A small annual plant 30-60 cm (1-2 ft) high (Trigonella foenum-graecum). It is found widely in the Mediterranean, South America, North Africa and India. It has small oval, bright green leaves and has pods containing about 2 dozen seeds. The fresh plant has a pronounced curry aroma.
The seeds are an important spice in Indian cookery, included in many curry powders, as well as the Bengali spice blend, panch phora. It has a customary association with childbirth in India and a small, sweet, fenugreek-scented laddoos is given to new mothers for a 40 day period after birth.
The seed itself is about 3 mm (1/8 in) long, burnt orange in colour and has a distinctive rectangular shape.
It is quite easy to grow in a temperate climate from seed and the leaves can be used, as in India, as a tasty vegetable.
Medicinally, the spice is quite interesting. The seeds are crushed and fed to cows to increase lactation (perhaps this is the origin of the childbirth association) and they contain a compound, diosgenin, which is used in some oral contraceptives. The powdered seed is also used as a clothing dye.