Marianne CannonHow to grow and use fenugreek

Today I’m talking with Ian Hemphill from Herbies Spices about a less commonly used spice called fenugreek. Botanically Trigonella foenum-graecum, fenugreek is a legume, which means it’s part of the bean family. The seed’s characteristic bitter flavour is used as an important balance to the sweetness of other spices in Indian and African cooking and its leaves are a delicious cut-and-come-again addition to stir fries and vegetable curries. Fenugreek is a great plant for beginner gardeners and those without much space.

Illustration_Trigonella_foenum-graecum0_cleanFenugreek is native to the western part of Asia through to the Mediterranean. Although you can grow fenugreek from seed, if you try and germinate seed from a spice packet you’re unlikely to have much success, as these seeds have been selected for flavour, not seed germination viability and they may have also been treated to remove surface bacteria. Many Indian grocery shops sell fresh fenugreek seeds which is also called ‘methi’. In Arab countries and Israel it’s called halbah/helbah.

Soak the seeds in water overnight and then sow in pots by scattering them over the surface and covering them with a thin 0.5cm (1/4 inch) layer of potting soil. You can plant from spring through to early autumn/fall) but if you’re in a frosty area, wait until after the last frost. Seed germinates quite quickly in 2-7 days and looks a bit like clover when it’s small.

Seedling fenugreek/methi Photo by yak

Seedling fenugreek/methi Photo by yak

The fenugreek will grow into an annual bushy plant about 60cm (2ft) tall. The leaves are soft, have three lobes. Fenugreek prefers a well-drained slightly acid to neutral soil and grows best in full sun. It grows in most climate zones during summer, however in hotter areas, grow fenugreek for its leaves during the cooler months (like coriander/cilantro), otherwise it will bolt quickly to seed and the leaves will also become bitter after hot days.

As fenugreek is a legume, it doesn’t need rich soil and you can also use it as a green manure crop to add nitrogen to the soil, by turning the plants back into the soil after you’ve harvested the seed pods.

Fenugreek microgreens, or methi

Fenugreek microgreens, or methi via Flickr

Methi parantha with stuffed paneer. Photo by Gayatri Krishnamoorthy

Methi parantha with stuffed paneer. Photo by Gayatri Krishnamoorthy

Within about 3-4 weeks the seedlings are 140mm (6 inches) high and this is when you can harvest them as fenugreek microgreens or sprouts, by either cutting them or pulling them out by the roots. If you cut them, they will grow back more thickly. Use your fenugreek greens in salads, stir fries, boiled up into soup with other vegetables and spices or in spicy methi paratha (Indian fenugreek-leaf pancakes). The leaves are not usually bitter like the seeds.

Dried methi/fenugreek leaves

Dried methi/fenugreek leaves

You can also dry the harvested leaves.

You can also sow seeds into a sunny spot in the garden to grow into full-sized plants for their seeds. Watch out for crickets, snails and slugs which love to chomp on the leaves when they’re small. Keep it well watered on hot days and use a half strength fertiliser once a week to get it growing strongly.

The plant looks a bit like tall clover and the leaves are quite aromatic – on warm days they smell like maple syrup. By mid-late summer they will produce white-yellow pea flowers and then develop long, narrow bean-like pods (3cm long x 3mm wide) with the fenugreek seeds inside. The seeds are very hard and have pyramidal shape.

Remove the seeds from the pods and store them in a dry, dark place.

Fenugreek seedsUsing fenugreek

1. Dry roast fenugreek seeds in an open frypan but be very careful not to over-roast them as you will make them so bitter it’s inedible. remove them from the heat as soon as you notice a roasting aroma. Grind the seed into powder with a mortar and pestle before adding during cooking. But don’t forget to save some unroasted seeds for your next crop!

2. Very surprisingly, an extract of fenugreek is used as flavouring of substitute in artificial maple syrup. Open a jar of fenugreek and smell the aroma! To make a maple syrup substitute, soak a quarter cup of fenugreek seeds in 1 cup of water for several hours. Then boil the water and stir in quarter cup of honey.

Fenugreek leaves with potato. Photo by rovingl

Fenugreek leaves with potato. Photo by rovingl

3. Quick pea curry – use fresh green peas and cook them up with a small amount of curry powder and a handful of dried or fresh fenugreek leaves, or add them to fried potato (aloo methi).

4. Use your ground fenugreek seeds in a wide variety of Indian and northern African recipes, like this delicious Ethiopian Vegetable Bowl.

5. Fenugreek tea, made from an infusion of the seeds, is supposed to be good for the blood and eating fenugreek reputedly has many other health benefits.

[Get lots more info from Ian by listening to the podcast!]

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Marianne Cannon

About Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon has been broadcasting as Real World Gardener on radio 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney, since September 2009, and the program is now syndicated to radio stations around Australia. It's about growing your own, the abc of plants, and how to create sustainable gardens to fit into today's environment. Not just a show about plants; it has a strong green and ecological bent, with co-presenters addressing issues such as native animals and plants, water conservation, composting, reducing waste, protecting native species and more.

4 thoughts on “How to grow and use fenugreek

  1. Carole Little on said:

    Would love to know where to buy fenugreek and turmeric seeds to plant. Love growing my own herbs.

  2. Hello Carole,

    Fenugreek seeds can be purchased from http://www.diggers.com.au You don’t have to be a member to buy seeds from them.
    They’re also available from http://www.greenharvest.com.au and New Gippsland Seeds and Bulbs http://www.newgipps.com.au
    Turmeric is grown from a rhizome and I have also bought it from Diggers Seeds, but doesn’t seem to be available from them at the moment.
    Recently I bought some Turmeric tubers from a local Organic Fruit and Veg market and put them in a paper bag to sprout, which they have.
    I will be planting them out soon.

    regards
    Marianne

    • Carole Little on said:

      Thank you so much for your feedback. I have also planted a rhizome of turmeric recently ,but no luck so far ,so i will defInitely put some in a paper bag.
      Am trying to grow some fenugreek seeds for cooking,which I bought from a loose product store.
      If this doesn’t work ,I will send for some from the contacts you have given me.
      MANY THANKS CAROLE

  3. Joey on said:

    I also planted some of the seeds i purchased from the store that I grow indoors for sprouts and fenugreek water, that worked!

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