This site works better with JavaScript enabled!

[ Plant part | Family | Aroma | Chemistry | Origin | Etymology | Discussion | Bottom ]

Blue Fenugreek (Trigonella caerulea [Desr. ex Lam.] Ser.)


botanicalTrigonella coerulea, Trigonella melilotus-caerulea, Melilotus caeruleus, Trifolium caeruleum, Grammocarpus caeruleus
BelarusianПажытнік блакітны
Pažytnik blakitny
BulgarianСминдух син
Sminduh sin
CzechPískavice modrá
DutchZevenjaargetijden klaverm, Honingklaver soort, Zevengetijdeklaver
EnglishBlue–white clover, Blue–white trigonella, Sweet trefoil, Curd herb, Blue melilot
EstonianSinine lambalääts
FinnishSinisarviapila, Sinihärkylä
FrenchTrigonelle bleue, Mélilot bleu, Baumier, Trèfle musque, Trèfle bleu, Lotier odorant, Mélilot d’Allemagne
Georgianუცხო სუნელი
Utskho suneli, Utsxo suneli
GermanSchabziegerklee, Blauer Steinklee, Blauklee, Bisamklee, Brotklee, Hexenkraut, Ziegerkraut, Zigerchrut, Ziegerklee, Käseklee, Blauer Honigklee
ItalianBalsamo, Loto domestico, Meliloto azzurro, Fieno-greco ceruleo
LatvianZilais sierāboliņš
PolishKozieradka błękitna
RomanianMolotru albastru, Sulcină albastră
RussianПажитник голубой
Pazhitnik goluboj
SpanishMeliloto azul
Trigonella caerulea: Blue clover plants in full flower
Flowering blue fenugreek plants

Trigonella caerulea: Blue fenugreek plant
Blue fenugreek plant
Trigonella caerulea: Blue fenugreek pods and seeds
The pods of blue fenugreek are short and contain only a few brown seeds
Used plant part

In the Euro­pean Alps (Switzer­land, Italy), all aerial parts are har­vested at flowering time and always used dried, as a light green powder. Yet, in the Cau­casus (Georgia), the dried seeds are used as a spice; they are ground to­gether with their pods to yield a tan powder.

Plant family

Fabaceae (bean family)

Sensory quality

Dried blue fenugreek leaves have an aromatic, spicy flavour, similar to dried fenugreek herb, but somewhat milder. Also the dried seeds somehow remind to lightly toasted fenu­greek seeds, although they are less bitter and more pleasant.

Main constituents

According to a some­what older publication, α‑keto-acids are respon­sible for the flavour of blue fenu­greek: pyruvic acid, α‑keto glutaric acid, α‑keto isovalerianic acid and even α‑keto isocapronic acid. (Gordian, 86, 9, 1986)

This is astonishing: From considering related plants, one would have expected five-membered hetero­cycles (as in the closely related fenugreek) or coumarins (as in the related genus Melilotus, honey clover). On the other side, reaction of α‑ketocarboxylic acids towards heterocycles has been observed during wine storage. (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 43, 2616, 1995)

Unfortunately, there appears to be no newer scientific work on the flavour components of this spice.

In the seeds of blue fenu­greek, dios­genin glyco­sides were found which also ap­pear in fenu­greek seeds. Ap­parent­ly, they have yet found any pharma­ceutical application.


Blue fenu­greek is found in the Alps, in the moun­tains of East­ern and South East­ern Europe and in the Cau­casus.


The German name Schabzieger­klee (usually spelt Schabziger­klee in Swiss German) alludes to the herb’s usage in cheese making, for Ziger is a regional, mostly Swiss, word for the milk proteins (casein) that remain after the whey has been separated. Cf. Zigerkraut herb for Ziger.

Most other names allude to the characteristic blue flowers, which distinguishes blue fenugreek from its relatives of genera Trigonella, Trifolium and Melilotus. The following table gives a summary; a dagger indicates that the colour adjective specifically describes a light or pale hue of blue.

Latin Trigonella caerulea caeruleus
German Blauklee blau
Swedish blåväppling blå
French mélilot bleu bleu
Portuguese trevo-azul azul
Italian meliloto azzurro azzurro
Italian fieno-greco ceruleo ceruleo
Czech pískavice modrá modrý
Polish kozieradka błękitna błękitny
Belarusian pažytnik blakitny [пажытнік блакітны] ???
Russian pazhitnik goluboj [пажитник голубой] goluboj [голубой] †
Bulgarian smindukh sin [сминдух син] sinyo [синьо]
Latvian zilais sierāboliņš zils
Estonian sinine lambalääts sinine
Finnish sinisarviapila sininen
Trigonella caerulea: Flowering and fruiting plant of blue fenugreek
Flowering and fruiting plant of blue fenugreek
Trigonella caerulea: Blue Fenugreek flower
Blue fenugreek inflorescence

The other part of these names is a noun that in most cases means either fenu­greek or generi­cally stands for clover-like plants.

Yet some other names are moti­vated by the aro­matic fra­grance of blue fenu­greek: Italian balsamo (see lemon balm for more ex­plana­tions on balsam) and French trèfle musque musky trefoil (see also nut­meg) or lotier odorant fragrant trefoil.

English blue has cognates in many Germanic languages, e. g. German blau, Icelandic blár, Swedish blå and Yiddish bloy [בלױ]. The English word took a more complicated route: It was borrowed from Old French bleu, which itself was taken from a Germanic source (root BLĒWA blue). The Proto-Indo–European root behind these names was reconstructed as BʰEL and is the progenitor of a number of adjectives for various, typically bright, colours: Latin flavus golden yellow (cf. English blond), Russian bielyj [белый] white (see white mustard) and Welsh blawar grey. English bleach and black are also part of that group (see nigella).

Romance lan­guages have two terms for blue: Italian ceruleo derives from Latin coelum sky. On the other hand, French azure, Italian azzurro and Spanish azul have a more com­plicated history that relates to the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. The stone is named for an ancient mine location in today’s North­ern Afghani­stan and was trans­ferred west­wards as Persian lazhward [لاژورد] and Arabic lazward [لازورد]; there, the name of the stone was to denote the colour, and the initial L was mis­identified as the Arabic definite article and removed.

Trigonella caerulea: Blue fenugreek flowers
Blue fenugreek flowers

The term clover is in use for the several species species of the pea family, especially such with three-partite leaves. It is restricted to Germanic languages, e. g., German Klee, Dutch klaver, Danish kløver. The origin of that name is unknown, although it is attested in the oldest Germanic tongues, as Old English clafre and Old High German klēo (genitive case: klewes).

English has an­other general name for clover-like plants, tre­foil. This is of Ro­mance origin (cf. French trèfle, Catalan trèvol, Ro­manian trifoi) and ulti­mately de­rives from Latin tri­folium clover, tre­foil, which literally means three-leaf. See lemon verbena for the etymo­logy of Latin folium leaf.

Some European languages have yet another name for cloves which derives from Latin lotus; examples are French lotier and English melilot for the related genus Melilotus, which means honey-clover (see bear’s garlic for the first part of that name). The Ancient Greek name lotos [λωτός] denoted several different plants, not only clovers (also the related fenugreek) but also the lotus plant (Nelumbo nucifera) which is a sacred flower in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Selected Links

Gewürzkontor Condimento: Schabzigerklee Öko-Brotgewürz Schabzigerklee Hobbybäcker-Versand: Brotklee aus Südtirol Bäckerei Pinzer: Südtiroler Brotklee — Zigainerkraut — Brotklee Geska AG – Glarner Schabziger Utskho Suneli: A Strange and Fragrant Smell From Far Away ( Recipes for Georgian sauces (t’q’emali [ტყემალი], ajik’a [აჯიკა] and others) ( Recipe: Georgian hot pepper sauce ajik’a [აჯიკა] ( Recipe: Chicken in walnut sauce (satsivi [საცივი]) (

Trigonella caerulea/coerulea: Blue-white clover flowers
Blue fenugreek with flowers

© Daniel Landis

Trigonella caerulea: Flowers of blue fenugreek (utskho suneli)
Flowers of blue fenugreek
Blue fenu­greek is a culi­nary herb native to the Alps in Cen­tral and West­ern Europe, and the Cau­casus on the border between Asia and Europe; it is little known outside these regions.

In Georgia, the dried seeds of blue fenu­greek are widely em­ployed as a spice, usually sold as a pale greyish–brown powder consisting of both pods and seeds. Because the plant grows only in the mountainous North of the country, it is not known to the majority of Georgians, who live in the plains South of the Caucasus range; thus the spice is named utskho suneli [უცხო სუნელი] foreign spice. Nevertheless, the spice is used throughout the country, but not beyond its borders, thus contributing strongly to the national character of Georgian food. It is a common addition to stews and ragouts, as its flavour develops on prolonged cooking; in a strange way, it appears to intensify other flavours. Ground blue fenugreek seeds are also part of the national herb mixture khmeli suneli and form a key flavour in svanuri marili (see garlic), a spice salt from the Svaneti province in the High Coucasus mountains.

The cuisine of Georgia is particularly known for its subtle blends of herbs, and for its pleasantly fruity, acidic, well-spiced sauces. Herbs are usually employed in form of khmeli-suneli (dried herbs, also spelt xmeli-suneli and hmeli-suneli [ხმელი-სუნელი]). That mixture is sold ground and may contain various herbs and spices, e. g., blue fenugreek, savory, dill weed and basil plus a smaller amount of black pepper and a pinch of Imeretian saffron (see safflower). Optional herbs are parsley, mint and coriander leaves.

Trigonella caerulea: Flowering blue fenugreek plant
Flowering blue fenugreek plant

Khmeli‑suneli is used for various Georgian meat and veg­etable stews and also for the many sauces Georgian cuisine is so famous for. These sauces typi­cally consist of dried herbs, acidic fruits and nuts. A simple and well-known example is satsivi [საცივი], a sauce made from ground wal­nuts and herbs used to dress cold boiled chicken meat. More complex sauces are the plum-based t’q’emali sauce (see dill) and the pungent ajik’a or ajika [აჯიკა] (Russian adzhika [аджика]). Ajik’a is prepared all over the country, but particularly popular in Western Georgia and Abkhasia, where Ottoman Turkish influence (and thus the love for spicy foods) is largest. It is made from fresh chiles and paprika, aromatic fresh leaves (celery, coriander), garlic and khmeli-suneli and contains a large proportion of salt.

The national food of Georgia is skew­ered meats, mts’vadi (mtsvadi [მწვადი]), which is more often known by its Rus­sian name, shashlyk [шашлык]. It con­sists of bit-sized pieces of pork or mutton which are put on a metal spit and gril­led over open fire. It is served still on the spit, with raw onion rings and various sauces for dipping, e. g., t’q’emali sauce, ajik’a or a mild sauce made from raw tomatoes (sats’ebela [საწებელა]).

Blue fenugreek seeds are unavailable outside Georgia, and thus have to be replaced. Regular fenugreek seeds are to strong and bitter; they should be mixed with dried fenugreek or blue fenugreek leaves to give an acceptable substitute.

In completely different form blue fenugreek makes an appearance in several Alpine foods: As a dried herb. In the West Alps (Switzerland), it is added to a few cheese varieties, and in the South Alps (South Tyrol) it lends a special flavour to local rye breads.

Trigonella caerulea: Flowering blue fenugreek
Flowering blue fenugreek
Trigonella caerulea: Schabziegerkäse
Swiss cheese flavoured with blue fenugreek

Cheese is pro­duced in a wide area from Ire­land to Cen­tral Asia, and from North­ern Africa to Norway; but the coun­tries of West­ern and Cen­tral Europe en­joy the greatest variety of cheese pro­ducts. That has several reasons: Pro­duction of milk has a tra­dition going back several mill­ennia in these thin-populated areas, and there is general tolerance for lactose in the popu­lation; con­sequently, cheese is produced as a kind of pre­served milk that allows to store the nutritional value of milk protein. Furthermore, in the Alps a large number of regional cheese traditions has evolved due to geographic isolation.

Milk, essentially, contains two different types of proteins: Casein, which precipitates when treated with acid or certain enzymes, and lacto­globulines, (whey proteins) which are more soluble. Most cheese types consist only of the former, which is precipitated, dried and then allowed to ripen in a fashion characteristic for each cheese. Ripening is usually performed with bacteria, often types which are local to a specific region; some cheeses, however, are treated with molds (often of genus Penicillum); that procedure leads to a particularly strong and characteristic aroma.

In cheese pro­duction, spices are of minor im­por­tance. There are some soft cheeses fla­voured with garlic or pepper (usually green pepper), but other spices are seen only rarely. In South­ern Ger­many, there are local cheeses spiced with caraway; I have read that cumin is used for the same purpose in Holland and France, but I have never seen such a cheese. Hungary, of course, has some paprika-flavoured cheese varieties. Fresh cheese, which has only a mild flavour, is often covered with dried herbs (oregano, thyme), parti­cularly in the Medi­terranean. Lastly, some cheeses contain annatto seed extract (bixin) as a colourant, e. g., British cheddar.

Cheese flavoured with blue fenugreek (Schabzigerkäse, occasionally transcribed into English as sap sago cheese) is a specialty local to the region around Glarus, in the Swiss canton of the same name. This cheese is twice ripened, ground, mixed with blue fenugreek powder and then cast into its final shape. Blue fenugreek not only gives a unique flavour, but also a pale green colour to this cheese. Like most other hard cheese varieties, Schabziger is mostly used as a flavouring: It is a tasty, unusual alternative to Italian parmigiano for pasta dishes; it can be used for several types of stuffings; or can be mixed with butter to give a milder bread spread.

Blue fenugreek is not commonly used to flavour other types of cheese, besides bread spreads based on cottage cheese. It is, generally, not much used for foods prepared in home kitchens, but rather an industrial spice hardly known to consumers; I don;t know even of commercial spice mixtures employing this rather exotic spice. Yet it is occasionally called for in local Swiss foods, where it indeed makes good appearance: The herb powder is simply sprinkeled over fried potatoes (Rösti) or potato-based caserolles. This seems to be restricted to a small part of Switzerland.

Trigonella caerulea: Flowering South Tyrolean bread clover
Blue fenugreek from South Tyrol in flower

Trigonella caerulea: Bread clover flowers
Flowers of blue fenugreek

Independently, blue fenu­greek ap­pears in another special­ty of the Alps, namely South Alpine rye breads, whence the name Brot­klee (bread clover). Ground blue fenu­greek leaves are added in minute amounts to the dough of rye breads in Tyrol and Southern Tyrol (which is part of Italy, where it is referred to as Alto Adige). These breads, already quite flavour­ful, acquire a unique taste from the blue fenu­greek. The herb is dried by a special procedure including a fer­menta­tion step; therefore, it acquires a strong, characteristic aroma.

Rye breads (often referred to as dark or black breads) are a typical food of the cooler regions of Europe, since rye thrives better than wheat in such climate. Gluten, the protein that makes wheat flour dough elastic, is mostly absent from rye, and consequently, rye bread is dense and less aired than wheat bread; furthermore, they have a dark, earthy flavour that anybody accustomed to rye bread will miss when travelling through regions where only wheat bread is baked. Because of their more intense base aroma, rye breads are quite often flavoured with spices, e. g., pumpkin seeds, coriander, fennel or caraway fruits.

Outside of Central, Eastern and North­ern Europe, bread is mostly pro­duced from wheat flour (white bread); there are in­numerable local varie­ties dif­fering in the com­posi­tion of the dough, the fer­menta­tion pro­cedure and ad­ditional com­po­nents (diary products, boiled pota­toes, olive oil). Wheat bread is often fla­voured with nutty-tasting seeds sprinkled over the sur­face before baking (poppy, sesame); sometimes, the dough is enriched with flavourings (fried onions, garlic). In the Eastern Mediterranean, bread flavoured with mahaleb cherry stones is baked, and Turkish breads often are sprinkled with nigella seeds. In the Indian Himalayas, I have once eaten ajwain-sprinkled bread, but I think this was quite an exception and not typical for cuisine in Ladakh.

Unicode Encoded Validate using the WDG validator Validate using the VALIDOME validator

Top   Plant part   Family   Aroma   Chemistry   Origin   Etymology   Discussion   Bottom