Botanical name: Foeniculum vulgare
Thought to have originated in Southern Europe and Mediterranean regions, fennel is an herb with a mild but distinctive licorice flavor and fragrance. Although it still grows wild in surprising places, fennel is cultivated extensively in the U.S., France, India, and Russia. It has three parts, each with its own unique value: the crunchy, bulbous, pale green root; feathery fronds with the appearance of carrot tops; and seeds inside the butter-yellow blossoms of the mature plant.
Ancient Chinese medicine found beneficial uses for fennel, from congestion to conjunctivitis, to stimulate the appetite and increase the flow of breast milk. Essential oil of fennel provides upset stomach relief, and tea made from ground fennel seeds is believed to be good for snake bites, insect bites, food poisoning, and soothing a sore throat.
A mainstay in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, fennel is slowly making a name for itself in a meat-and-potatoes world. A simple recipe to try might involve slicing or chopping the white fennel bulb into "matchsticks" or cubes as an addition to savory vegetable salads; steam, roast, or sauté the bulb and add to soup or casseroles, or combine the leaves with rice or pasta along with olive oil, over baked fish.
Like most plant-based foods, you'll find fennel to be widely beneficial not only in the kitchen, but nutritionally as well.
Health Benefits of Fennel
Vitamin C, the most active vitamin in fennel (17% of the daily value), has the strength to zap free radicals looking for a place to cause damage in the body, usually in the form of inflammation, which could lead to joint degeneration and arthritis. Other prominent vitamins and minerals in fennel include potassium, an electrolyte that fights high blood pressure, and folate, which helps convert potentially dangerous molecules called homocysteine into a benign form.
The dietary fiber in fennel limits cholesterol build-up, absorbs water in the digestive system, and helps eliminate carcinogens from the colon, possibly preventing colon cancer. Several other nutrients play supportive roles, namely manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.
The long, graceful fronds above the fennel bulbs contain a number of important vitamins, such as pantothenic acid, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin. Phytonutrients in fennel seeds and bulbs include the flavonoids rutin, quercitin, and kaempferol, all antioxidants which resist infection, aging, and degenerative neurological diseases.
But the most important nutrient in this vegetable might be anethole, a component in the volatile oil of fennel and one of the most powerful agents against cancer occurrence, possibly due to a biological mechanism that shuts down or prevents the activation of NF-kappaB, a gene-altering, inflammation-triggering molecule.
Fennel Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: One cup of sliced fennel (87 grams)
Amt. Per Serving
Studies Done on Fennel
Scientists noted that Dicyclomine hydrochloride, the only consistently effective prescription medication for infantile colic, also resulted in the development of serious side effects, including death in 5% of infants treated. Having been proven effective in reducing intestinal spasms in the small intestine, fennel seed oil was tested on 125 infants against a placebo to see if it might also be effective for infantile colic. Results were extremely positive, eliminating colic in 40 of 62 infants in its treatment group1.
Another study was aimed at formulating an anti-aging topical cream containing fennel extract. The formulation was then evaluated for effect on skin moisture and skin-surface water loss and found to have significant and positive effects on skin moisture, proving that the formulation possessed potential anti-aging effects2.
Fennel Healthy Recipes: Fennel-Dill Artichokes
- 4 artichokes
- 1 cup carrots, quartered lengthwise
- 1 cup fennel or celery, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup melted coconut oil
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons or more fresh dill, chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Black pepper
- Trim the tips of the leaves and cut off stems of artichokes, so they sit upright.
- Place in a large pot, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until just barely tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Mix carrots, fennel, and celery. Spread evenly in a baking dish with a lid. Place artichokes upright on top of vegetables.
- Mix olive oil, coconut oil, lemon juice, fennel seeds, dill, salt, and a few dashes of black pepper. Pour over artichoke mixture.
- Cover baking dish and bake until all vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. This recipe makes 4 servings.
(From Dr. Mercola’s book Healthy Recipes for your Nutritional Type )
Fennel Fun Facts
Fennel earned distinction in Greece because of its many medicinal and culinary uses. Known as “marathron,” fennel is especially honored for its significance in the ancient Battle of Marathron, fought and won against the Persians in a field of this aromatic herb in 490 B.C. Fennel was the award given to a runner, Pheidippides, who alerted Sparta of a Persian (Iranian) invasion, and saved the day.
Reminiscent of anise and licorice, fennel is one of those versatile herbs unfamiliar to many Americans, but found to be delightful upon experimentation. One reason for its versatility is that every part can be used: the bulb root, the tender, wispy leaves, and the seeds.
Fennel adds a sweetly musky flavor in combination with vegetables such as beets, carrots and sweet potatoes, with savory roast meats and fish, pasta dishes, and even raw in salads.
Used for centuries in Asian medicine, even the essential oil made from fennel is used for upset stomach relief. Clinical trials have found fennel to have skin-softening and anti-aging properties, and extracts have been found to ease colic in infants. Vitamin C is by far its most important nutritional attribute, but other minerals and phytonutrients combine to help prevent cholesterol build-up, high blood pressure, and colon cancer.
Try a large handful of fennel sautéed in butter with thinly sliced sweet onions, chopped tomatoes, and angel hair pasta for a truly divine dish paired with seared wild Alaskan salmon.