Fennel is one of the few plants that have it all; it’s a vegetable, an herb and a spice. Calming, anti-flatulent and digestive soothing fennel seeds can be a boon to those trying to add fiber to their diets. If you are doing what many Doctors and diet books are telling us to do; you are trying to eat a more healthy diet of whole grains, beans and vegetables. But all that fiber can also produce more intestinal gas! Many studies have found that Fennel seed is unparalleled at relieving gas! These seeds work because they relax the lining of the intestine and douse the flames of inflammation which also are very common issues with Intestinal Bowel Disease (IBD) or Crohn’s disease.
Not everyone likes a licorice tasting bulb like fennel root; but definitely in almost every culture the seed is in demand! But the seeds are milder and can be mixed with many types of recipes. The familiar tang of licorice is the same volatile oil compound (anethole) that gives anise its flavor. Fennel seeds are teeming with potent phytochemicals that includes phytoestrogens, estrogen like compounds found in plants, which can be a women’s best friend. Menstrual cramps and pain affects more than 50% of menstruating women; 10% are so severe they can be incapacitated. Studies have shown that an extract of fennel relieved pain for over 70% of participants in the study!
In many countries fennel seeds are used to increase milk production for breastfeeding mothers. It is not recommended to consume fennel if pregnant due to possible uterine stimulation.
In another study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, doctors treated infants with colic with a product containing fennel seed. This product, called Gripe Water, eliminated colic symptoms in 65% of the babies tested and fennel can be used safely with not side effects.
Fennel Seed is also a powerful antioxidant and anti- inflammatory. In the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers concluded that Fennel extract can be employed in treatment of cognitive disorders, such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Fennel extract proved to profoundly boost the activity of a brain chemical, Acetylcholine, which is the same action as Aricept, a drug used for Alzheimer’s treatment. Other studies show good results for prevention and to slow damage of glaucoma, heart disease, strokes and pain of arthritis.
Since the Middle Ages, Fennel, both the root and the seeds are foods widely used in Mediterranean cuisine, especially in Italy. Their national liqueur is Sambuca, and of course, Italian sausage a big favorite, is flavored with fennel seeds. The French use the root in salads and pasta. Germany uses fennel seed in breads, fish dishes, sauerkraut and the Spanish use seeds to flavor cakes and other sweets. When you toast the seeds it adds a vibrant flavor similar to brown sugar! In India fennel is a key ingredient in spice blends like curry powders and the seeds are always there at the door, to help with digestion, when you leave the Indian restaurant!
Here are some suggestions for adding Fennel to your diet:
– Crush two teaspoons of dry fennel seeds and steep them for 10 minutes in boiled water, strain and drink as a Tea after a meal or any time you have digestive discomfort or gas
– Sprinkle seeds on top of cakes or breads before baking
– Add fennel seeds to scrambled eggs or fruit salads
– Chew on fennel seeds after meals to help with digestion and gas
– Slice up fresh roots to add to salads or add to sautéed vegetables
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal
The Good Herb by Judith Bern Hurley