حلبه (Hilba; Fenugreek) – A Wonderful Winter Drink and Herbal Medicine in Egypt

Sacs of spices, Bab el Khalq, Cairo, Egypt

Spices in Old Cairo. Wikipedia

Teas and other hot drinks are beloved in Egypt, and one of the nicest during the winter is hilba (bottom right corner) made with milk and spices. Source: Prince of Egypt Cuisine

One of the most pleasant drinks during the cold months of the Egyptian winter is  حلبه – hilba,  helba, or fenugreek seeds, crushied and mixed with  other spices and brewed in hot water.  Truly yummy.  Here is a description of hilba from 1918:

In country houses, especially, the last act of consideration of my host, at the end of the day, has often been to send to my bedroom a jugful of hot liquid made from helba, in the firm belief that it would ensure sleep at night and good health in the morning. The natives believe that the seeds of this plant, together with the bile of an ox, made into pills, are a sure remedy for diabetes.

Other uses of hilba at the time include the following:

… Another very important item of diet is a sort of pudding, made with bread and thoroughly soaked in treacle, with a great number of the seeds of the native hilba *.

The plant is held in the highest repute in Egypt as a general family medicine; it is universally considered an excellent nerve tonic, and being bitter it acts as a stomachic.

*Trigonella fœnum Græcum.

S.H. Leeder-Modern Sons of the Pharaohs: A Study of the Manners and Customs of the Copts of Egypt.  1918.

The title of this book is misleading, because most of the daily customs discussed are found both in Coptic and Muslim communities.  In that light, the book offers many interesting insights about Egypt at – and just after-  the turn of the 20th century.

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About dianabuja

A recent group photo at a training course for veterinarians and vet technicians here in Burundi. I discuss in French with some Kirundi and have also a Kirundi translator to help with technical aspects ... Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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26 Responses to حلبه (Hilba; Fenugreek) – A Wonderful Winter Drink and Herbal Medicine in Egypt

  1. Pingback: 2013 in review | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture

  2. zorro42 says:

    salut Diana
    je vous remercie beaucoup pour la visite de mon site.
    A+ j’espère!
    Mustapha

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Diana first of all thank you for the like on my blog and taking the time to read. I love all spices but I didn’t know that Fenugreek was helpful with diabetics which I am. Your blog looks very interesting so am going to follow you. Will comment more soon.

    Like

  4. Great information. I’ve heard that most artificial “maple syrup” here in the US is flavored by fenugreek seeds. A hot drink of them sounds very good and I will definitely try it. It gives me an excuse to use up all of the spices I’ve collected.

    Like

  5. emad ahmed says:

    it is equall to gold in value……i am apharmacist and have great value about this magic frenugreek seeds and dreaming to produce very useful product cheap and essensial to all but im in baghdad cant find facilities….i wait any one to help me only in packing and i wait any one to answer him or help him about the uses,,,,,

    Like

  6. Pingback: A Taste of 2012 – Top Posts Favor Colonial Era; Food; Ancient Egypt | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, the Middle East, Agriculture, History & Culture

  7. Tami Gryniuk says:

    Fenugreek is really helpful on diabetics because research shows that it can help in controlling high blood sugar levels. ::“`

    Have a great day! http://foodsupplementdigest.com/potassium-sparing-diuretics/

    Like

  8. sanscravat says:

    Fascinating… what other herbs and spices go into this infusion?

    I sometimes steep cardamom in hot white wine in the winter (guess that wouldn’t go over well in a Muslim country, would it?).

    Like

    • dianabuja says:

      Nutmeg (grated), lemon, honey – other warm spices, experiment! Also, in the Eastern Desert (of Egypt) I’ve had helba with cardimom, some pepper seeds and sugar (Bishareen tribes)- cardamom in hot white wine sounds very good and I’ll try!

      Like

  9. Rachael says:

    Thank you for the education! My husband is Egyptian and on our last trip to Egypt we brought back a giant bag of helba. I had no idea what it was and he brewed me my first cup of helba tea last night. Wonderful! I just had to get online and see what this interesting little seed was. I was surprised to see that it is fenugreek, which I have heard of many times but realized I had never actually seen it. The health benefits are a plus as well.

    Like

  10. Pingback: Nibbles: Cryo, Tree diversity, Agroforestry, Seed industry, Trigonella, Ancient MesoAmerica, Niche models

  11. Bhaswati Ghosh says:

    How interesting. Never heard of fenugreek seeds being used in this fashion. In Indian food, it’s mostly used as a tempering spice. But I have heard of its ability to cure diabetes. Thanks for this post, Diana!

    Like

  12. Pingback: Bread-Baking in Egypt, Then and Now « Dianabuja's Blog

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