Fennel – The spice trail continues


In our Indian cookery classes I always talk about fennel in the spice trail. I do so becasue it is an important spice in providing balance in counteract some of the acidic in chillies and proteins in cooking. Here I want to give the detailed information about how and why fennel works.

Fennel is perhaps one of the most versatile herbs you can grow. Once established in the garden, it will provide a graceful backdrop for shorter herbs, will thrive vigorously even in poor soil, and will attract the swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, which feeds on the leaves.

Fennel is a popular ingredient in many cosmetic preparations, including anti-wrinkle cream, perfume, and soap.

If you are creative in cooking you’ll like the licorice like flavour of fennel, which makes a tasty addition to spice blends, sauces, roasts, grilled fish, sausage, Chinese marinades, curries, and cheese. I use fennel in a number of dishes to create a flavoursome addition and fragrance. In our Indian cookery classes, it is a very popular spice blend and quite a surprise addition to your spice cupboard.

All parts of the plant are edible, and the celery like stalks of Sweet fennel can be eaten as a vegetable, raw or cooked. Florence fennel has a bulbous base that can be roasted, or shredded into a coleslaw or salad.

For me, it is fennels medicinal values that encourages my use of it in cooking, as well the sweetness of flavour; it is a carminative therefore a brilliant digestive aid, used to help break down acid and to digest proteins, especially red meat.

Fennel is also recommended to break kidney stones, to relieve gout, as an antidote for mushroom poisoning, a detoxifier of the liver, to cure colic in infants, and to relieve congestion of the lungs. In Europe today, fennel water is often given to infants to relieve colic, and the herb is found in many cough preparations.

Historical Background

The Greek battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. was named after the foliage that grew in the field in which it was fought. Fennel, known as marathon to the ancient Greeks, was named from the word maraino, which meant “to grow thin.”

The 17th-century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, maintained that every part of the fennel plant was suitable to help make “people lean that are too fat.” In medieval times, fennel was believed to be an appetite suppressant, and the seeds were kept on hand to help people endure long periods of time between meals, or on days of religious feasting. Fennel is still regarded as an effective carminative (an aid in digestion), and a weight loss herb reputed to help in the digestion of fat. The Latin word for fennel, foeniculum, meaning “little hay” is thought to describe its sweet aroma, although it may be a reference to the fact that it was fed to goats to stimulate their milk production. This principle is also used in India for nursing mothers, dill is commonly interchanged with fennel to increase the mothers milk supply to her child.

Dioscorides and Hippocrates believed fennel would stimulate milk production in nursing mothers. Dioscorides found fennel to contain diuretic properties, and recommended it for urinary tract disorders. The Greeks thought fennel to be useful in treating disorders of the eye, since they believed serpents ate fennel to regain their sight after shedding their skins. Fennel was one of the four “warming seeds” and declared by the Anglo-Saxons to be one of the nine sacred herbs that would cure the nine causes of medieval diseases.

Kumud Gandhi – Writer & Broadcaster, founder of The Cooking Academy. For more information please contact Cara Brummitt at The Cooking Academy. or Tel on 01923 77 888 0


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