While most of my research on spices and herbs has focused on their ability to fight cancer and their role in a cancer-fighting diet, spices have far ranging medical attributes that have been used for centuries.
Fennel is a plant with a large bulb, tall hollow stalks with feathery fronds and a flower with seeds. You can eat the bulb, fronds and seeds of the plant. The flavour is unmistakable. Chances are you have tried black licorice or black jelly beans or maybe ouzo, absinthe or sambuca. They all have the same flavor, which is called anise flavour. This same flavour is also in anise seeds, called aniseed and star anise. All three of these contain anethole—an aromatic compound that provides the black licorice flavour.
Turns out anethole provides more than just flavour. It has medicinal benefits too. Fennel has been found to help with a variety of ills in human studies including menstrual cramps, digestive problems like gas and bloating and even more advanced digestive issues including inflammatory bowel disease.
It’s also shown other benefits in animal studies—treating Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, stroke and glaucoma. While it’s difficult to make recommendations to humans based on animal studies, keep in mind that it’s a spice that’s been eaten for centuries! And when taken in traditional culinary amounts, there isn’t a danger of using fennel.
I have used the fennel bulb to make salad, which is delicious, but more often I simply use the seeds to make fennel tea. You can purchase fennel tea in the tea section of the grocery store, but I prefer to make my own with the fennel seeds.
Simply put a few seeds on a cutting board and press the seeds with the back of a spoon to release some of the flavour. Put the seeds into a teapot and add hot water. Let the tea steep for about 8 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
Another variation is to toast the seeds first. This makes the seeds and the tea a little darker. The tea also has a distinct toasty flavour and the black licorice taste is not as obvious.
You can enjoy fennel tea anytime, but next time you are feeling gassy or bloated then instead of heading for the medicine cabinet, head for the spice cupboard instead. If you don’t have time to make tea, just chew on some of the seeds.