Fennel is a perennial, medicinal herb and popular aromatic plant belonging to the family of Apiaceae; a large family of herbs and spices that also includes members such as caraway, dill, anise and cumin.
The scientific name of fennel is Foeniculum vulgare. Fennel seeds also known as spice of the angels, have a crunchy texture on the outside with a mildly sweet flavour.
Foeniculum vulgare as a herb has a number of culinary and traditional medicinal uses. They contain essential oil, fatty acids and phenolic compounds; they are widely used as a mouth freshener. Fennel’s seed is commonly used as a natural remedy against digestive disorders such as dyspepsia, bloating, and flatulence, and possesses analgesic, antipyretic, and antioxidant properties. It is also used to flavour foods, liqueurs and in the perfumery industry. Essential oils derived from fennel have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and hepato protective activities.
Several studies showed that F. vulgare effectively controls numerous infectious disorders of bacterial, fungal, viral, mycobacterium, and protozoal origin. It has antioxidant, antitumor, chemopreventive, cytoprotective, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, memory-enhancing properties and oestrogenic activities.
Fennel seed also contains mineral and trace elements like aluminum, barium, calcium, potassium, sodium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, nickel, lead, strontium, and zinc; fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, E, and K; water soluble vitamins like ascorbic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and pyridoxine; essential amino acids like leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, and tryptophane which may all contribute to a myriad of health benefits.
These vitamins and minerals are required by the human body in large amounts. For example, a deficiency in Sodium, potassium and calcium can result in arthritis bones and tooth related disorders. Manganese is an important element for proper and normal growth of the human bone structure. It is a very significant mineral in aiding to increase the mineral density of spinal bones. Iron Fe is required for the production of red blood cells in a process known as the haematopoiesis, but it is also part of the hemoglobin (pigment of RBC) that binds to oxygen to facilitate its transport from the lungs via the arteries to all cells throughout the body. Zinc is required for the working of insulin, fertility as well as for mental and body growth.
Fennel seed is highly recommended for people with diabetes, bronchitis, chronic coughs, for the treatment of kidney stones and is considered to have diuretic, stomachic and galactogogue properties.
Nutritional composition of the fennel and fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare).
Fennels are one of the highest plant sources of potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and calcium. According to the USDA, 100g of fennels contains around 31 calories, 1.24g of protein, 0.2g of fat and 7.3g of carbohydrate with 3.1g of dietary fibre. Below is the nutritional composition of fennel seeds per 100g.
Culinary uses of fennel and fennels seeds.
Fennels’ shoots, tender leaves and stems are chewed and sucked due to its exquisite aniseed flavour. All these parts are also commonly used as vegetables. They are added raw to salads, stewed with beans and chickpeas, used to stuff fish for grilling, put in soups and in traditional fish broths. Besides seasoning, fennel is used to preserve food: stems are sometimes one of the ingredients of the brines prepared for olives’ cure; leafy stems are boiled in the water where figs are soaked before being dried. Flowering stems, sugar and honey macerating in brandy produce a highly valorised spirit. Herbal teas prepared with fresh tender or dried flowering stems are drunk chilled or hot, depending on the season.
A diet rich in this perennial umbelliferous herb and the seeds could bring potential health benefits due to their valuable nutritional composition in essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.