Fennel or Foeniculum vulgare is a perennial herb, having yellow flowers and a pleasant smell. The herb is native to the Mediterranean but is now grown almost anywhere in the world. It has a whitish-pale bulb and the stalks are generally long and green. Almost every part of fennel is edible, which includes the bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds. They all have their own nutrient values having various health benefits and can also be used just to add a flavour to various foods.
The bulb of the fennel plant looks similar to the plant produced by crossing an onion and the base of a bunch of celery. It has a perfumy, sweet and anise-like flavour.
In order to make the bulb edible, the outer tough layers should be removed, stalks and fronds should be chopped off and the base of the bulb should be sliced (nearly 1 cm), and the trapped dirt should be removed by rinsing it. Fronds can be reserved and later used for decoration purposes. The seeds of the fennel plant, when dried, are often used in cooking. They are often confused with anise because they look and taste similar, but are not the same.
Fennel seeds are quite well known for relieving various disorders ranging from stomach gas and congestion to asthma and heart problems. The seeds consist of very prominent antioxidants and phytonutrients, amongst which anethole is the most potent one, making it a very nutritious food. The oil extracts are also used to make medicines. Therefore, the seeds of the fennel plant are too beneficial to be ignored.
Wild fennel is a wild kind of fennel which is highly aromatic and it is used in making focaccia and bread. Its seeds, flowers and leaves can be used to aromatize fish, for baking, to conserve olives or for salami and sausages. It also has curative properties. One can also mix it with clay and use it like a toothpaste.
While buying fennel, select fresh fronds and firm bulbs without discolouration and splits. To store, refrigerate them in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. Fennel seeds should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry place.
Health benefits of fennel
- Prevents Anemia
Iron and histidine (which is an amino acid found in fennel) are helpful in treating anaemia, as iron is an essential component of haemoglobin and histidine initiates its production and also contributes in the production of various other components of blood.
- Treats Indigestion
Chewing fennel seeds after meals is done to facilitate digestion and to eliminate bad breath. Components of fennel stimulate secretion of digestive and gastric juices which reduces inflammation in the stomach and intestines. It also enables proper absorption of nutrients from the food.
- Treats Constipation
The powder of fennel seeds acts as a laxative which helps in clearing the bowels. It helps in maintaining the proper peristaltic motion of the intestines, which results in proper excretion through the stimulation of gastric juices and bile production. Fennel is also used in medicines that treat diarrhoea, abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other intestinal problems.
- Treats Diarrhea
Components such as anethol and cineole of fennel can cure diarrhoea caused by bacterial infections as they both have disinfectant and antibacterial properties.
- Reduces Heart Diseases
Fennel is a great source of fibre which maintains the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream. It eliminates LDL or bad cholesterol, which is a major factor in heart diseases, strokes and atherosclerosis.
- Regulates Blood Pressure
The potassium content found in fennel helps in relaxing the tension in blood vessels, which helps in reducing blood pressure, thus preventing heart attack, atherosclerosis and strokes.
- Prevents Cancer
The raw vegetable itself helps in cancer protection but the findings related to fennel seed extract have proved it to be very helpful as it inhibits the growth of tumours. Alkaloids, flavonoids and phenols are its main constituents, which helps in preventing cancer. The extract also fights against various breast cancer and liver cancer strains.
- Improves Brain Functioning
High potassium levels in fennel bulbs and seeds act as an electrolyte which facilitates electrical conduction in the body. This is helpful in the functioning of the brain as it is a veritable switchboard of currents. Moreover, fennel is a vasodilator which enables more oxygen to reach to the brain, thus resulting in optimal functionality.
- Boosts Immunity
20% of daily requirement of Vitamin C can be fulfilled by consumption of 1 cup of fennel bulb, making it a rich source of this element. Vitamin C improves the immunity of the body and produces/repairs skin tissues, moreover, helps our body to fight against free radicals as it is an antioxidant which is responsible for various heart diseases.
- Regulates Menstruation
Fennel helps in regulating hormonal actions in the body thus controlling menstruation. It is also used to reduce PMS effects and as a soothing pain reliever.
- Eye Care
Flavonoids present in fennel helps in protecting pigment cells against oxidative-stress-induced death, which further helps in maintaining eye health.
- Maintains Respiratory Health
Due to the presence of cineole and anethol, fennel helps in preventing disorders like congestion, cough and bronchitis. Fennel seed powder helps in breaking up phlegm and prevent toxins and build up of the throat – all this ensures a healthy respiratory system.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database one raw fennel bulb weighing 234 grams contains:
- 73 calories
- 0.47 grams of fat
- 2.9 grams of protein
- 17 grams of carbohydrate
- 7.3 grams of dietary fibre
- No cholesterol
A cup of fennel also provides:
- 360 micrograms (mg) of potassium
- 45 milligrams of sodium
- 838 international units (IU) of vitamin A
- 43 milligrams of calcium
- 10.4 milligrams of vitamin C
- 0.64 milligrams of iron
- 0.041 milligrams of vitamin B-6
- 15 milligrams of magnesium
Fennel also contains phosphorous, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, niacin, pantothenic acid, folate, choline, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
- Fennel may cause allergic reactions to some people who are sensitive to it.
- Fennel may slow down blood clotting, therefore people with bleeding disorders may suffer from bleeding or bruising.
- Fennel may act like estrogen. People having conditions that may worsen by more estrogen levels should avoid it.