Fenugreek is an ancient herb with uses dating back to our earliest knowledge of human medicine – regularly centering around women’s health. Today, we use fenugreek to support lactation, carrying on the tradition of herbalists and medicine makers who came before us.
An annual legume that was once known as “Greek hay,” fenugreek is a Mediterranean plant. Today, it is cultivated as broadly as Turkey, India, and China. The plants grow thick and rich, full of small rounded leaves that could easily be mistaken for clover. It’s a beautiful plant to grow that would do well as a ground cover or to fill a beautiful pot with all of its greenery.
When fenugreek is used for medicine, the seeds are harvested and prepared for anything from topical preparations to ingestion to tinctures. The leaves are not used medicinally, so when fenugreek is mentioned, it’s understood that the seeds are being used.
History of Fenugreek Use
One of our earliest documentations of medicine is in the Ebers papyri, an Egyptian document dating back to around 1500 BCE. In those papers, fenugreek was noted as a remedy used to induce labor. While it’s not what we use it for today, it’s interesting to see the spread and cycle of fenugreek uses around the world.
Fenugreek eventually traveled east, where it appeared in Traditional Chinese Medicine documents for issues related to abdominal pain and swelling. Later, it made it all the way around the world to the US, where we used it for hormonal imbalance and as a galactagoguge (increasing milk supply).
Today, fenugreek is listed as a substance “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS) by the FDA and not only used medicinally but also used in food production as flavoring. The German Commission E – an organization that maintains herbal monographs based on both safety and efficacy evidence – has approved it for loss of appetite as well as for topical concerns while recognizing safety during lactation.
Fenugreek for Lactation
The history of fenugreek use seems to consistently correlate to potentially hormonal conditions, which could explain its apparent benefits for lactation. While there are no studies confirming its use as a galactagogue, its safety and longstanding use for milk supply make convincing arguments. Until researchers catch up and are able to identify exactly what part of fenugreek seems to help so many moms increase their supply, we will continue the tradition of using this ancient food as medicine.
With that said, it’s important to remember that low milk supply has many causes, and these should be identified and addressed any time you are concerned about your supply. The beauty of herbal medicine is that it’s about establishing proactive efforts rather than a reflexive response; we don’t expect to just take a fenugreek pill and make it all better.
That’s why I suggest a gentle, regular dose of fenugreek in Nursing Nectar tea or a more concentrated effort in Let There Be Milk. This helps to feed and nourish your body while supporting an ongoing, adequate milk supply, with the ability to increase efforts if needed.
By utilizing food-as-medicine doses of herbs, we work with the natural rhythm that our bodies expect to have. These healthy habits can avoid the need for more intensive doses, or they can familiarize us with herbs when the time comes that we need to use them in truly medicinal ways.
Caution: Because fenugreek is part of the legume family, anyone with peanut allergies or allergies to any kind of legume should avoid it. Diabetics should also take caution, as fenugreek has been shown to drop blood sugar levels and could trigger hypoglycemia.
Birth Song Products That Use Fenugreek:
Sources & Further Reading: