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I love to use herbs and spices in everything from infused water to breakfast sausage since they are full of nutrients and flavor that make any dish healthier and more appealing. Fennel is an herb and spice that can offer a burst of flavor to many recipes (not to mention health benefits!) but many skip it in the garden or grocery store.
Here’s why you should give fennel a chance and work it into your seasonal meal rotation.
Fennel: Vegetable of the Gods
Fennel is a vegetable many people are unfamiliar with but may recognize the taste from Greek, Italian, and French food.
The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves called (similar to dill) fennel fronds. It has a crunchy texture (like celery) and tastes like licorice or anise (sometimes it’s mistaken for anise or mislabeled in the grocery store). All parts of fennel are edible.
Traditionally, fennel was used widely in traditional and ancient medicine as well as cuisine because of its many health benefits.
In Greek mythology, fennel is associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine. A fennel stalk stuffed with coal was said to brought knowledge from the gods to humans. This isn’t how I recommend trying fennel, but it’s interesting to know! 🙂
Health Benefits of Fennel
So why branch out and try something new? Fennel brings a lot to the table that other vegetables don’t, in terms of both flavor and nutrition!
Fennel contains vitamin C which is important for many functions in the body, including immune function. Vitamin C also helps support healthy hair and skin by encouraging collagen formation.
Fennel contains a number of other nutrients as well:
- Histidine (an amino acid)
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
- Beta carotene
- Vitamin A
Fennel also contains antioxidants that support healthy heart, immune, and metabolic health.
Supports Healthy Blood
Consuming fennel may help support healthy blood in the body. Anemia is a condition where there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen through the body. Fennel might be able to help.
One well-established study found that the amino acid histidine along with iron helps build hemoglobin faster than iron alone. Fennel contains both iron and the amino acid histidine, so adding fennel to the diet may help support red blood cell production.
Supports Heart Health
Fennel contains a good amount of fiber which we all know is important for a healthy heart (and digestion too!). But there are other nutrients in fennel that can support heart health.
The potassium in fennel may support healthy blood pressure. According to a 2006 study, potassium can support healthy blood pressure, though it takes about 4 weeks to have an effect. Potassium helps the body eliminate excess sodium (which can be a problem for some people with high blood pressure).
Additionally, eating fennel may support healthy cholesterol and triglycerides. Those who consumed fennel had slightly more favorable cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The researchers call for a longer duration study to confirm these results.
Supports Healthy Digestion
Ancient medicine has used fennel to support healthy digestion and avoid bloating. Luckily, modern science supports this use.
Studies show that many spices, including fennel, shorten the length of digestion time. This is one reason I use it in tea for nausea, constipation, or bloating.
Interestingly, plants that are aromatic, pungent, and bitter are most likely to help with digestion. Plants that fit this category include:
This explains why folk medicine recommends chewing fennel seeds after a meal to help with digestion.
Supports Milk Supply and Healthy Babies
Ancient medicine used fennel to help breastfeeding moms and babies. Fennel has been used to calm baby’s tummy and soothe colic. A 2003 study found that fennel oil had a better effect on colic in babies than the placebo.
It can also be added to lactation cookies to boost milk supply as it’s a well-known galactagogue (food that boosts milk supply).
Supports Healthy Cells
Another amazing benefit of fennel is that it may help support healthy cells in the body. Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow in unhealthy ways and the body can’t get rid of those cells. Many healthy foods have compounds that help support healthy cells, and fennel is one of them.
A study published in Phytomedicine found that fennel may combat cancer cell growth and encourage cancer cell death. Researchers believe that anethole (an oil found in fennel) helped lower the inflammation that leads to cancer.
Delicious Fennel Recipes
Since fresh fennel is such a nutritious food with many health benefits, I try to include it in my meals regularly. If you love fennel as I do, you want as many recipes with fennel as you can find!
Here are some of my favorite ways to use fennel in recipes to enjoy its licorice flavor:
Fennel Recipes: Breakfast
Fennel is a great breakfast vegetable sauteed or chopped and added to a dish. Here are some ideas:
- Cumin Coriander and Fennel Tea for Digestion – This tea is a great help if digestion needs a bit of support. While this tea does taste a bit unusual (my husband calls it taco tea) it can be really helpful in soothing bloating and other digestive issues.
- Chai Tea Latte – Chai can be made with a variety of spices, including fennel, as long as the basics are used (cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cardamom pods, black peppercorns, fresh ginger, and vanilla extract). I love this healthier version that can be made ahead so we can have chai lattes whenever we want.
- Breakfast Burgers – Similar to the breakfast sausages, this recipe uses ground beef instead, for tasty breakfast food for those who don’t like pork.
- Breakfast Sausage – Homemade breakfast sausage is one of our favorite breakfasts because it’s delicious and doesn’t contain any of the added preservatives that store-bought sausage contains. Sage, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and fennel come together to give this sausage it’s traditional sausage flavor.
Fennel is a great flavor for early morning meals to wake up the senses!
Fennel Recipes: Main Course
If you’re bored with the same recipes over and over, try adding some fennel to liven up the flavor. Here are some of my favorite main courses with fennel:
- Greek Meatloaf – This greek inspired meatloaf is made with greek herbs and spices like lemon, mint, and fennel. It reminds me of gyro meat and, served with a cucumber sauce, it’s truly delicious.
- Coconut Chicken Curry – The spices in curry powder can vary wildly depending on the source. I like to make it with fennel and a few other ingredients that make my curry warm, slightly sweet and less spicy than some other variations. This recipe uses my curry powder to make a quick one-pot meal.
- Thai Chicken Curry – Another curry dish, this one is just as simple and delicious and tastes very similar to my favorite take-out variety.
- Chicken Apple Stir-Fry – This quick meal is perfect for a busy weeknight meal and is a kid favorite too. The fennel adds a burst of flavor to this simple dish, making it one of my favorite go-to meals.
- Greek Meatballs – This recipe came from a desire to recreate some amazing meatballs I had abroad. The fennel, mint, and citrus are a perfect combination to make this meatball taste authentic. Paired with a cucumber sauce, these meatballs are perfect for a meal or appetizer.
- Greek Stir-Fry – Inspired by my other greek recipes, this stir-fry is a simple, one-pot meal idea for a busy night. It combines fennel and mint again, along with marjoram, oregano, and basil for a rich Greek flavor.
If you have a favorite Mediterranean recipe, try adding some fennel bulb or seed to spice it up.
Fennel Recipes: Salad and Side Dishes
Fennel is also great in salads and side dishes. Here are my favorite ways to eat it:
- Roasted Fennel – Toss sliced fennel bulb with some oil and roast in a 400-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. When it’s done, drizzle with lemon juice or olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan. This basic roasted fennel has a caramelized flavor that can go with just about any recipe you are making.
- Citrus Avocado Fennel Salad – With sweet oranges and tart grapefruit, this salad is a great blend of flavors. Serve it alongside grilled chicken or another dish that needs some brightening.
- Arugula Fennel Apple Salad – This refreshing salad is delicious with its olive oil dressing and mix of apple and greens.
Roasted fennel can also be added to any salad and topped with a vinaigrette for a quick meal.
Fennel: A Vegetable for Ultimate Health
If you’ve been hanging around Wellness Mama for a while, you know I think a healthy diet is often the first step toward improved health. That’s because the body needs nutrients to function optimally. Fennel is a tasty vegetable that contains many nutrients that support a healthy body. Try one of these recipes and see for yourself.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Shani Muhammad, MD, board certified in family medicine and has been practicing for over ten years. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
What is your favorite way to use fennel?