The edible herb called fennel belongs to the Apiaceae family, which also includes carrots and parsley. It is native to Europe and related to certain herbs that have fragrant flowers widely referred to as seeds, such as anise, cumin and dill. Although some people use fennel for its scent or claimed medicinal properties, the plant is a well-known ingredient in cooking and food products, too. Edible fennel is available in bulb, leaf, seed and stalk form, and cooks use it as a flavouring agent, garnish, herb or vegetable in dishes. You can consume the different parts of the plant in various ways, explains the Herb Society of America, such as by cooking the stalk to use as a vegetable, eating the stalk uncooked, adding the raw leaves to salads or preparing tea from fennel leaves or seeds. The actual nutritional properties of fennel may vary based on such factors as added ingredients, cooking method and the variety used.
Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C. It is also a very good of dietary fiber, potassium, molybdenum, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and folate. In addition, fennel is a good source of calcium, pantothenic acid, magnesium, iron, and niacin.
Like many of its fellow spices, fennel contains its own unique combination of phytonutrients—including the flavonoids rutin, quercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides—that give it strong antioxidant activity. The phytonutrients in fennel extracts compare favorably in research studies to BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), a potentially toxic antioxidant commonly added to processed foods.
The most fascinating phytonutrient compound in fennel, however, may be anethole—the primary component of its volatile oil. In animal studies, the anethole in fennel has repeatedly been shown to reduce inflammation and to help prevent the occurrence of cancer. Researchers have also proposed a biological mechanism that may explain these anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects. The volatile oil has also been shown to be able to protect the liver of experimental animals from toxic chemical injury.
In addition to its unusual phytonutrients, fennel bulb is an excellent source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is the body’s primary water-soluble antioxidant, able to neutralize free radicals in all aqueous environments of the body. If left unchecked, these free radicals cause cellular damage that results in the pain and joint deterioration that occurs in conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The vitamin C found in fennel bulb is directly antimicrobial and is also needed for the proper function of the immune system.
As a very good source of fiber, fennel bulb may help to reduce elevated cholesterol levels. And since fiber also removes potentially carcinogenic toxins from the colon, fennel bulb may also be useful in preventing colon cancer. In addition to its fiber, fennel is a very good source of folate, a B vitamin that is necessary for the conversion of a dangerous molecule called homocysteine into other, benign molecules. At high levels, homocysteine, which can directly damage blood vessel walls, is considered a significant risk factor for heart attack or stroke. Fennel is also a very good source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower high blood pressure, another risk factor for stroke and heart attack.
Just a super food!