplies. This, combined with the demulcent properties of fenugreek seeds, gives fenugreek so much potential for supporting hormone health and preventing vaginal dryness during menopause.
To read more about phytoestrogens, visit our blog post: “What are phytoestrogens and how do they affect hormones during menopause”.
Fenugreek for Blood Sugar Regulation
One of the many changes that occur with hormones during perimenopause is related to blood sugar regulation. Many women will notice that their metabolism changes as they enter their perimenopausal years and tend to put on weight much more rapidly.
When many women hit midlife, things can catch up with them; I’m referring to poor dietary habits or overeating processed or high-sugar foods. And for some women, type II diabetes can present itself about the time of menopause.
How does this relate to Fenugreek, then? Fenugreek is shown to have hypoglycaemic qualities – it helps to reduce blood sugar levels in situations with higher blood glucose levels. As mentioned above, research on the steroidal saponins in fenugreek has shown beneficial effects on blood sugar regulation, especially when combined with healthy dietary changes.
Fenugreek for Hot Flushes
Not always the first herb I would reach for when a woman is experiencing hot flushes during her menopausal transition. But fenugreek is a surprisingly effective herb for regulating oestrogen levels, and some studies have reviewed the use of fenugreek for treating hot flushes ⁶.
Most of the modern documentation on the use of fenugreek during menopause, specifically for hot flushes, refers to the oestrogen-modulating action of the phytoestrogens in fenugreek. While this is undoubtedly the case, I would consider the overall benefits of this herb’s digestive healing and antiinflammatory effects as equal contributors to the menopause symptom-relieving effects of fenugreek.
How to Use Fenugreek During Menopause
Fenugreek seeds are one of the easiest herbs to include in your meals to help with overall health and menopause transition. While you won’t have to race out to buy a tablet with fenugreek in it, you might need to scour your local health food store or Oriental food store for some seeds.
Traditionally fenugreek would be mixed with hot water and made into a paste to consume or apply directly to the skin. As mentioned earlier, fenugreek is often used in Indian curries, and if you make your food from scratch, you can include fresh fenugreek seeds with your Indian-style curries.
However, if hot flushes and the thought of a spicy Indian curry with fenugreek doesn’t sound like your thing, there are other ways to include fenugreek in your meals.
My favourite and one of the most versatile ways to include fenugreek is to germinate the seeds into sprouts. Just as you would sprout alfalfa seeds or mung beans, fenugreek sprouts are an excellent addition to your salads, wraps, stir-fries, or sprinkled over your steamed vegetables. The germination or sprouting process is said to inactivate some of the natural inhibitors in the seed to allow for the bioavailability of more nutrients when consumed.
Another way to include this herb in your diet is with a fenugreek infusion. It’s quick, easy to make, and handy if you want a hot drink for the cooler months. You can add a little honey or sweetener to your infusion to make it palatable.
And, of course, there are other sneaky ways to include fenugreek seeds with your meals; I will often add a teaspoon of seeds to grains before I cook them up. So I’ll add fenugreek seeds to brown rice or millet, and the seeds will swell and cook with the grain. It’s a tasty way to improve the flavour of your meals and experiment with different ways of including fenugreek in your cooking.
*As with all herbs, certain people should not use fenugreek: women who are pregnant should not use fenugreek, especially in excess, and those with diagnosed coeliac, diabetes or low thyroid activity should consult their herbalist or health practitioner before embarking on a fenugreek feeding frenzy.
If you have any comments or questions about using fenugreek as a medicinal herb during menopause, please let me know.
Herbalist and Naturopath Leonie is the Natural Menopause Mentor and creator of the Sundala Signature range of products. With a passion for women’s health, menopause and a down-to-earth approach, Leonie guides her clients through health challenges to help them reach optimum vitality.
The information provided in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking action based on this article. While the author uses their best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises regarding the information’s accuracy, reliability or completeness. If you rely on any information in this article, you do so at your own risk.
^ When a substance stimulates an action in one part of the body and a corresponding action occurs in another area, derived from the same cellular origins, e.g. mucous membranes in the digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts.
¹ Steroid saponins from fenugreek seeds: extraction, purification, and pharmacological investigation on feeding behavior and plasma cholesterol, 1995 Oct;60(10):674-80. doi: 10.1016/0039-128x(95)00090-d. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8539775/
² Potential role of fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum) in the prevention of skin aging J Med Sci, Volume 53, Number 1, 2021 January: 78-86 https://jurnal.ugm.ac.id/bik/article/download/51779/pdf
³ Jesus, M., J. Martins, A. P., Gallardo, E., & Silvestre, S. (2016). Diosgenin: Recent Highlights on Pharmacology and Analytical Methodology. Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/4156293
⁴ Wattel, A., Kamel, S., Mentaverri, R., Lorget, F., Prouillet, C., Petit, J., Fardelonne, P., & Brazier, M. (2003). Potent inhibitory effect of naturally occurring flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol on in vitro osteoclastic bone resorption. Biochemical Pharmacology, 65(1), 35-42. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-2952(02)01445-4
⁵ Luteolin prevents monoiodoacetate-induced osteoarthritis in post-menopausal rats via protection of the cartilage, https://www.ajol.info/index.php/tjpr/article/view/217681
⁶ Hakimi S, Mohammad Alizadeh S, Delazar A, Abbasalizadeh F, Bamdad Mogaddam R, Siiahi M et al . Probable Effects of Fenugreek Seed on Hot Flash in Menopausal Women. J. Med. Plants 2006; 5 (19) :9-14, http://jmp.ir/article-1-658-en.html