The fenugreek plant is a Mediterranean herb used for spice, cooking, soaps, cosmetics, to improve digestive problems, healing inflammation, and lowering cholesterol. You can buy this plant in capsules that have the ground seeds at most health food stores, but it’s usually not commonly found in your local grocery store. By preparing your garden properly and then planting and caring for your fenugreek plants, you can get a cheap and abundant supply to use whenever you like.
The fenugreek plant is a short ground cover that produces a host of leaves and seeds per plant.
History of the Fenugreek Plant
The fenugreek plant is cultivated worldwide, and both the leaves and seeds are used in cooking. It’s very popular to use in central and south Asian cuisine. You may hear it referred to as methi, and it comes with a maple syrup-like flavor that is popular in spice mixes, pickles, dal, and curry. It is thought that the first cultivation of this plant was in North Africa or East India.
There are archeological remains of desiccated and charred seeds discovered in Iraq that have carbon dating back 6,000 years. In ancient Egypt, the fenugreek plant was used medicinally as well as in cooking to reduce fevers, and it was popular for use in religious ceremonies as incense. It’s been an important component in Indian food for over 3,000 years, and it was used in Ancient Greece and Rome as oxen food, to make yellow dye to color wool, to treat different ailments, and for flavoring wine.
Fenugreek Plant – Quick Overview
|Common Disease(s):||Powdery mildew, charcoal rot, and root rot|
|Companion Planting:||Beans, buckwheat, and cowpeas|
|Exposure:||Full sun to part shade|
|Hardiness Zone(s):||9 to 11|
|Native To:||Near East|
|Planting Depth:||¼ inch for seeds|
|Plant Type:||Annual, herb|
|Season:||Spring to fall|
|Soil pH:||6.5 to 8.2|
|Spacing:||8 to 18 inches|
|Spread:||Five to six inches|
|Time to Mature:||Three to five months|
|Tolerance:||All soil types|
Planting the Fenugreek Plant
In warmer planting zones, the fenugreek seeds can easily be sown all year round. In cooler climates, you should plant your fenugreek seeds indoors in containers during the early spring months and or you can sow them directly outside once the frost risk has passed for the season in mid to late spring. The fenugreek plant has shallow, fibrous roots that won’t establish well if you transplant them, so it’s best to sow them where they’ll grow to harvest. Sow them earlier in the season if you want to grow for seed production as it needs five months for seed pods to develop and get ripe.
Growing the fenugreek plant in containers is great if you want to grow it for the leaves. Seeds can get densely sown at one to two inches apart, and you can harvest the leaves as a cut-and-come-again crop. You’ll get roughly three harvests per plant. Also, since this is a plant with shallow roots, you can grow the fenugreek plant in a wide, shallow planter or in a window box. Purring a pot inside in a well-lit area is an option as they tend to sprout quickly.
Pick a sunny, open spot with a moisture-retentive, well-drained oil. Warmer climates should provide a small amount of afternoon shade from the early summer to late summer to prevent it from wilting. To sow the seeds, you’ll sprinkle them in a container with fresh compost. If you’re growing for seed, thin the seedlings to five inches apart. Spacing can be less if you plant to use the fenugreek plant for the leaves only.
Fenugreek Plant Care
It’s not hard to care for the fenugreek plant if you get the growing conditions correct the first time. The following is a general guideline you want to consider to keep your plant healthy and thriving.
To grow the fenugreek plant, you want soil that you prepared with manure or compost. You shouldn’t need to add any additional fertilizer. This is a nitrogen-fixing plant, so adding more nitrogen in the form of fertilizer can stunt the plant’s growth.
Treat your fenugreek plant as a cut-and-come-again plant if you want to grow it to use the leaves, and you can harvest up to three times per plant. Pruning encourages bushy growth, and it’ll ensure you have even more leaves as the plant matures. If you want to grow the fenugreek plant for seeds, try to avoid harvesting a lot of leaves, but you will want to pinch out the top ⅓ of the mature plant to encourage it to form branches.
Pruning your fenugreek plant will help encourage more leaf growth to use later.
You should sow the fenugreek plant seeds directly into the final growing space in the ground or in containers instead of planning on transplanting them. The shallow root system on this plant doesn’t transplant well. Another option is to sow seeds into coir or peat biodegradable pots inside and plant them outside when the frost risk passes for the season and the average daily temperature hovers around 50°F.
Sow your seeds ¼ inch deep and cover them. You can sow it one to two inches apart if you’re growing it for the leaves and five inches apart if you’re growing it for seeds. Soak the seeds for roughly eight hours before sowing them to speed up the germination process, and this process usually takes between 7 and 10 days. Keep the soil consistently moist until the seedlings emerge and the fenugreek plants start to establish themselves.
For the best results, grow your fenugreek plant in a well-drained, moisture-retentive soil. How fertile your growing medium isn’t really an issue with the fenugreek plant, but like most garden crops, this plant will benefit from having soil amended with well-rotted manure or compost at the start of the growing season, especially if you want to grow them for seed. This plant tolerates poor soil and will improve any soil you plant it in by fixing the nitrogen levels. If possible, grow it in alkaline soil, and the pH range should be between 6.5 and 8.2.
Sun and Temperature
Ideally, the fenugreek plant requires between five and six hours of direct sunlight each day. In warmer climates, this plant benefits from partial shade around mid-day, and it will tolerate afternoon shade very well once you start getting into the hotter summer months. In cooler climates, you want to plant it in full sun. The ideal temperature range for this plant is between 50°F and 90°F, and you can grow it all year-round in zones 9 to 12. It won’t tolerate cold very well, so it’s an annual in colder planting zones.
Water and Humidity
The watering schedule you set up will depend on the climate, so you want to regularly check the ground moisture levels and water if it’s dry. Generally speaking, the top inch or two of soil should be dry to the touch before you water. The roots of this plant are shallow, and they can dehydrate quickly and make the plant wilt. Water them in the morning while directing the water at the soil and avoid getting the foliage wet. Timed soaker hoses can work well for this project.
If you’re in a dry spot, you may need to water more frequently, particularly during the hotter summer weather. This is especially true if you’re growing in containers as they tend to dry out much more rapidly and your fenugreek plant can suffer if you’re not careful. Mulching around your plants can help retain moisture and keep everything cool and hydrated.
Harvesting the Fenugreek Plant
Harvesting your fenugreek plant is a quick process once you allow them to mature, and you can save the leaves frozen for up to a year.
This is a fast-growing annual that produces leaves that are ready within 20 to 30 days of sowing it. You want to trim the leaves very carefully by snipping off the top ⅓ of the mature stems before allowing the rest to continue growing. This will also encourage the plant to branch, and this will boost the seed and flower production later. After cutting, the leaves will regrow in 15 days. You can keep harvesting the leaves several times until the plant starts to flower. When the plant bolts and starts producing seeds, the leaves will turn bitter and tough.
Seed harvesting takes more patience, and you should plan to wait three to five months after you plant the fenugreek plant to harvest them, after the flowers die back and start to turn yellow. The seeds develop inside smaller pods, and each pod has 10 to 20 seeds. Snap the pods off where they meet the stem to gather them, being careful not to tear the pods or the seeds will go everywhere.
Peel the pods open to see the brownish-yellow seeds inside. You can rub the pods between your hands to break them open, or you can put them in a bg and rub them to separate the pods from the seeds. Store them in an airtight container in a dry, cool place. They’ll stay viable for two or three years, and you can use them as a spice for cooking.
Preserving and Storing the Fenugreek Plant
Fresh leaves from the fenugreek plant will last for a week if you keep them on the stalks. You should wrap them in a paper towel and put them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can use the leaves dried or fresh as a herb in tea or cooking. To dry the leaves, have the stems upside down in bundles in a dry, dark location. You can also purchase a dehydrator or use your oven for a few hours on the warm setting.
Once the leaves are thoroughly dried, remove them from the stems and store them in an airtight glass jar in a dark pantry. You can also freeze fresh leaves for up to 10 months. Take the leaves off of the stems, roughly chop them up, wrap them loosely in aluminum foil, and put it into a Ziploc bag in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, remove the foil, give them a quick wash, and they’re ready to go.
If you want to use the seeds as a spice, a lot of people choose to dry roast them to enhance the nutty aroma and flavor. Just roast your fenugreek plant seeds on medium-high heat for one or two minutes, stirring them constantly to prevent scorching. Be careful to not over roast them as this can lead to a very bitter taste. You can grind them to use them in cooking, but this will require extra prep using a mortar and pestle. To grind them, you’ll do the following:
- Soak your seeds overnight in water. Drain them, pat them dry using a paper towel or leave them out to air dry.
- Heat your pan over medium heat, add the seeds, and stir. Roast the seeds until the colors start to deepen.
- Add your seeds to a coffee or spice grinder and crush them into a powder.
- Powdered or dried fenugreek plant seeds will keep for a year if you store them in a dark, cool place in an airtight container.
Drying is the best way to get long-term use out of your leaves or seeds, and seeds can last a few years stored in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.
Benefits of Having the Fenugreek Plant in the Garden
LIke a host of other legumes, the fenugreek plant is a useful crop to help fix nitrogen, and this is a critical nutrient that influences plant growth. Nitrogen-fixing plants have a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria types in the soil that will colonize on the plant roots. In order for the fenugreek plant to fix the nitrogen levels, it needs the bacteria Rhizobium meliloti. This bacteria works to extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a usable form that only plants can take from the soil.
You can dig up the roots and look for pink nodules to see whether or not it’s fixing the nitrogen levels. Plants that fix these levels are able to grow green and lush in low-quality soil, while those that don’t will produce less colorful, smaller foliage. Nitrogen fixers work to improve the soil quality for other plants too. It’s a very useful ground cover for slow-growing crops. It will cover the soil to help build nutrients, stop weeds, and regulate moisture in the soil, like mulch does.
Medicinal Benefits of the Fenugreek Plant
In many traditions, the fenugreek plant has a place. It’s also been the subject of study for how effective it is as a herbal medicine. It has been used for centuries to increase breast milk production in lactating women, and it has higher amounts of the phyto steroid diosgenin. It also has been used to induce labor and ease menstrual pain. The fenugreek plant contains phytoestrogens, and this is a chemical compound that binds to estrogen receptors in the body and mimics the body’s natural estrogen. In males, the fenugreek plant has been used to boost sperm count and testosterone
Research did show that some compounds in the fenugreek plant can reduce glucose absorption in the intestines, delay gastric emptying, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce lipid-binding protein concentrations. This is due to the fact that the herb is very rich in dietary fiber, but you would have to eat a lot to see a marked difference.
Common Pests and Disease
In your everyday garden, the fenugreek plant doesn’t have many problems with diseases and pests. However, there are a few you need to watch out for to ensure you can get rid of them when they first start and save your plants.
Aphids are very small sap-sucking pests that feed on the juices of your fenugreek plant, and this can stunt the growth. Your plant can also get contaminated with honeydew, and this is a substance that the aphids produce. A homemade insecticidal soap can help get rid of them.
Diseases are more common on fenugreek plants if humid or warm conditions. If your plants aren’t doing as well as you’d like, it could be a result of one of the following diseases.
This is a fungus that causes discoloration and cankers to appear on the stems of your plant that can spread upward to cause the leaves to drop and wilt. It thrives during the dry, hot part of the season, and it affects plants that are under heat stress. Adequate weeding and thinning of your fenugreek plants, mulching to retain moisture, incorporating aged manure into the soil before planting, and regular watering during hotter periods will all help keep the stress levels low, and this reduces the risk of charcoal rot.
Mildew is very common on this plant in the later stages of the plant’s life when the foliage dries out and the weather gets warmer. Look for powdery, whtie spots on the upper and lower leaf surfaces, flowers, and stems. An application or two of neem oil can help get rid of it.
Root rot can cause lower leaf yellowing, stunted growth, and leaf wilting. Plants that have root rot will eventually die. If you think that your fenugreek plant has root rot, you want to pull the plant up and look at the roots. Planting it in warm and well-drained soil will reduce the risks of developing it.
The fenugreek plant is a low-maintenance choice for your garden that will produce a lot of leaves to use per plant and a decent amount of seeds. It also is resistant to most pests and diseases, so it’s a great option to add to your garden to give yourself a fresh herb whenever you want it.