Fennel isn’t just from Greek legend as a vessel for knowledge from Mount Olympus. It’s been around since Ancient times and was very popular in the Middle Ages, too, for both the rich and the poor (www.drugs.com). Fennel has stayed strong and present in our world for years and years, and it is showing little sign of retreat.
What are Fennel Seeds?
Fennel seeds are an aromatic little seed dried from the herb fennel. They somewhat resemble cumin seeds, though with a slightly more pronounced shade of green. You can find these delicious little seeds giving a deep, warm flavor to both Chinese and Indian dishes (BBC-Good Food). Throughout history, fennel, as an herb, has been used to flavor dishes and as a healing medicine.
Fennel or Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce is ground as an herb and grown perennially. It is in the same family as parsley, dill, anise, and cumin. Though Southern Europe is its native area of growth, it is now found in many parts of Europe and the world, such as the Middle-East, China, and India. When grown, it can reach a height of almost 6 feet. It has elegant and lacy leaves and even sprouts yellow flowers. Normally, gardeners harvest the seeds when they are a light shade of brown. The oval shaped seeds are between 3-4 mm in length, featuring subtle lines of texture (Nutrition-and-you.com).
Nutritional Statistics of Fennel Seeds
If you can get your hands on a raw fennel bulb, the nutrition is as follows:
- around 70 calories
- 5 grams of fat
- no cholesterol
- nearly 3 grams of protein
- 17 grams of carbohydrates
- and 7 grams of fiber
One raw bulb also provides a quarter of your potassium requirements, nearly half of the vitamin C you need, and also some sodium, vitamin A, calcium, iron, vitamin B-6, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, niacin, folate, beta-carotene, vitamin E and K and even estrogen, should you need it (Medical News Today).
Benefits of Fennel Seeds
According to the NYU Langone Medical Center, studies suggest there may be some medicinal properties of fennel. They also point out, however, that there is a lack comparative research and some studies may have alternative explanations. In any case, referring to the few existing studies, fennel or some part of fennel may:
- relax (smooth) muscles
- stimulate bile
- reduce pain
- relieve symptoms of colic
- reduce crying in infants suffering from colic
- reducing menstrual pain
While NYU has its reservations, Medical News Today, on the other hand, has no problem confidently listing benefit after benefit of fennel. According to the site’s writers, Megan Ware, RDN, LD and Helen Yuan (nutrition intern) fennel can play quite a positive role in our daily health seen in this quite hefty list of ways:
Blood Pressure Health
A healthy blood pressure relies on a healthy (low) sodium intake. In addition to this, a healthy amount of potassium may be equally important and many US adults are not meeting the required daily intake. Fennel’s potassium, calcium and magnesium do their natural part to lower blood pressure.
Heart health is aided by fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin C, B-6 and phytonutrients. Fennel contains all of these heart healthy contents while also being free of cholesterol. And if you already have high cholesterol, the fiber in fennel will help to lower it. The vitamin B-6 and folate play an important role in making sure the vessel damaging homocysteine doesn’t build up.
Bone Strength and Health
Fennel contains iron, phosphorous, magnesium, and zinc contents, which promote processes such as maintaining bone strength and the building up of bones when provided in the correct proportion and doses. Iron and zinc are important in collagen production. Fennel also contains vitamin K, an important vitamin, some say, to keep bones from fracturing. At the very least, the absence or low amount of vitamin K has been linked to heightened risks for fractures.
Fiber, present in fennel, is said to reduce the chances of getting colorectal cancer. Fennel also uses the mineral selenium to detoxify the liver. This enzyme aiding property may help to cleanse out compounds that could cause cancer while slowing the growth rate of tumors. Vitamin A, C, and beta carotene are said to offer protection to cell damage by being antioxidants. Folate repairs DNA which prevents cancer cell formation and mutations.
The fiber in fennel seems to be the star ingredient, providing a wide range of impressive benefits. When trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, fiber has long been considered a key player in doing so. Fiber helps to make one feel full, reducing the desire to eat, and therefore keeping your calorie intake at a modest and healthier level.
Fennel, thanks to its rich fiber dose, can help to ward off constipation and keep digestion regular and healthy. NYU Langone Medical Center also cites fennel as being a traditional method, used as a carminative: meaning, it encourages the body to rid itself of gas.
Female Reproductive Health
Fennel contains estrogen. The estrogen is important for keeping the female reproductive cycle regular and healthy, thus supporting fertility. This reproductive health, aided by estrogen, has also been said to support healthy body weight.
Vitamin C plays a key role in collagen health, which affects the appearance and health of our skin. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can prevent sun, pollution, and smoke damage to our skin which may also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Interactions and Safety issues
With every list of benefits, there is (or should be) an accompanying list of safety notices.
According to NYU Langone Medical Center, while fennel is considered quite safe, it also may have some negative interactions with certain medications. According to one study NYU MC cites it “impairs the absorption of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin”. Precaution and careful attention to spacing between prescription medication and fennel nutritional therapy should be taken. Additionally, there have been no maximum dose levels for special demographics (children, pregnant, those with certain medical conditions), so one should consult their specialist or physician before beginning an increased fennel diet.
Fennel and other spices of its type are sometimes associated with allergies. As with all allergies, it goes without saying, to practice avoidance to the allergy triggering foods. If you are on a beta-blocker, taking large doses of fennel may push your potassium levels too high leading to damage of the kidneys (Medical News Today).
Always consult your physician, nutritionist or specialist before making any big changes to your diet.
How to Make Fennel Seeds a Part of Your Diet
If you’re ready to bring fennel into your life, you may be wondering how? Here are a few tips from The George Mateljan Foundation on how to get fennel into your diet:
- Sautee fennel with onions as a savory side dish.
- Chop avocados, oranges, and add sliced fennel to make a unique and refreshing side salad.
- Braise fennel as a complementary spice to add intrigue to your usual scallops.
- Slice fennel and add onto your favorite sandwich.
- Mix them with yogurt and mint leaves for a spicy South Asian delight.
- If you’re a fish lover, then your salmon will love a dash of fennel.
- For bad breath resulting from garlic, add a little fennel for a tasty combination (Mens Health).
- BBC Good Food, Fennel Seeds, online.
- Drake, Elisabeth, Mens Health, Food Pairings to Protect Your Health, online.
- Drugs.com, Fennel, online.
- George Mateljan Foundation, Fennel, online.
- Nutrition-and-you, Fennel seed nutrition facts, online.
- NYU Langone Medical Center, Fennel, online.
- Ware, Megan and Yuan, Helen, Medical News Today, What are the health benefits of Fennel?, online.
- Image Source: pixabay.com