Fenugreek tea is an herbal tea made from the crushed seeds of the fenugreek plant, formally called Trigonella foenum-graecum. Fenugreek leaves and seeds have been common cooking ingredients for centuries, traditionally in spice mixtures and curries. Herbalists and holistic medicine practitioners also use the seeds to make a medicinal tea. They believe the tea may help digestive functions, reduce cholesterol, lower blood sugar, and increase milk production in lactating mothers.
The fenugreek plant is a native of Southeastern Europe and Asia, but is now cultivated worldwide. The plant produces little white or yellow flowers that grow long pods that look like beans. These pods contain up to 20 seeds each.
One of the most common uses for fenugreek tea is to help increase milk production. Some research indicates that consuming fenugreek can increase a mother's milk supply in as little as 24 hours, and that milk supply level can remain even after the herb is discontinued. Scientists are not sure how this process works. Some believe fenugreek stimulates sweat production, which also stimulates milk production; others believe that certain phytochemicals in fenugreek, called saponins, are estrogen precursors.
Whole fenugreek seed is extremely fibrous and difficult to digest; for this reason, it has traditionally been used as a laxative. The tea doesn't contain the whole seeds, but it still contains traces of the water-soluble fiber, mucilage. This aids digestion by slowing down the digestive process and allowing nutrients to be absorbed more fully. Slower digestion also means slower absorption of sugar, which may be beneficial to diabetics. Some inconclusive research has been performed on fenugreek's ability to lower LDL cholesterol, particularly in diabetic users.
Fenugreek tea is weaker than whole fenugreek seeds and thus less likely to produce strong side effects. Some common side effects can include diarrhea, gas, or bloating. It also may cause skin, sweat, or urine to smell like maple syrup. The tea can also have a strong, unpleasant taste.
Fenugreek tea can occasionally cause facial swelling or hives, or aggravate asthmatic symptoms. The tea may lower blood sugar, so diabetics should carefully monitor their blood sugar levels and discuss fenugreek tea use with their physician. Being part of the pea family, fenugreek should generally be avoided by people who are allergic to peanuts, soybeans, or peas.