Fennel is a culinary and medicinal herb with its usage dating back to thousands of years old. It is commonly known as saunf in India and Madhurika in Sanskrit and Ayurveda. It holds cultural and special significance in multiple cultures including Indian, Egyptian, Chinese, and European societies. Marathon or Fennel was associated with success and hence with royals by the Greeks and Romans.
India is the largest manufacturer of fennel with nearly 60% of the world produce originating from here. Fennel helps in curing the digestive system, endocrine system, reproductive system, and respiratory system health issues.
All parts of Fennel are used as Food and as Medicine
Fennel is a perennial herb belonging to Family Apiaceae. Its technical name is Foeniculum vulgare. All parts of the plant starting from the root to the pollens are put to culinary and medicinal uses. Its leaves and flowers are also used to make a special yellow and brown dye.
Shoots, tender leaves, and stems, and roots are used as vegetables in salads, during baking, in curries, and soups for their exquisite aniseed flavor. Its seeds are used as a spice and a source of essential oil. Fennel possesses a rich aroma due to bioactive compounds, that also impart its antioxidant and medicinal properties.
The seeds stand as one of the top digestive herbs and Vata Dosha balancing herbs in Ayurveda. It is used as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative (to relieve flatulence) and a diuretic (promotes urinary system health).
Fennel promotes the assimilation of food and nutrients. It reduces toxin production in the body. Hence, it has been used since ancient times as a slimming agent, to boost memory, and to promote eye-sight. Also, ancient Greek athletes ate Fennel to improve their performance as it enhances metabolism.
It can be consumed daily in the following ways:
- Tender parts of leaves, stem, and roots – Raw form as salads or snacks
- Seeds are used a mouth freshener after meals to promote digestion and to fight mouth odors.
- ender parts of leaves, stem, and roots – Soups, Stir-fries, and Curries.
- Seeds and leaves as a herbal concoction along with other digestive spices as cumin and carom seeds.
- Seeds, flowers, and leaves as herbal tea or in spirits.
Fennel and Women Health
- Fennel is a popular and revered galactagogue and digestive herb for new mothers. It promotes lactation by increasing both milk production and flow.
- Fennel calms down the Vata Dosha, which gets aggravated post-delivery of the baby, during menstruation, during menopause, and often during pregnancy. It reduces common Vata Disorders such as Anxiety, Depression, Constipation, Insomnia, Acidity, and Bloating.
- It brings the endocrine balance back and promotes menstrual cycle health.
- It relieves menstrual cramps, regulates the flow, and also alleviates PMS symptoms.
- It is a rich source of Calcium and antioxidants. Hence, it works wonders during menopause to fight off the symptoms such as weight gain, hot flashes, and anxiety, and maintain bone health.
Fennel in Ayurveda
The following properties are attributed to Fennel in Ayurveda. It is considered to be one of the most Satvik spice.
- Cold Potency – Pacifies Pitta Dosha. Excessive use can aggravate Vata Dosha and Kapha Dosha.
- Taste or Rasa is Sweet or Madhura – Used as an antidote
- Actions – Stimulant, Diuretic, Carminative, Stomachic, Antispasmodic, Galactagogue
Fennel consists of many active constituents, mainly terpenoids (as carotene, 1,8-cineole and α, and β terpinene), phenolic acid (as caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid) and flavonoids (as kaempferol, quercetin, and apigenin). These bioactive compounds are powerful antioxidants that promote the health of our body.
It is a rich source of minerals like Calcium, Magnesium, iodine, iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. Only 1 g of the seeds contain as much as 12mg of Calcium, and 4mg of Magnesium, 5mg of Phosphorus, and 17mg of Potassium.
It is a very good source of Vitamins A, B3, and, moderate source of Vitamin C. It also contains vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, E, and K in small amounts. It is also a good source of carbohydrate, protein, fiber, fats, and sugars.
Fennel supports and health and promotes the functioning of multiple body systems as given below.
- Digestive system (through the liver, stomach, and intestines)
- Respiratory system (through the bronchioles)
- Urinary system (through kidneys and liver)
- Reproductive system (through the hormonal balances)
- The central nervous system (through the nervine signals)
Anti-bacterial, Anti-fungal, and Anti-viral properties
The antioxidants present in fennel inhibit the growth of and prevent damage caused by gram-positive bacteria. It kills the microbial cells by damaging their cell membranes.
Antioxidant and Immunomodulatory effects
It is rich in the flavonoid category of antioxidants. Bioactive compounds like kaempferol and quercetin present in fennel scavenge free radicals, stop them from damaging our body tissues, and also support the healing of our body systems.
Also, it contains Vitamin C which boosts our immune system and protects blood vessel walls from free radicles. Its antioxidants act as powerful intermediary compounds to regulate the response of our immune system.
Fennel prevents toxin build-up and also helps to flush the toxins out of our body systems through excreta and urine. It promotes the health of both the digestive system and of the urinary systems. Toxins or Ama is the main source of health disorders and inflammation in our bodies.
Additionally, a high antioxidant concentration in fennel prevents free radical damage, the second biggest reason behind inflammation.
Supports Respiratory system health
Fennel is an excellent remedy for coughs, colds, respiratory chest congestion and bronchitis. It contains creosol and alpha-pinene which help in reducing phlegm and bronchial secretions.
Supports Weight Loss and Promotes Nutrient Absorption
Fennel stimulates the secretion of gastric juice. It also reduces Gastrointestinal tract inflammation and increases the absorption of nutrients from the food.
Fennel acts as cathartic, laxative and purgative as it contains volatile oils, which stimulate the mucous membranes in the digestive tract, increases motility and peristalsis.
Also, it contains fibers that help in the removal of toxins from the colon and therefore may be helpful in colon cancer prevention.
Fennel extract can be used to prevent breast and liver cancers as it is rich with volatile oil, flavonoids and Vitamin C.
Prevents Edema and Stops Water Retention
Fennel is a very good diuretic as it can flush out excess water and toxins from the body. It can be used in case of swelling and rheumatism. Also, flushing excess water out is a very important action for hypertensive patients as this reduces arterial blood pressure without altering heart or respiratory rates.
Promotes Weight loss
Fennel increases the metabolism of fats and sugars inside the body. It also dissolves fat deposits. Also, its diuretic effect has been contributed to the weight loss effect.
It is a good source of Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin K which are important for bone strength. It can prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis. Also, it has an anti-osteoclast activity.
Hair and Skin effects
Fennel contains iron which is important for keeping hair strong and preventing hair follicles from premature graying. Also, it contains Vitamin C which promotes collagen synthesis and keeps our skin firm and protects it from aging.