Fenugreek

(Trigonella ornithopodioides) The conspicuous hornlike pod containing the seed, which provides the spice, gave the plant its Greek name Keratitis (keras means horn). The seed has been used in a number of different ways. It is one of the chief ingredients of Kuphi, the Egyptian embalming and incense oil (Sanecki), and a Nubian people, the Keruz, used to prepare a ritual drink on the birth of a child. One of the ingredients was fenugreek, which was said to relieve pain, as well as providing nourishment (Callender & El Guindi). The raw seeds smell good but their taste is disagreeable until they are cooked, and then they have many traditional uses, as in the preparation of hot mango pickle and green mango chutney, as well as in curries (Clair).

Fenugreek has been traditionally used to treat catarrh (Schauenberg & Paris), but the fact that the seeds contain a great deal of mucilage in their outer coating make them useful in other ways. They are, for example, cooked in water into a paste or porridge, which is used as a hot compress on boils, abscesses and the like (Fluck), or for mastitis (Van Andel). It is also prescribed with anise to treat lactation difficulties, as a tea made with the seeds of both plants (W A R Thomson. 1928). The thick paste was used in Egypt to treat fevers (Clair), and was said to be as good as quinine (Grieve. 1931). The seeds were used in Egypt in mixtures for worms, as well (Dawson. 1929). Gerard had apparently heard that fenugreek seeds, or possibly the herb as a whole, were a good laxative, and he went on to report that "the juyce of the decoction pressed forth doth clense the haire, taketh away dan-druffe ...", and the "meale", presumably the porridge already mentioned, he reports as being "good to wash the head ., for it taketh away the scarfe, scales, nits, and all other such imperfections".

But the strangest use of fenugreek, even though mixed with a lot of other ingredients, must be the following, that Coulton took from a 14th century manuscript: "For hym that haves the squinansy: tak a fatte katte, and fle [flay] hit well, and clene, and draw out the guttes, and take the gres of an urcheon [hedgehog], and the fatte of a bare, and resynes, and feinygreke, and sauge, and gumme of wodebynd, and virgyn wax: all this nye [crumble] smal, and farse [stuff] the catte within als thu farses a gos, rost hit hale, and gader the grees and anoynt hym therewith".

At one time, fenugreek was commonly prescribed by vets for horses, and it is still used as a vet's medicine for an appetiser (Clair). Suffolk horsemen always used it. G E Evans. 1960 reported that they called the herb Finnigig, and suggested that the name was a deliberate corruption on the part of the horsemen, so that third parties would not be able to recognise the true identity of the ingredient they were buying.

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