All about Fennel

Did you know this about Fennel?

The hardy biennial or perennial Foeniculum vulgare (derived from the Latin word “foenum” which means fragrant hay) — commonly known as fennel — is a member of the parsley family.

In its wild state, its bright green stalk with yellow gold flowers grows to four or five feet tall and has smooth feather-like leaves. Cultivated, it needs to be cut back to maintain strength. Indigenous to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, it essentially spread throughout the world. Today, it’s grown mostly in India, China, Egypt and Turkey.

Fennel is known for its beauty as much as for its aroma and flavour. The stalks and stems are eaten as vegetables and have a licorice-like taste but it’s the seeds that are used to spice dishes. Seeds are oval, green or yellow/brown, have a sweet scent and warm, sweet taste. Fennel seeds have been said to be anise-like but they’re sweeter and more aromatic. Seeds are clustered and harvested once the flowers have died and the seeds have dried.

Today, fennel seeds are mostly sourced in India and Egypt and used in curry powder mixes, spice mixes for fish and spice blends from India, Scandinavia, China and the Mediterranean. Fennel seeds are also used in baked good and liqueurs. In India, fennel seeds are used as an after-dinner breath freshener and digestive.

Fennel has symbolized many things in the past. In Ancient Greece, fennel was given the name Marathon because the Battle of Marathon against the Persians took place in a field of fennel. Fennel then, was used to symbolize victory, longevity, strength and courage. In Medieval England, the plant was used to ward off witchcraft and hung on doors to ward off evil spirits. The Puritans called them “The Meeting Seed” since it was chewed during meetings.

In France, India, Iran and Russia, fennel seeds are cultivated specifically for their medicinal properties. The seeds do have a long medicinal history and were originally cultivated by the Ancient Romans who identified at least 22 uses — including to improve eyesight and to relieve jaundice.

As early as the Third Century, Hippocrates prescribed fennel to combat infant colic. And even today fennel is known for relieving gastrointestinal disorders and indigestion since it relieves spasms in the digestive system. It also acts as a diuretic and both a pain and fever-reducer. In Latin America, fennel seeds are believed to boost the production of breast milk in nursing mothers. Fennel seed tea has been used to treat food poisoning, snake and insect bites, to increase urine flow and help with menstruation.

Fennel seeds may be chewed whole or steeped to make tea (use one-half teaspoon of crushed seeds per one cup of boiling water).

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