Both a herb and a spice, fennel seeds can be found in recipes, medicines, and liquor. We usually know fennel seeds for their mouth freshening properties. Fennel is a biennial or perennial herb, which grows to a height of 1.5 – 1.8m. The bright golden flowers are produced in large, flat terminal umbels, with from 13 – 20 rays, the seed [or the fruit] is small, oblong, ellipsoidal or cylindrical, 6 – 7mm long, straight or slightly curved, and of greenish yellow or yellowish brown colour possessing an agreeable, sweet aroma.
Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C and A [especially leaves]. It is also a good source of minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, copper, potassium and calcium. It contains trace minerals like molybdenum, manganese and foliate that meets the recommended daily allowance. Filling, yet low in calories and high in fibre, it is an ideal snack for people who are trying to lose weight. [see box]
Fennel leaves, the stem, the bulb and seeds are widely used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. Fennel is commonly used in Italian and French recipes. It is used as a flavour enhancer in mayonnaise, fish dressings and also in bakery products [breads, cakes and confectionary].
Gastro intestinal tract
It is a common practice in many Indian families to chew fennel seeds after meals. Fennel contains anethole [volatile oil], which stimulates secretion of digestive and gastric juices, reduces inflammation of stomach and intestines and facilitates proper absorption of nutrients from the food. It is extensively used in antacid preparations, is an appetiser and prevents bad breath.
Flatulence [gas trouble]
Fennel contains aspartic acid, which acts as an anti-flatulent. Thus, fennel extract can be used in infants to geriatrics to relieve the stomach of excess gases.
Fennel seeds are good laxative agents as they contain fibre. The roughage helps in clearance of bowels whereas the stimulating effect helps maintain the proper peristaltic motion of the intestines, thereby helping proper excretion.
Fennel has disinfectant and anti-bacterial properties. It contains amino acids such as histidine that aid digestion and proper functioning of digestive system, curing diarrhoea due to indigestion.
Colic [severe stomach ache]
Polymeric and heavy molecules present in fennel are useful in the treatment of renal colic. Volatile oil of fennel contains anethole, which is a phytoestrogen, thus making it a polymer which is helpful in treating colic.
Cholerectic [increase in bile production]
The seed, or roots, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen and gall, and ease painful and windy swellings and helps in curing yellow jaundice.
Cineole and anethole present in fennel seeds act as expectorants and help to clear congestion in the respiratory tract. Thus, it is considered to be beneficial in conditions like asthma or bronchitis. Eating fennel seeds with figs is also a good medicine for cough, bronchitis and lung abscesses.
Histidine, found in fennel seeds, is an essential amino acid that helps in the formation of haemoglobin and other blood components. Thus, it helps prevent anaemia.
Emenagogue [foods that regulate menses]
Fennel has mild oestrogenic properties. Fennel water when taken during periods can help ease menstrual pain. It also helps to regulate the menstrual cycle.
Galactogogue [foods that help in milk secretion and production]
Fennel increases milk production and secretion in lactating mothers. The milk produced will contain some properties of fennel; thus acting as an anti-flatulent for the infant.
With summer round the corner, fennel water with a dash of lime, sugar and black salt is an ideal coolant for the body. The juice of fennel leaves and the plant can be externally applied on the eyes to reduce irritation and fatigue. It gives a cool and soothing effect.