You've seen it in the supermarkets. It's that strange-looking white and green plant that with a couple felt eyes could totally pass as a muppet. But looks aside, the fennel bulb is a powerhouse of nutrition. It hails from the celery family (called Apiaceae or Umbelliferae). Native to the shores of the Mediterranean, fennel is now widely used around the world, for both its culinary charm and medicinal properties.
Fennel has a very strong, yet surprisingly mild, aromatic flavor that's reminiscent of anise (licorice). It is actually paired with anise to construct the famed spirit absinthe. It has a pale base bulb and thick green stems that rise upwards from the bulb, spawning fine green leaves and yellow flowers. When you see fresh fennel in the supermarket, it is often presented with just the bulb and a bit of the thick stems. Its dried seeds are also widely available and used as a spice. Fennel seeds are also popularly used to make a tea elixir. Fennel bulb leaves (the green hairy stuff) have a delicate flavor and are often added to egg and fish dishes.
One cup of sliced feel contains just 27 calories, 1.1 grams of protein, 2.7 grams of dietary fiber, 17% of the RDA of vitamin C, 3% of the RDA of both iron and magnesium and 4% of the RDA of calcium. Fennel is also a great source of phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, niacin, pantothenic acid, folate, choline, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin E and vitamin K. It also contains dietary nitrates and is a natural source of estrogen.
Studies have shown fennel extract to carry potent antioxidant power as well as the ability to fight cancer. Its iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K content make it particularly helpful in building and maintaining bone structure and strength. Phosphate and calcium balance each other to promote proper bone mineralization. Iron and zinc produce and mature collagen and vitamin K acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins and improves calcium absorption. The vitamin C content of fennel, meanwhile, increases iron absorption.
The dietary nitrates in fennel work to lower blood pressure. A study conducted by the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences witness lowered blood pressure levels when after participants took nitrate supplements that contained nitrate amounts equivalent to 150-250 grams of nitrate-rich vegetables than after taking a placebo.
Fennel is rich in fiber, which contributes to weight loss, regularity and a healthy heart. The mineral selenium, which is prevalent in fennel, detoxifies the liver of cancer-causing compounds and improves the immune response to infection by boosting the production of killer T-cells. Selenium also boasts anti-inflammatory properties.
To reap fennel benefits, start to incorporate the unique-tasting vegetable into your spring diet. Try this creamy vegan fennel soup recipe for a light introduction or, alternatively, this deliciously filling breakfast sausage recipe with maple and fennel. You can also enjoy fennel tea as a regularly beverage. Simply take 1-2 teaspoons of freshly crushed fennel seeds and steam them in 1 cup of boiling water for 5-10 minutes, depending on desired strength. Strain and serve.
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Photo Credit: Alice Henneman