Fennel? Another one of those oddly shaped crops that may leave you bewildered. But take a quick look at all the health benefits it brings and you’ll be trying to find ways to work it into your diet. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. Fennel plays an important role in the food culture of many European nations, especially in France and Italy. Its reputation dates back to the earliest times and is reflected in its mythological traditions. Greek myths state that fennel was not only closely associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine, but that a fennel stalk carried the coal that passed down knowledge from the gods to men. Fennels aroma and taste are unique, reminiscent of licorice and anise, so much so that fennel is often mistakenly referred to as anise in the marketplace, but don’t let an aversion to black jelly beans keep you away from fennel, whether braised, sautéed, roasted, or grilled, the bulb mellows and softens with cooking.
This strange plant has an abundance of medicinal uses and health benefits. In fact, fennel, is a major digestive powerhouse.
Some of the components of the essential oils in fennel are stimulants and they stimulate secretion of digestive and gastric juices, while reducing inflammation of the stomach and intestines, and facilitating proper absorption of nutrients from food. It can eliminate constipation and thereby protect the body from a wide range of intestinal troubles that can stem from being “blocked up”. Fennel is very popular as an antiflatulent, due to the carminative properties of the aspartic acid found in fennel. Its extract can be used by everyone, from infants to the elderly, as a way to reduce flatulence and to expel excess gas from the stomach. Fennel is helpful in curing diarrhea if it is caused by bacterial infection, because some components of the essential oil in fennel such as anetol and cineole have disinfectant and antibacterial properties. Its amino acids, aid in digestion and the proper functioning of the digestive system, thereby helping to eliminate diarrhea due to indigestion. Fennel has long been used by indigenous cultures as a way to eliminate diarrhea.
The iron and histidine in fennel are also helpful in treating anemia. Whereas iron is the chief constituent of hemoglobin, histidine stimulates production of hemoglobin and also helps in the formation of various other components of the blood. Fennel is a great source of fiber, as mentioned above, but besides the advantages to digestion that fiber provides, it also helps to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol in the blood stream. This means that it can stimulate the elimination damaging LDL cholesterol, which is a major factor in heart disease and strokes. Fennel is a rich source of potassium, which is an essential nutrient in our bodies and is vital for a number of important processes. One of the benefits of potassium is its quality as a vasodilator, which means that it relaxes the tension of blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure. High blood pressure is connected to a wide range of health issues, including heart attack and stroke. Also, for diabetic patients, blood pressure issues can make management of their insulin and glucose levels very difficult, and can be the cause of many potentially lethal complications. A cup of fennel bulb in your daily diet will pump you full of potassium and all the benefits that come along with it.
And women, read on….fennel is also an emmenagogue, meaning that it eases and regulates menstruation by properly regulating hormonal action in the body. Fennel is used in a number of products to reduce the effects of PMS, and it is also used traditionally as a soothing pain reliever and relaxing agent for menopausal women. Fennel also increases production and secretion of milk in lactating mothers and since this milk contains some properties of fennel, it is an anti-flatulent for the baby as well. Fennel is an herb that has also been used for breast enlargement and to increase libido.
Fennel is useful in respiratory disorders such congestion, bronchitis, and cough due to the presence of Cineole and Anetol which are expectorant in nature, among their many other virtues. Fennel seeds and powder can help to break up phlegm and prompt loosening of the toxins and buildup of the throat and nasal passages for elimination from the body and quicker recovery from respiratory conditions.
Fennel is diuretic, which means that it increases the amount and frequency of urination, thereby helping the removal of toxic substances from the body and helping in rheumatism and swelling.
Finally, the juice of fennel leaves and the plant itself can be externally applied on the eyes to reduce irritation and eye fatigue
PREP TIME: Remove the foliage by snipping an inch or two above the bulb. Place fennel in a produce bag to prevent moisture loss, and store it in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for three or four days. The three different parts of fennel—the base, stalks and leaves—can all be used in cooking. Cut the stalks away from the bulb at the place where they meet. If you are not going to be using the intact bulb in a recipe, then first cut it in half, remove the base, and then rinse it with water before proceeding to cut it further. Fennel can be cut in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending upon the recipe and your personal preference. The best way to slice it is to do so vertically through the bulb. If your recipe requires chunked, diced or julienned fennel, it is best to first remove the harder core that resides in the center before cutting it. The stalks of the fennel can be used for soups, stocks and stews, while the leaves can be used as an herb seasoning.
Sliced crisp fennel is delicious served raw in salads.
Sautéed fennel and onions make a wonderful side dish,
Combine sliced fennel with avocados, and oranges for a delightful salad.
Braised fennel is a wonderful complement to scallops.
Top thinly sliced fennel with plain yogurt and mint leaves.
Fennel is a match made in Heaven when served with salmon.
Fennel and Celery Salad
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed, some fronds reserved
3 celery ribs, trimmed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, more to taste
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, more to taste
freshly shaved Parmesan cheese.
Cut fennel bulbs in quarters lengthwise, discarding outer layer if it is exceedingly tough. Use a mandoline or slice quarters thinly; slice celery equally thin. Put sliced fennel and celery into a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to combine. Top with lots of freshly shaved Parmesan and chopped fennel fronds if you like.
Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Fennel and Garlic
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 fennel bulbs, fronds and stalks removed, bulbs cored and cut into eighths
2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse salt and ground pepper
pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Preheat oven to 475. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss garlic, fennel, and 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast 10 minutes. Rub pork with remaining tablespoon oil; season with oregano, salt, and pepper. Remove baking sheet from oven, and push fennel and garlic to sides of sheet. Place pork in center, and roast 20 to 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part registers 145. Transfer pork to a cutting board, and let rest at least 5 minutes before thinly slicing. Serve pork with fennel and garlic.
MORE RECIPES: Fennel in Wine and Honey, Pan Seared Scallops With Fettuccine in Bacon Fennel Cream Sauce, Roasted Chicken Sausages with Brussel Sprouts, Fennel and Potatoes, Braised Fennel and White Beans, Baked Fennel with Parmesan and Thyme, Shaved Fennel Salad, Roasted Fennel and Butternut Squash Soup, Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Fennel and Rosemary, Caramelized Fennel, Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup, Fennel and Smoked Salmon Salad