The health benefits of fennel

Fennel is a crunchy and slightly sweet and a healthy spice option that is added to the popular Mediterranean cuisine for its refreshing taste. Fennel provides lots of benefits towards our health. For centuries, fennel seeds have been used as traditional herbal medicine in Europe and China. Fennel also known as Foeniculum vulgare, belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.

Fennel is native to Southern Europe and grown extensively all over Europe, Middle-Eastern, China, India, and Turkey. This herbaceous plant reaches up to 2 meters (about 6 feet) in height with deep green feathery (lacy) leaves and bears golden-yellow flowers in umbels. 

In general, fennel seeds are harvested when the seed heads turn light-brown. The seeds, which resemble to anise seeds in appearance, feature oblong or curved (comma) shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown-color with fine vertical stripes over their surface.

The health benefits of fennel include relief from anemia, indigestion, flatulence, constipation, colic, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, menstrual disorders, eye care, etc. It is the herb of first choice for the treatment of infants suffering from colic. Fennel or its essence, is widely used around the world in mouth fresheners, toothpastes, desserts, antacids and in culinary. Be sure to add this to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best. 

Health Benefits of Fennel

Fennel is a perennial, pleasant-smelling herb with yellow flowers, native to the Mediterranean, found throughout the world. Fennel symbolizes longevity, courage, and strength. In addition to its use as medicinal values, fennel has much health benefiting nutrients, essential compounds, anti-oxidants, dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

1) Indigestion
It is a common practice, particularly in Indian Subcontinent, to chew fennel seeds after meals. This is done to facilitate digestion and to keep bad breath away. Some of the components of the essential oils in fennel are stimulants and stimulate secretion of digestive and gastric juices, reduce inflammation of stomach and intestines and facilitates proper absorption of nutrients from the food. 

It is also used for various digestive problems including heartburn, intestinal gas,bloating, loss of appetite, and colic in infants. It also has anti acidic (basic) properties and is extensively used in antacid preparations. It is an appetizer too.

2) Flatulence
Fennel is most popular as an anti flatulent, due to the carminative properties of Aspartic acid  found in fennel. Its extract can be used in right from the infants to the old, to cure flatulence and to expel gases from the stomach.

3) Constipation Fennel seeds, particularly in powdered form, act as laxative. The roughage helps clearance of bowels whereas the stimulating effect helps maintain the proper peristaltic motion of the intestines, thereby helping proper excretion.

4) Respiratory ProblemsFennel tea is often recommended to treat respiratory issues from simple colds to asthma. It can also help with upper respiratory tract infections because of its antimicrobial properties. Fennel can also be used to treat problems such as angina and high blood pressure.

5) Anemia
Iron, and Histidine, an amino acid found in fennel, are helpful in treatment of anemia. Where iron is chief constituent of haemoglobin, Histidine stimulates production of haemoglobin and also helps forming other components of blood.

6) Women’s Health
Fennel’s volatile oils have mild estrogen-like qualities, so they are used extensively in Chinese medicine to treat hormonal problems. Fennel is also used to boost libido and to stimulate the production and flow of milk in lactating women. 

Fennel is also an Emenagogue, meaning that it eases and regulates menstruation by properly regulating hormonal action in the body. Furthermore, fennel is used in a number of products to reduce the effects of PMS, and it is also used traditionally as a soothing pain reliever and relaxing agent for menopausal women.

7) Gastrointestinal IssuesOne of the most common applications of fennel is to treat heartburn. Drinking a single cup of tea when you start feeling the symptoms of indigestion can ease the pain and burning. Chewing fennel seeds also works. Fennel is often touted as an antispasmodic, so it can help relax the digestive tract and ease cramps and gas and to treat irritable bowel syndrome.

8) Heart Disease
Fennel is a great source of fiber, as mentioned above, but besides the advantages to digestion that fiber provides, it also helps to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol in the blood stream. This means that it can stimulate the elimination damaging LDL cholesterol, which is a major factor in heart disease, artherosclerosis, and strokes.

9) Diarrhea
Fennel is helpful in curing diarrhea if it is caused by bacterial infection, because some components of the essential oil in fennel such as anetol and cineole have disinfectant and antibacterial properties. Some amino acids, such as histidine, can aid in digestion and the proper functioning of the digestive system, thereby helping to eliminate diarrhea due to indigestion. Fennel has long been used by indigenous cultures as a way to eliminate diarrhea.

10) Eye Care
While using fennel in food helps protect eyes from inflammation, disorders related to aging, macular degeneration etc. due to presence of anti oxidants (vitamin-C, amino acid like Arginine which very beneficial for rejuvenation of tissues and prevention of aging), detoxifiers and stimulants etc. in it, more specifically in its essential oils, and minerals like cobalt and magnesium, the juice of fennel leaves and the plant can be externally applied on the eyes to reduce irritation and fatigue of eyes.

11) Colic
Fennel is quite helpful in the treatment of Renal Colic. Fennel has certain antispasmodic qualities which help to relax smooth muscles and reduce the discomfort associated with the condition.

12) Cancer Prevention
Fennel seed extract has been found to be preventative of various breast cancer and liver cancer strains. Some research findings suggest that the extract can not only inhibit the growth of tumors, thanks to its concentrations of flavonoids, alkaloids, and phenols, but it can even be somewhat chemo-protective against the harmful effects of radiation during cancer treatment.

13) Blood Pressure
Fennel is a very rich source of potassium, which is an essential nutrient in our bodies and is vital for a number of important processes. A cup of fennel bulb in your daily diet will pump you full of potassium and all the benefits that come along with it. The potassium relaxes the tension of blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure. High blood pressure is connected to a wide range of health issues.

14) Promotes Healthy Immune System
A cup of fennel bulb contains almost 20% of the daily requirement of vitamin-C, which makes fennel quite a rich source of this beneficial element of our diet. Vitamin-C improves general immune system health, produces and repairs skin tissue, helps to form collagen, and also protects the blood vessel walls as an antioxidant against the harmful effects of free radicals that can frequently lead to heart disease!

Besides, It also strengthens hair, prevents hair loss, relaxes the body, sharpens memory and has a marvelous cooling effect in summer. This can be achieved if the pale, greenish-yellow water, in which it fennel is soaked, is ingested with a bit of sugar and black salt.

You must remember that there are two sides to any story and too much of anything can be bad. In case of fennel as well. Certain components of the fennel can be dangerous if ingested in too large of a quantity. Excess use of fennel can cause difficulty breathing, increased palpitations, irregular heart beat, and various neural problems. You must remember that the compounds which can kill bacteria and microbes in low doses can be harmful for you, if taken in excess.

Sources:
1) http://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/health-benefits-of-fennel.html
2) http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=23
3) http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-311-FENNEL.aspx?activeIngredientId=311&activeIngredientName=FENNEL
4) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf073083c

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