Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum, is in the Fabiacea family, the same plant family
as alfalfa. With its dark green three-leaf clusters, Fenugreek somewhat resembles clover. The energy of Fenugreek seeds are considered warm and moist, with a flavor that is bitter, pungent, and aromatic. Fenugreek seeds also have a sweet odor similar to maple syrup. While the plant can be used as a tonic, the medicinal properties are found in the hard seeds of Fenugreek.
Historically, Fenugreek was given to help horses gain weight. The plant was also added to hay to improve palatability, hence the name foenum-graecum, which means “Greek hay.” But there are many other benefits of this versatile herb.
When the ground-up seeds are soaked, a slimy, soothing mucilage is formed. This mucilage can coat and soothe an inflamed or dry gastrointestinal tract. Fenugreek seeds have been studied for their ability to protect the stomach from ulcer formation, with the results being equal to or better than omeprazole.* Often when the digestive tract is damaged, we see bloating and gas. Fenugreek can improve digestion, helping these symptoms.
As Fenugreek moves through the digestive tract, it absorbs endotoxins (part of a bacteria’s cell wall) and helps to flush them out. This is beneficial for a horse with a leaky gut or during a bacterial infection when the bacteria die off to assist in the removal of waste.
Fenugreek, along with other herbs like Cinnamon, Bitter Melon, and Holy Basil, can be useful to help regulate glucose and insulin. Many studies in humans and rats have shown Fenugreek’s ability to slow glucose absorption and improve insulin sensitivity.*
With its array of flavonoids, including quercetin and its steroidal saponins, Fenugreek can be helpful for horses with cold arthritis. Cold weather worsens the symptoms of the cold arthritis, makes horses stiffer, and causes them to seek heat by standing in the sun. Consider using Fenugreek with Boswellia, Devil’s claw, or Turmeric on horses that exhibit symptoms of cold arthritis.
The seed powder can be combined with boiling water, allowed to cool, and used as a poultice over wounds, boils, or inflamed skin.
Finally, Fenugreek is known for its ability to improve milk supply and is often given to mothers after birth.
To make the mucilage, prepare the ground seed powder as a decoction. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of the powdered seed to 8 ounces of water, and simmer for 10 minutes. Let mixture cool for one hour. This gel can be given to your horse in a syringe or mixed with food. This is one dose, and can be given twice daily. Only make enough mucilage for 24 hours at a time, in order to prevent bacterial growth.
Fenugreek is generally considered a food-safe herb; however, it should not be used during pregnancy. Also avoid large doses if your horse has low thyroid activity.
* Pandian RS, Anuradha CV, Viswanathan P., Gastroprotective effect of fenugreek seeds (Trigonella foenum graecum) on experimental gastric ulcer in rats, J Ethnopharmacol. 2002 Aug;81(3):393-7
Andrea Baldwin is a Clinical Herbalist with training in various herbal traditions, including Western, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic and Native American. As a lifelong horse advocate she believes that herbs and other holistic modalities, when used thoughtfully, offer the gentlest and most powerful way to bring balance to your horse. www.equibotanical.com