Fending off Disease With Fennel

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a a member of the family Apiaceae, along with other mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems and umbrella-like flower clusters. Included in this family are anise, caraway, carrot, celeriac, celery, chervil, coriander (including cilantro), cumin, hemlock, Queen Anne’s lace, parsleydill, and parsnip.

Fennel originated throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Its Greek name, marathon, means “grow thin,” reflecting the ancient belief in fennel’s ability to suppress appetite. The town of Marathon, site of the famous battle between the Athenians and the Persians in 490 BC, means “place of fennel”. After the battle, the Athenians used woven fennel stalks as a symbol of victory. In Greek mythology Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind, concealed it in a stalk of fennel. The thyrsus was a stalk of fennel capped with a pine cone that was used as a wand by followers of Dionysus. Greek myths also hold that knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal. Fennel was revered by the Greeks and the Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties.

Roman warriors reportedly consumed fennel to make them strong. The Roman writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) wrote that “Fennel has a wonderful property to mundify our sight and take away the film that overcasts and dims our eyes.”

Charlemagne, the great emperor, declared in 812 AD (CE) that fennel was essential in every garden because it had healing properties. He had it grown in the imperial gardens. The Anglo Saxons used fennel as a spice and digestive. They also hung fennel above their doors to protect them from evil spirits, especially at the summer solstice.

In 13th century England, fennel seed was commonly used as an appetite suppressant to help people to get through fasting days. Later, they were often used in church during long services to keep stomachs from rumbling. The Puritans even called them “meeting seeds.”

Starting in the 16th century, the Doctrine of Signatures taught that the physical appearance of plants revealed their medicinal values. It was thought that fennel’s yellow flowers were linked to the liver’s yellow bile, so fennel was recommended for jaundice.

Nicholas Culpepper, the 17th century herbalist,  prescribed fennel for flatulence, breast milk production, clear eye sight and to “make people lean who hath grown fat.” Along with caraway, dill seeds, and anise seeds, fennel seeds are used in gripe water, a folk remedy for infants with colic, gastrointestinal discomfort, teething pain, reflux, and other stomach ailments.

In the late 18th century, fennel became one of the ingredients (along with anise and wormwood) in a patent medicinal elixir called absinthe. This elixir was soon marketed as a spirit, and became a popular drink among self-described Bohemians in Europe and the United States.

Today fennel (especially the bulb) is most popular in Europe. The seeds are common in spice racks around the world.

Fennel can:

  1. Fight free radicals. Fennel contains its own unique combination of phytochemicals, including the flavonoids rutin, quercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides, that give it strong antioxidant activity. In addition to its unusual phytochemicals, fennel bulb is an excellent source of vitamin C, you body’s primary water-soluble antioxidant, which can neutralize free radicals in all aqueous environments of your body. If left unchecked, these free radicals cause damage to your cells that can result in the pain and joint deterioration that occurs in conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Manganese in fennel is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within your cells). Isorhamnetin in fennel leaves is a powerful antioxidant that protects your body’s cells from damaging free radicals.
  2. Build strong bodies. The vitamin C in fennel bulb helps produce collagen, which builds strong bones, muscles, blood vessels, gums, mucous membranes, corneas, joints, and other supporting cells and tissues, helps you absorb iron and calcium.  Potassium in fennel regulates muscle contraction and nerve transmission, stores carbohydrates for muscles to use as fuel, promotes regular muscle growth, and maintains the density and strength of bones by decreasing urinary calcium loss. Manganese in fennel activates enzymes for using several key nutrients, and facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism and formation of bone. Folate in fennel acts as a co-factor for enzymes involved in the synthesis of DNA, supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia, supports cell production, especially in your skin, allows nerves to function properly, helps prevent neural tube defects in fetuses, helps prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures, and helps prevent dementias including Alzheimer’s disease. Phosphorus in fennel helps in the formation of bones and teeth, helps you use carbohydrates and fats and synthesize protein, and helps with energy storage, muscle contraction, kidney function, and nerve conduction. Molybdenum helps in metabolizing fats and carbohydrates, mobilizing iron from your liver, which can prevent anemia, and preventing tooth decay.
  3. Fight chronic inflammation. The anethole in fennel can reduce inflammation and help prevent cancer, perhaps by shutting down an intercellular signaling system called tumor necrosis factor (or TNF)-mediated signaling. By shutting down this signaling process, the anethole in fennel prevents activation of a potentially strong gene-altering and inflammation-triggering molecule called NF-kappaB.
  4. Fight infections. The vitamin C in fennel bulb is kills pathogens and promotes a healthy immune system.
  5. Promote cardiovascular health. As a very good source of fiber, fennel bulb may help to reduce elevated cholesterol levels. In addition to its fiber, fennel is a very good source of folate, a B vitamin that converts a dangerous molecule called homocysteine into other, benign molecules. Homocysteine can directly damage blood vessel walls, and high levels are considered a significant risk factor for heart attack or stroke. Fennel is also a very good source of potassium, a mineral that  regulates heart rythym and lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance. Isorhamnetin in fennel leaves is a powerful antioxidant that helps keep your heart healthy by preventing arteriosclerosis (hardening and loss of elasticity within the arteries), preventing high blood pressure, and protecting your heart’s cells against oxidative damage.
  6. Prevent cancer. The vitamin C in fennel helps prevent cancer by neutralizing volatile oxygen free radical molecules and preventing damage to your DNA that can lead to cancer and by destabilizing a tumor’s ability to grow under oxygen-starved conditions. Because fiber removes potentially carcinogenic toxins from your colon, fennel bulb may also prevent colon cancer. Folate in fennel lowers your risk of cancer by preventing build-up of homocysteine in your blood. Isorhamnetin in fennel leaves is a powerful antioxidant that prevents multiple types of cancer (including esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and lung cancer).
  7. Eliminate toxins. The volatile oil of fennel can protect your liver from toxic chemical injury. Molybdenum in fennel helps in eliminating toxic substances. The quercetin derivatives isoquercetin and rutin in fennel increase intestinal and liver phase I detoxification enzymes. Caffeoylquinic acids in fennel may also be responsible for its choleretic properities (increasing the volume bile and solids secreted from your liver).

Nutrients in 1 Cup of Raw Sliced Fennel (87 grams)



Daily Value

vitamin C

10.44 mg



2.7 g



360.18 mg



0.17 mg



23.49 µg



4.35 µg



43.5 mg



42.63 mg


pantothenic acid

0.4 mg



14.79 mg



0.64 mg



0.06 mg



0.56 mg



1.08 g



6.35 g


vitamin B6

0.04 mg



45.24 mg



0.03 mg






0.17 mg



0.61 µg



0.01 mg



0.17 g



0 mg


Fennel is usually available from autumn through early spring. Select bulbs that are clean, firm, and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising, or spotting. The bulbs should be white or pale green in color. Look for stalks that are relatively straight and closely superimposed around the bulb and should not splay out to the sides too much. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green. Fresh fennel should have a fragrant aroma, smelling subtly of licorice or anise. Avoid flowering buds as this indicates that the bulb is past maturity.

Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator crisper, where it should keep fresh for about four days. Try to use it soon after purchase, because as it ages, it tends to gradually lose its flavor. While you can blanch and freeze fresh fennel, it may lose much of its flavor during this process. Store dried fennel seeds in an airtight container in a cool and dry location where they will keep for about six months. Storing fennel seeds in the refrigerator will help to keep them fresher longer.

You can eat the bulb, stalks, and leaves. Cut the stalks away from the bulb at the place where they meet. If you are not going to use the intact bulb in a recipe, then first cut it in half, remove the base, and then rinse it with water before cutting it further. You can cut fennel in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending upon the recipe and your personal preference. The best way to cut it is to slice it vertically through the bulb. If your recipe requires you to cube, dice, or julienne fennel, it is best to first remove the harder core in the center before cutting it. You can use the stalks of the fennel for soups, stocks, and stews, and you can use the leaves as an herb seasoning.

Fennel pairs well with cauliflowercabbagecarrots, chicoryceleriac, fava beanskidney beans, beets, chickpeas, sunchokes, and parsnips. Try seasoning fennel with basil, coriander, lovage, nutmeg, paprika, or parsley.

Here are some serving ideas:

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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