Grocery Store Gardening: Fenugreek
Those of you that know me know I love to find new plants to grow while shopping in my local market. There are of course obvious areas to look. Today we are heading to the spice section of the store.
Now you can go to your favorite grocery store spice section if you want. Be aware that herb seeds are processed differently depending who is doing the preserving. I hate to break this to you. There are some companies and individuals that don’t process spices naturally. What I mean is that sometimes irradiation or ultraviolet light and even freeze drying techniques can be used to prepare herbs for long storage. Some of these treatments don’t alter the flavor. They prepare the product more quickly for sale. These processes “sterilize” the herb against hidden pests. High heat too will dry to the proper moisture level quickly at the expense of seed viability.
Buy Your Herb Seed at the Right Place
Not every spice company does this. Some companies may not even know seed or herbs they are selling came from vendors using methods that could and do impact seed viability. Your best bet for finding reliable seed is at your local food cooperative. My cooperative in Bloomington Indiana is Bloomingfoods Market and Deli. Our coop sells organic foods. It draws interest from many grassroots interest groups. For herbs this means that natural drying methods have to be observed to qualify for their label. Our members as well as staff keep a close eye on food quality. These herb sellers may have used a low heat drying method which may impact seed viability. They do not use damaging sterilizing methods like irradiation. And, most importantly, I can find organic labeled seed.
Now you should keep in mind that seed viability, even organic from your food coop, will probably be less viable than seed bought from a seed company. This isn't important to me. The cost of buying herb seeds from the grocery will be significantly less. Who cares if you have to use double the amount? The small bag in the picture is .09 pounds and cost me $0.94. It is about 1/3 cup. The unfortunate thing is that you will not know what particular variety you will be getting. As often as not the seed will have come from more than one type. Most of the time not knowing won’t matter.
Historical and Culturing Information
I decided that I wanted to try to grow something I didn’t know much about. I decided to try fenugreek. I have been asking myself to try this in cooking for years. I guess I will try to grow it first to see what I think. This is a completely unknown herb for me. I always turn is Wikipedia.com when searching for answers. This is a good reliable source. Wikipedia may not spend as much time on cultivation. It does often tell me history and general world site habitat information.
Fenugreek originated a bit east of the eastern end of the Mediterranean, it is speculated. It is an old food plant. It has been found in Bronze Age tombs. In fact, it has been found in King Tut’s tomb. It was an annual food plant that was carried into India where in Southern India it is popular today. This tells me that it will grow here in South Central Indiana. I learn it is in the pea family. I learn that both the leaves as well as the seed are used.
I next had to turn to another site that dealt specifically with cultivating Fenugreek. I found one that reminds the reader right off the bat that since it is a member of the pea family will not transplant with any success. We will have to direct sow this herb. I know that these are relatively easy to grow because it was commonly eaten so long ago when only the toughest of plants were cultivated. I still plan to try a small container in the window this winter even if they may not grow well.
Fenugreek can grow from a little over a foot to about 4 feet. There are two primary types grown. The leaves are a bit different. One has yellow flowers and the other white. In addition to being a food source, it was also medicinal. Today there is significant interest in its hypoglycemic and other health properties. It was and still is a forage crop. It can be dried and used as both a food source for people as well as hay for animals. Even sprouts made grown from seed are edible. I bought enough seed that I will also try sprouting some too.
Several interesting things should be known. The seed sprouts relatively quickly. Often most have sprouted in a week. It is said that a loosely planted cover will out compete weeds. This is even when they are slow to initiate growth after sprouting. Avoid too much moisture. Next, while most “pea” family plants are nitrogen producers Fenugreek needs a bit of help. They are not good nitrogen fixing plants. I was unable to find the exact bacterial species identified as ideal for this herb. However, I did find several products that include related soil nitrogen fixing bacteria. It is always recommended to supplement your soil biology a few times each year starting in the spring with beneficial soil fungi and bacteria.
An Experiment About to Happen
I am still going to sprinkle a small pot in the window this winter. This should give me insight for next spring when I can plant this outside. For example, will a peat based potting soil make a difference? My garden loam is a heavy clay type. My house is kept really COOL, like 60 while sleeping. Information suggests this will be too cool for this herb. I imagine damping off. This could impact when I plant outside next spring. It will be interesting to see how these seedlings grow. I will post pictures “weekly” for the next few weeks so you can judge yourself.
I think it is really important to plant everything I can. This will round me out as a gardener. I need to discover all I can about any plant I have available. This curiosity is what I want to encourage in you too. It’s fun. It may be a bit geeky. So that makes it cool :-)
Now that I found out that there are those that like “Fenugreek Sprouts” it is time to get next week’s hub started. If you want a recipe (assuming I can find one) let me know.