Cultivated all over the globe now, Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) is originally a native of the Mediterranean. It belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is a close relative of dill, carrots, coriander and parsley. Fennel is a perennial herb that has a whitish, pale green bulb, with overlaying stalks extending out of it, which are similar to those found in celery. The hollow stalks end in feather like green leaves, close to where yellow coloured flowers grow producing the fennel seeds. The fennel plant can grow up to heights of three feet. All parts of the plant bulb, stalk, leaves, and seeds can be eaten, but it's usually the dried seeds that are used in cooking. The plant propagates rather easily and in many cases is thought to be an invasive group.
Consumed raw, fennel has a pleasant aroma and a crisp texture with a mildly sweet but assertive anise like flavour. Upon cooking the flavour mellows in comparison. The herb is especially associated with Mediterranean cuisine and in particular with Italian cooking. The seeds are commonly used in meatballs and sausages in Italy as well as rye breads in northern Europe. The bulbs can be consumed raw in salads or used in side dishes with pastas and risottos. A number of egg and fish dishes use dried and fresh leaves for flavouring.
Fennel is also well known for its medicinal value. It is most commonly associated with providing relief from various digestive disorders such as heartburn, bloating, colic in babies, respiratory tract infections, bedwetting, backache, and visual issues. Additionally, it is believed to promote milk secretion, ease birth, and promote menstruation. Fennel oil is used in beverages as a flavouring agent and in the manufacture of soaps and cosmetics for its fragrant component.
Fennel has a very rich history going back to ancient times. The Greeks called the herb marathon meaning‘grow thin’ due to their belief in its ability to suppress appetite. The site of the well-known battle between Persians and Athenians in 490 BC is known by the name of Marathon, meaning the ‘place of fennel’. Athenians even adapted the interwoven fennel stalks as their victory symbol. Prometheus, the Greek mythological figure who delivered fire to humanity, brought it hidden in a stalk of fennel.
In 812 AD (CE), Charlemagne declared that it should be grown in every garden as it had healing properties, and so he had it planted in the imperial gardens. The Roman philosopher, Pliny, is recorded to have said that fennel has the power to “take away the film that overcasts and dims our eyes”
During the 1200s, the fennel seed was used in England to suppress appetite and help people who were fasting to get through the long days. Later on it was commonly used during services to prevent stomach rumblings. In the 1700s the herb was used in a medical elixir, or tonic, known as absinthe, and not long after it was marketed as a spirit. It became popular with the Bohemians after WWI in the United States and Europe.
In the modern times, fennel seeds are easily available around the world in grocery stores, and the bulb in particular is well-liked in Europe.
Fennel is highly valued for its nutritional properties. It is low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in Vitamins C, Folate, Manganese, Calcium, Niacin, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Phosphorus, Copper and dietary fibre. It’s phytonutrients with antioxidants have positive effects on health.
It’s matchless amalgamation of unique phytonutrients like the flavonoids rutin, querctin and the kaempferol glycosides, are the ones responsible for their strong free radical eliminating activity. The uncontrolled free radicals are known to damage cells and lead to problems like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The star phytonutrient found in fennel is anethole. This is the main component of fennel’s oil. It is responsible for reducing swelling and putting off cancer. It is believed that anethole is useful for inhibiting the intercellular system of signals known as tumour necrosis factor. By closing down this system, activation of a gene changing and inflammation activating molecule is turned off and consequently these problems do not arise.
The bulb part of the fennel plant is a great source of vitamin C. This is the body’s chief water-soluble antioxidant which can deactivate free radicals in every aqueous setting in the human body. The vitamin C found in fennel is antimicrobial which is required for the immune system’s correct functioning.
The folate, a B vitamin found in fennel bulb, is responsible for converting the hazardous homocysteine molecules to harmless particles. At enhanced levels, homocysteine can damage blood vessels directly and is a substantial risk factor in heart attack and stroke. The bulb is also a source of fibre which is responsible for eliminating potentially cancer causing toxins from the colon. Hence, fennel can play a positive role in averting colon cancer.
Although it's a seemingly harmless condition, colic can be emotionally exhausting and physically tiring for parents. Thus far, dicyclomine hydrochloride is the only treatment that has worked effectively on a consistent basis. However, approximately 5% of the infants using it develop grave side effects, and at times even death. Clinical trials to determine the effect of fennel on colic babies were carried out in large multi-specialty clinics with 125 babies aged 2 to 12 weeks.The use of fennel oil provided relief to 65% of new-borns in the trial group.
In a placebo-controlled trial, the effect of fennel tea on chronic constipation was conducted on twenty randomly selected patients. There was noticeable improvement in the number of bowel movements and transit time through the colon. Effects were observed in the second day of treatment. Because of the high levels of some constituents with known abilities to deter muscle cramps and muscle spasms, fennel seeds are chewed after meals in some cultures to prevent indigestion or gas.
Uses of fennel
Fennel seeds make a great flavouring agent in breads, cakes or cookies. The fresh leaves taste milder than the seeds and thus go well in salads, and soups. Alternatively, they can be chopped and added to fish or meat dishes. The stem and bulb part of the plant are good to sauté or roast, and used as side dishes. The bulbs also make a good addition for juicing recipes. Fennel’s strong anise-like flavour, make it a great choice for combining with celery, apples, or carrots in juicing recipes.
The use of fennel seeds does not require any special preparation. However, to extract the full aroma and accentuate the flavour, the seeds are best when toasted in a dry frying pan for a few minutes. Then they can then be crushed or ground before adding to the desired recipe. While toasting does slightly change the flavour, making it a bit spicier, it does not in any way alter the nutritional properties.
Fennel Tea – Preparation Method
- 1½ teaspoon of fresh crushed fennel seeds
- 1 cup of boiling water
Place the crushed seeds in a saucepan and then pour the boiling water over them. Allow the blend to seep for 7-10 minutes, being careful not it to boil a second time. Drink one cup of the tea three times a day after meals, to treat or prevent digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and heartburn. Drink the tea for four to six weeks to attain the desired effect.
Apple-Fennel Enchantment Juicing Recipe
- I medium sized Apple
- I bulb of fennel
- ¼ slice of ginger
- 2 carrots
In Mediterranean cooking, fennel is frequently enjoyed in the form of a marinated salad. A simple preparation that is sure to perk up any meal.
Cured Tangy Fennel Salad
- 1 cup of thinly sliced fresh fennel bulb
- Two teaspoons of olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon of lemon juice
- Salt & pepper to taste
Allow the mixture to marinate for several hours and serve at room temperature. Use a mandolin to get the slices as thin as possible.