Well known in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, the distinct licorice flavor of fennel has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries.
Fennel is a hardy herb with feathery leaves (also called fronds), yellow flowers, and a greenish-white edible bulb. It originated along the shores of the Mediterranean, although today it is widely grown throughout the world.
Ancient Chinese medicine used fennel to relieve digestive problems such as heart burn, bloating, upset stomach, and to stimulate appetite. It has been used to treat colic in infants and for upper respiratory tract infections. Fennel powder has also been used to heal snake bites. Some research indicates fennel may help with colic and constipation by reducing swelling in the colon, however most research is insufficient and more evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of fennel.
Fennel is rich in vitamin C, providing 17% of the recommended daily amount. It also provides a good source of fiber, B vitamins and phytonutrients. One phytonutrient called anethole was shown to reduce cancer-signaling molecules which could help reduce cancer risk.
Fennel is in season from mid-fall to early spring. When selecting fennel look for bright green fronds with no signs of wilting and a firm light green and white bulb with no soft spots.