Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New to me: growing fenugreek


I just got done last week telling a bunch of Master Gardeners at our Annual Training Day that they ought to grow "new to you" plants, so here's one of mine for the year - fenugreek!

At the Washington Gardener seed swap this winter, I saw a packet of fenugreek seeds and picked them up on a whim. I'd cooked with fenugreek seeds before, and I'm sure I've eaten the leaves in Indian restaurants, though I wasn't very aware of doing so. The packet told me, to my surprise, that fenugreek is a cool season plant, so I put the seeds in the ground in mid-April. Searching around for information before writing this, I saw there's some debate on the matter; some sources say that fenugreek is frost-sensitive and shouldn't be planted until soil is consistently warm, while others say that it does fine in cool soil. Mine germinated slowly but reliably in the period when we were still getting light frosts, and I'm following the sources that say it's a cool season plant if you're growing it for the leaves. On the other hand, I'd be careful about planting it in cold wet soil or when hard frosts are expected.

Fenugreek, which is called methi in Urdu, Hindi, and several other languages, is a legume, a member of the bean family. Of the numerous leguminous plants I have grown, I'd say it most resembles peanuts, though not very closely. Here's my patch a week or two ago:


I started small, but I'm planning to grow a lot more of it next time. It's used more as a green than an herb, and it cooks down quite a lot, so volume is important. Perhaps I'll get one more dish out of this patch before it goes to seed (and then I can harvest the seeds). With the snippings I took yesterday, I made Aloo Methi, which is potatoes with fenugreek leaves. Recipe is here.

The leaves have a slightly bitter, earthy and fresh green taste that blends well with the spices in the dish. The kitchen smelled very Indian!

Fenugreek wants to be direct-seeded in rich soil and full sun. I'll give it another try in late summer.

7 comments:

  1. Check out this paper that contains fenugreek and is supposed to extend the refrigerator life of veggies. It was developed by a young Howard Co. resident- http://www.fenugreen.com/

    Has anyone tried it?

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  2. This is my 2nd year growing fenugreek and I love it! Just like cilantro, I think it grows better at the end of the season than at the beginning (sow sometime in mid August) and (just like cilantro) it is not afraid of cold weather. It will persist under a floating row cover for quite some time.

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    1. Great to hear, thanks! I was a bit mystified by the online references to it being impossible to grow in cool weather, since I'd just done that. :) And yeah, I've got some lovely cilantro this spring, but that's just luck; it might well have bolted by now.

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  3. I'm sorry I missed your talk, Erica, but I was otherwise occupied during that session...teaching my own class on Therapeutic Herbs for the Home Garden.

    I didn't talk about fenugreek in my talk, but it's worth noting that fenugreek (seeds) have great therapeutic value, most notably in supporting the body in regulating blood sugar. (NOTE: not intended to be medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for specific concerns.)

    Also note that if you do consume the seeds, make sure you don't eat them from seed packets - they may have been treated for increased germination/disease control.

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    1. Thanks for the information and advice, Donna - and I'm sorry I missed your talk too, but same problem...

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  4. There is lots of misinformation about crops from subtropical areas (or at least popular there). They often simply say they are warm season - and have to be planted after all danger of frost. But this is NOT true. More and more misinformation is out there every day so be aware. There is actually a sort of business in reworking information into websites - drawing you in so you might buy something advertised - and the writers have no connection to horticulture so it's perpetuated very well. Fenugreek is a cool season (actually a winter annual in the Mediterranean climate where it originates), and does best in cool spring weather in temperate areas. I've put it in as soon as the grown could be worked, and it survived - thrived actually - and bloomed as soon as it started to get hot - June or so. Then it started to dry up and die (by mid July). You might get more prolonged growth by cutting it back and not letting it go to seed - for greens, but I'm not sure. It came up the next year from seeds that fell - and went through a really cold winter. I'm seeing how it does in the Fall - all I want are the greens so I'm sure it'll be fine - it's sold as a fall cover crop. The other one that gets the same treatment are garbanzo beans (another cool season lover like peas), but many others are probably misrepresented too.

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    1. Thanks, Eric - very useful information! Mine started to dry up soon after I posted, so I let it go to seed, collected some dry seed for home use, and am letting the rest drop to see if it'll come up again in the fall or next spring.

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