Welcome back to The Naturopathic Kitchen. As always, our focus is to learn more about bringing new, fun and healthy foods into our kitchens. Today we will take a closer look at a flavorful plant called fennel.
Fennel is a unique vegetable that can be used in many different ways. Today, it is an important component of many European foods, playing a particularly strong role in French and Italian cuisine. Historically, fennel dates back to ancient times when it went by the name “marathon” (due to growing in the field where the Battle of Marathon took place). In Greek mythology fennel was linked to the god of food and wine, Dionysus, who held a fennel staff, tipped with a pine-cone and known as a thyrsus. Fennel was cherished by both the Greeks and Roman civilizations for both its culinary and medicinal purposes.
Beyond Europe, fennel seeds are often featured in Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Fennel is listed in the Chinese Materia Medical from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and is an ingredient in the popular spice mixture known as “Five Spice.” Fennel is also a common ingredient in Chinese curry mixtures used along the southern Chinese border. Indian and Pakistani cuisine often features a bowl of fennel seeds known as “mukhwas” that are sometimes cloaked in a brightly colored candy shell or roasted, meant to be consumed after the meal to aid in digestion and reduce flatulence. They also serve the dual purpose of acting as an herbal breath freshener.
Where does fennel come from? Where can I find it?
Although actually a relative of parsley, coriander, carrots, and dill, fennel looks more like celery, but with a large white or pale green bulb at the bottom that has close-packed, overlapping fronds covered in feathery, thin leaves on the top. Flowers grow interspersed in the leaves and produce fennel seeds. The entire above ground plant, including the seeds and pollen, is edible.
When purchasing fennel, seek bulbs that are firm and solid. The bulb should be clean and free of blemishes, bruises, spots, or splitting. Look for stalks that are green, with green leaves, straight, overlapping, don’t flare too far out to the sides. Flowering bulbs are unfavorable since that means that the plant is past maturity. Fennel is typically available in grocery stores and specialty stores during the fall and spring seasons.
Fennel is considered an aromatic which simply means that it is a plant with an enjoyable and distinctive smell. Its flavor is perfume-like with a sweetness similar to that of licorice or anise. Raw fennel is texturally crunchy with striated fibers. Fennel is quite versatile in its culinary use. It can be eaten in the raw state adding texture and crunch to dishes or it may be roasted or used in soups, sautéed or grilled, even caramelized. The tips of the fronds are often used as a garnish.
How does fennel help my health?
As is true of most culinary herbs, fennel possesses a treasure trove of phytonutrients that provide ample antioxidant activity. It is also a superb source of vitamin C and contains other nutrients like fiber. In terms of vitamins and minerals, fennel is known to contain folate, niacin (vitamin B3) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) as well as minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and copper.
Well known for its role in digestive health, research into the health benefits of fennel have covered an extensive array of symptoms and conditions.1 Studies have found fennel to have antimutagenic properties that inhibit the formation of cancerous cells.2 The essential oil distilled from fennel has liver-protective qualities, lowering levels of liver enzymes after liver injury in experimental models.3 Fennel essential oil has also been shown to have potent antimicrobial properties, even against bacteria with various mechanisms of resistance.4 Chewing whole fennel seeds or drinking tea made from fennel seeds acts to reduce intestinal cramping and is well known to relieve gas and bloating after meals.5
What medical conditions/symptoms is fennel used for?
When should fennel be avoided?
Given its longstanding history of use, fennel is considered safe. Limited clinical trials have found no concerns with daily fennel intake however, one should avoid fennel while taking ciprofloxacin (cipro) as significant interference in absorption has been noted in research.6
Let’s try out fennel with these tasty recipes!
Fennel Frond Pesto
1 c fennel fronds
1/2 c pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
1/2 t Himalayan salt
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c grated Parmesan (optional)
Roughly chop garlic and add to a food processor with the Himalayan salt. Pulse to mince the garlic. Add the pine nuts and chop until fine. Pulse with the grated Parmesan cheese. Add the fennel fronds and extra virgin olive oil. Blend until smooth.
Thank you to backtoorganic.com for the fabulous recipe!
Fennel Slaw with Mint Vinaigrette
1 fennel bulb (large, or 2 medium bulbs)
1 1/2 t sugar or maple syrup
2 T lemon juice
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 t mustard
1/2 t salt
1 T chopped fresh mint
2 t shallot (minced)
Put the lemon juice, shallot, mustard, salt, sugar and mint in a blender and pulse briefly. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until it is well combined. Using a mandoline, shave the fennel into 1/8-inch slices starting from the bottom of the bulb. Don’t worry about coring the fennel bulb, it’s unnecessary. If you don’t have a mandoline, slice the bulb as thin as you can. Chop some of the fennel fronds as well to toss in with the salad. Toss with the fennel and marinate for at least an hour. Serve this salad either cold or at room temperature.
Thank you to simplyrecipes.com for the wonderful recipe!
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