Foeniculum vulgare is a member of the Apiaceae family. It is a warm, spicy sweet herb that has affinity to the liver, kidneys, spleen – the seat of the immune system as well as the stomach. The main actions are to regulate Qi or Chi (depending on your spelling). Qi is the seat of energy within the body.

"Tossing doughnuts, fritters or fried dumplings in fennel sugar adds grown-up complexity without diminishing the indulgence factor”

Yotam Ottolenghi

Fennel is a rich source of vitamin C, potassium and dietary fibre as well as folic acid and phosphorous. It is also a good source of minerals including manganese, iron, calcium, magnesium and molybdenum.

Mostly it is the seeds that are used, but both the leaves and the bulb of the fennel can be eaten. This wonderful herb has several herbal actions – it is carminative, digestive, and antispasmodic, it is an emmenogogue (increases the strength and frequency of contractions), a galactogogue (promotes lactation) and diuretic as a well as being an expectorant and a bronchodilator. A powerful bundle of healing to address many issues! While this herb should be avoided during pregnancy, unless under the supervision of a medical herbalist, it is a wonderful herb for increasing lactation if struggling to produce breast milk. Due to the rich concentration of phytoestrogens, it is also useful for relieving period pains, bringing on menstruation, as well as easing the symptoms of menopause.

The funnel bulb, often eaten as a vegetable has similar actions and flavours, but when eaten raw, for example in a smoothie or salad, can be quite cooling. To help in regulating the cooling effect use warming vegetables and/or herbs and spices to avoid over-dampening your body’s energy or Qi, causing your system to become cold over time which can lead to physical ailments such as the inability to shake off a cold, regular bouts of seasonal flu and aching joints.

Fennel is well documented back to Medieval times when fennel together with St John’s Wort, and Rosemary were hung above doors on Midsummer’s Eve to ward off any evil spirits. Fennel also has a long history of medicinal use in the Mediterranean region and Greek myth states that fennel was closely associated with Dionysus, the god of food and wine. The ancient Greeks knew fennel by the name “Marathon” as it grew in the field where an ancient battle was fought which was in turn named the “Battle of Marathon” after this revered plant.

Widely grown throughout Europe, especially around the Meditarranean Sea, traditionally it has been used for digestive ailments. Today, the seeds of fennel are commonly taken as tea after a meal to ease gas, bloating, indigestion and abdominal pain and discomfort caused by spasms. Spasms may be caused by over-eating, an unsuitable choice of food for your digestive system and too many cold foods. In India the seeds are offered after a meal which are either then chewed or sucked in order to release the carminative values and settle digestion, preventing flatulence and distention. Also suitable for the elderly and those with a digestive weakness as the warm energies of fennel seed are not over stimulating.

The expectorant and bronchodilator properties of fennel are very helpful when unable to remove phlegm that has built up in the lungs causing unproductive coughing. It calms the bronchial tubes and loosens the phlegm making it easier for the body to expel.

The fennel bulb is usually available autumn through to early summer and should be whitish or pale green in colour and ideally have part of the stem attached which should be firm and hard as opposed to limp and bending. Fresh fennel should have a fragrant smell of liquorice or anise. The bulb can be added sliced raw to salads, used in vegetable and meat stews as flavouring and cut in half and roasted as a vegetable to eat with meat, fish or any vegetarian dish. It is especially suited to accompany fish and pork dishes.
Serving suggestions:

  • Make a salad of sliced raw fennel, avocado, orange and green beans adding chopped fresh mint in a dressing of your choice.
  • Mix thinly sliced fennel with finely chopped mint and mix with plain yogurt to be served with curries and other spicy foods.
  • Add grated or chopped to coleslaw to create a slight variation on a theme alternatively you can substitute fennel for cabbage.
  • Fennel and lemon risotto.

“What are those bulb things you're slicing?"
"You've never seen fennel? It looks like celery and tastes like liquorice.”
― Ken Jennings, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs

Preparation and dosage:
To make an infusion pour a cup of boiled water onto 1-2 teaspoons of slightly crushed seeds and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Drink 3 times daily.
To ease flatulence, drink a cup of the same infusion 30 minutes before eating.

Note: When using herbs, it is advisable to do so under the guidance of a herbalist.

Contraindications – Fennel and fennel tincture has no known contraindications. Avoid during pregnancy and when sensitive to plants from the Apiaceae family.

Dispensing with Tradition, Anne McIntyre, Michelle Bourdin
Healing with the herbs of life, Lesley Tierra, L.Ac., Herbalist, A.H.G
The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods, Dr Michael Murray and Dr Joseph Pizzorno

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