Fenugreek, also known as methi, is an annual legume native to the Mediterranean region. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary uses and today is best known for its seed, a common culinary spice. Fenugreek plants grow to a height of about 2′ and produce yellow or white flowers from which grow long, narrow, yellow seedpods. Plants can release a smell that has been described as similar to maple syrup. Two main forms are found, one with larger seeds and leaves and white flowers and another with smaller leaves and yellow flowers. Leaves are three-lobed and resemble clover.
Seed Depth: 1/8–1/4″
Space Between Plants: 5–6″
Space Between Rows: 10–12″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–70°F
Days for Germination: 5–8
Sow Indoors: 4–6 weeks before last frost date. Because fenugreek does not like to be transplanted, we recommend using biodegradable pots.
Sow Outdoors: In spring after danger of frost has passed.
Vegetative: Fenugreek is not propagated vegetatively.
Fenugreek is a warm season annual and will not survive frosts. The greatest quantities of fenugreek are grown in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where summer high temperatures are commonly between 85 and 100°F . If you grow it in the spring and fall, it will have a milder taste, only developing its full aroma and characteristic strong, bitter flavor in hot weather.
Natural: Prefers full sun to partial afternoon shade.
Artificial: Microgreens are commonly grown under fluorescent or LED lamps.
Soil: Prefers a fertile soil that drains well. Cold and wet soils will cause seeds to rot, so wait until soil temperature has warmed in the spring to start your plants. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished. As a legume, fenugreek will fix nitrogen from the air if rhizobia are present. If your plants are not fixing nitrogen, they will require a higher fertility soil. Amend soil with compost prior to planting.
Soilless: Soilless media pads are available for growing sprouts and microgreens.
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic and aquaponic systems including media beds.
Aeroponics: Sprouts and microgreens will thrive in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate watering. Keep seeds consistently moist prior to germination for best results.
Nutrients: Fenugreek requires low to moderate nutrient levels, depending on whether plants are fixing nitrogen. To check, carefully dig up a plant and look for small pink-colored nodules on the roots; if present, your plants are fixing nitrogen. Poor nutrient levels will affect the taste of your crop. If your soil is low in phosphorus, adding a phosphate-rich fertilizer will boost plant yield.
Foliar: Foliar sprays of compost tea will provide nutrients to plants.
Pruning: No pruning is necessary for fenugreek. However, at the end of the season, it is best to remove only the aboveground portions of the plants, leaving the roots to decay and release their nitrogen back into the soil.
Pest(s): Fenugreek will rarely have problems with pests when grown in home gardens. It actually has pesticidal properties, and extracts and preparations made from fenugreek leaves and seeds are known to deter slugs and snails and will keep beetles out of stored food grains.
Deficiency(s): If your plants are not fixing nitrogen, they will be more susceptible to deficiency. Symptoms include pale and small leaves. You can inoculate your soils with the correct bacteria to allow for nitrogen fixation.
Rotation: Plant fenugreek following heavy nitrogen consumers in order to replenish the soil.
Companions: Grows well with buckwheat, bush beans, and crowder peas.
Harvest: Harvest fenugreek leaves before the plant blooms. You can harvest about 1/4 of the leaves without damaging the plant. Generally, an entire stem will be cut near the base of the plant about six weeks after sowing. Eat nourishing sprouts at any time from germination until they reach about 1–1.5″ in length. These microgreens can be quite strong and bitter in flavor. Harvest seeds once seedpods are mature and ripe. Seedpods will begin to form after flowering. When ripe, they will turn a golden color and begin to dry out. Seeds ripen over a period of several weeks, making harvest more of a challenge. The majority should be ripe in early to mid fall and can be picked from the plant when mostly dry but before the pods begin to open. Allow to dry completely in the sun.
Storage: Fresh fenugreek leaves can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. It is best to consume as soon as possible after harvest. Store fully dried seeds in an airtight container somewhere with low humidity and away from bright light. Whole seeds will retain their flavor for longer than ground ones.
As a fast growing nitrogen fixer, fenugreek can be grown as a cover crop and tilled in to improve your soil fertility.
Preserve: Seeds are used in pickling as a flavoring agent. Leaves and sprouts can be dehydrated or frozen.
Prepare: Usually used as a culinary herb (fresh or dried leaves) and/or spice (dried seeds). Fresh leaves, sprouts, and microgreens can also be eaten as a cooked vegetable or added to salad. Seeds are the most well-known product of the fenugreek plant, sold either ground or whole. Seeds can be eaten whole but are more commonly used as a spice in the preparations of pickles, Indian daals, curries, and chutneys. Roasted seeds have a less bitter flavor. Seeds can also be used to make tea. Middle Eastern cultures will sometimes incorporate fenugreek seeds into sweets and cakes.
Nutritional: Leaves contain 49 calories per 100g. They are also a good source of protein, lecithin, vitamin(s) A, B, D, iron, and calcium.
Medicinal: Seeds are the most commonly used medicinal agents. Fenugreek is considered to be an antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial tonic, expectorant, demulcent, and hypotensive. It can be useful as an herbal medicine in the treatment of diabetes. It has been used to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, to treat constipation, diarrhea, asthma, arthritis or joint pain, inflammation, swelling, loss of appetite, hair loss, and tinnitus, to increase lactation, and to relieve symptoms of menopause. It can also be used as a sexual stimulant, possibly because it increases circulation. Seed extracts are being investigated for potential anti-cancer properties. Leaf extracts have been used to cure head lice infections. Fenugreek is also high in antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Warnings: Seeds contain saponins, which can be poisonous if consumed in high quantities. Avoid taking fenugreek if you are pregnant.
Check out this Indian Carrot Methi Pachadi recipe made with fresh fenugreek leaves.