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.