A versatile vegetable known for its characteristic licorice and anise flavors, fennel has been revered since ancient times as a powerful all-purpose remedy. The Chinese used fennel for its purported anti-venomous properties against snake bites and scorpions, while Europeans in the Middle Ages utilized fennel seeds in amulets to shield from witchcraft. Though warding off witches and poisonous critters isn’t among our pressing concerns in modern times, fennel has been shown to provide protection against a multitude of today’s common diseases and discomforts.
Fennel is notable for its edibility: the white or pale green bulb, sturdy stalks and aromatic seeds all may be eaten and lend themselves to unique preparations. In India, Asia and South America, fennel seeds are commonly chewed after a meal to refresh the breath and ease digestion. In Italy, the seeds find their way into sausages and tomato sauces, while bulbs and stalks are braised for seafood dishes or julienned for salads. There is also a long history of brewing herbal tea from fennel seeds in many cultures.
No matter which part of the fennel plant you choose, you will benefit from anethole, the primary component of fennel’s essential oil that lends the anise-like taste. In animal studies, anethole has been shown to reduce inflammation, prevent cancer and protect the liver from toxic chemical injury. This phytonutrient also inhibits spasms of the smooth muscles, including those in the intestinal tract. As a result, fennel is known to relax the gut and relieve abdominal pain, acid indigestion, bloating and gas. It is especially effective for babies with colic.
Full of Vitamins
Fennel promotes a healthy immune system with a nexus of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is an excellent source of vitamin C, which has antimicrobial properties, and potassium, which guards against stroke. Fennel’s multiple flavonoids also provide robust antioxidant activity. The vegetable’s peak season is from September to February, which makes it an ideal antidote to winter colds and flu. It has been shown to alleviate symptoms of upper respiratory infections including whooping cough and bronchitis.
Women may find fennel particularly helpful for a variety of feminine health concerns. Its antispasmodic properties can relieve menstrual cramps. For women who are nursing, fennel is believed to increase breast milk secretion. The vegetable is also thought to help regulate hormonal change and may boost estrogen production during menopause.
Food of the Gods
With such a range of health advantages and a distinctive taste, it’s no wonder that in Greek mythology fennel was closely associated with Dionysus, the god of food and wine. Celebrate this ambrosia by adding roasted fennel to your meal or warming a cup of fennel tea. You’re bound to be invincible against upset stomachs, cold weather illness or any "bad spells" that may come your way.