Fennel originates from the Mediterranean where it is has been long used for culinary and medicinal reasons. It primarily grows in coastal climates and on river banks and is widely used around the world in mouth fresheners, toothpastes, desserts and antacids.
health benefits of fennel include:
anaemia: iron and histidine, an amino acid found in fennel, are both helpful in the treatment of anaemia.
digestive issues: essential oils found in fennel help to stimulate secretion of digestive and gastric juices, while reducing inflammation of the stomach and intestines, and facilitating proper absorption of nutrients from food. It also has anti-acidic (basic) properties and is extensively used in antacid preparations.
heart disease: fennel is a great source of fibre, so as well as the benefits to digestion that fibre provides, it also helps to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol in the blood stream. It helps to stimulate the elimination damaging LDL cholesterol, which is a major factor in heart disease and strokes.
blood pressure: fennel is a rich source of potassium, an essential nutrient in our bodies and is vital for a number of important processes. Amongst other things potassium is a vasodilator, so it relaxes the tension of blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure. A cup of fennel bulb in your daily diet will pump you full of potassium.
other benefits of fennel: helps improve brain function, boosts the immune system with its high vitamin C content, high anti-oxidants and flavonoids help with eye care, strengthens hair and prevents hair loss, relaxes the body… it also tastes fab!
Choose bulbs that feel heavy for their size and have tightly packed layers. The stalks should feel firm, not limp or rubbery. Avoid bulbs with very loose outer layers or that look bruised or split on the outside. Store fennel in the fridge, it's best used within a week, but will often keep for longer (peel away the outer layers as they become wilted or rubbery).
To prepare wash, trim off the stalks close to the bulb (don’t discard them!), cut the bulb in half length ways (trim a little off the bottom first for a stable, flat surface and to get rid of any tough root bits), cut the halves into quarters (again length ways), peel off and discard any outer wilted leaves, then slice across the fennel quarters. (You can also use a mandolin to shave fennel if you’d like it wafer thin). Back to those stalks you’ve trimmed off, they can be used for flavour in soups or stews, or as a garnish; especially pretty in salads if the fronds are attached.
WARNING! Fennel is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. This is mainly because it has a strong aniseed flavour, which is more obvious when eaten raw but softer and more mellow once cooked. To get the best of its benefits eat it raw, in Italy it’s often consumed after a large meal to help aid digestion. It also pairs well with fish as the two flavours compliment each other well.