The seeds of Trigonella foenum graecum, Linné.
Nat. Ord. Leguminosae.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, Plate 71.
Botanical Source.—The source of this drug is the cultivated plant which grows to the height of 1 foot. Its stem is almost simple and bears trifoliate leaves. The leaf segments are articulated, obovate or oblong, wedge-shaped, and denticulate. The flowers are of a light yellow hue, sessile, and solitary. The fruit is a beaked, compressed, curved legume, containing about 15 or 16 seeds.
History and Description.—Fenugreek is an annual plant, native of west Asia, but is naturalized in Africa, south Europe, and India. It is cultivated for its seeds in Germany, France, Africa, and Asia. The seeds are small (1/8 inch long, 1/8 inch broad, 1/12 inch thick), hard, compressed, oblique, rhombic, having an oblique groove on each flattened surface. Externally they are pale brownish-yellow and yellow internally. Their odor is to some persons decidedly disagreeable, yet aromatic. The taste is mucilaginous, bitter, and nauseous. The powder is occasionally adulterated with starchy material, which may be detected with iodine since the seeds of fenugreek are free from starch. Powdered fenugreek is usually purchased by pharmacists, owing to the difficulty of powdering the seeds. Large quantities of powdered fenugreek are consumed, in "condition powders," and as constituents of mixtures used in the treatment of hogs.
Chemical Composition.—Fenugreek seeds, as before stated, contain no strarch; their constituents are a little tannin, mucilage, volatile and fixed oils, and a peculiar bitter body. Jahns found the alkaloid, trigonelline (C7H7NO2) and choline (C5H15NO2), the latter base being also a constituent of certain animal secretions (see Fel Bovis).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The Greeks were acquainted with fenugreek, it being one of the important medicines employed by that people. The only property worth mentioning is its emolliency. A poultice (or plaster or ointment) of the powdered seeds, or a decoction, has been used on inflamed parts, and the latter has been used as a rectal and vaginal wash to soothe irritation or inflammation; it has likewise been used to allay irritation of the throat and breathing passages. The decoction is prepared from 1 ounce of the seeds and 1 pint of water. Burns, etc., may be dressed with its bland oil. The infusion or tincture may be used as a tonic to improve digestion. It relieves uterine irritation and acts as an emmenagogue. Respiratory irritation is thought to be relieved by its internal use, and a sack of the ground seeds is regarded as a valuable application in chronic affections of the stomach, bowels, and liver (Scudder, Spec. Med.) (Not in the version of Scudder's "Specific Medication" that I have online. Probably in a later edition. -Henriette)