One of the most pleasant drinks during the cold months of the Egyptian winter is حلبه – hilba, helba, or fenugreek seeds, crushed 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.
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.