For centuries, fennel fruits have been used as traditional herbal medicine in Europe and China. Fennel tea is used to treat infants suffering from colic. Practically every part of the plant is edible. Fennel seed is widely used in India as an after-dinner breath freshener and also to help digestion. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), a herb of the carrot family, is cultivated for both its culinary and herbal uses. The seeds have a liquorice-like taste.
Fennel seeds are rich in minerals, including magnesium.
Two of its main constituents are anethol and fenchone. Anethol and other terpenoids may inhibit spasms in smooth muscles such as those in the intestinal tract. Fenchone may be responsible for the medicinal properties associated with fennel.
Recent studies have found that consumption of fennel can increase the production of bile. Fennel may also possess diuretic, pain-reducing and anti-microbial activities. It is the premiere carminative (relieves gas) in the world, especially for adults. Fennel is a cooling spice that calms the nerves and promotes mental alertness. It loosens lung mucus and helps clear the chest. It also balances blood pressure and promotes lactation. Fennel tea is reputed to be good for eye inflammations.
Fennel complements almost any kind of fish preparation. Dry stalks of fennel placed under fish or shrimp being grilled or barbecued gives it a wonderful flavour. Fennel features in several Italian recipes such as tomato sauces and sausages. It is a key ingredient in several spices and herb blends such as Indian curry powders and Chinese Five Spices. The seeds give a distinct flavour to baked goodies like bread, cakes and cookies.