Fenugreek is a slender annual herb belonging to the pea family
(Fabaceae). It was used by the ancient Egyptians and is mentioned in
medical writings in their tombs. Historically, the main usage of
fenugreek seeds was medicinal rather than as a labour. The botanical
name trigonella refers to the angular seeds and foenumgraecum translates
as "Greek hay", which explains its use as cattle feeds.
This robust herb has light green leaves, is 30-60 cms tall and produces
slender, beaked pods, 10-15 cm long. Each pod contains 10-20 small hard
yellowish brown seeds, which are smooth and oblong, about 3mm long, each
grooved across one corner, giving them a hooked appearance. In South
Africa it is grown extensively in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh,
Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab.
It is a cold season crop and is fairly tolerant to frost and very low
temperature. The herb is a characteristic ingredient in some curries and
chutneys and the fenugreek extract is used to make imitation maple
syrup. Owing to its high nutritive contents, it is an important
ingredient used in vegetable and dal dishes consumed in South Africa.