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Fennel Seed (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel yields both an herb and a spice. Every part of the plant is edible. The name is derived from the Latin word ‘foeniculum’ meaning ‘little hay’. The fennel seed when dried is used as a spice. It was also called a ‘meeting seed’ by the Puritans who used to chew it during their long church meetings.
Fennel seed is oval shaped and is greenish yellow in color. It is a member of the parsley family. The fennel seed has a pleasant odor, which is highly aromatic and with a pungent flavor. The fruit is a dried seed that is roughly 4 to 10 mm long with a grooved appearance. The fennel plant is a perennial herb.
History and Origin
The fennel plant is a native to the Mediterranean area. Although it is originally from Europe, it is also cultivated in many parts of North America and in Asia. Ancient Greek athletes consumed fennel seed so as to gain strength and to stave off hunger during fasting periods. Fennel seed does not increase weight. The Romans used to cultivate fennel for it aromatic fruits, as well as for its edible shoots. The famous battle of Marathon against the Persians was fought on a field of fennel. History has it that snakes consumed fennel seeds while shedding their skin to restore their eyesight.
In ancient civilizations, Fennel was used in natural toothpastes as flavoring. The ancient Greeks would use fennel seeds to help improve lactation in breastfeeding mothers. It was also used in ancient times to promote healthy vision. In India, fennel seeds were eaten in its raw state for many generations in an effort to reduce high blood pressure, clear cloudy eyes and treat flatulence and bloating. Fennel seeds are included in many old folk remedies to reduce intestinal pain and indigestion. These seeds were made into a tea and sweetened with natural honey. This concoction was then drunk to relieve chronic coughs. Powdered fennel seed was also used to effectively drive away ticks and fleas from dog kennels and horse stables. It was also considered to be one of the best spices for fish dishes. Several liquors were also flavored with the help of fennel seeds.
Fennel seed helps to solve the problem of water retention by acting as a diuretic. It also promotes the production of bile helping in easy digestion. The seeds also find use in making various herbal medicines and to solve the problem of flatulence. They open obstructions that are found in the liver, gallbladder and spleen. Fennel seed helps to treat yellow jaundice. Fennel seed was considered an official drug in the United States to treat indigestion. Fennel seed also helps to soothe spasms in muscles and relive stomach cramps.
Fennel seed increases the levels of estrogen in the bloodstream and should be avoided by pregnant women. Women with breast or uterine cancer also should avoid the intake of fennel seed. The seed has natural sugar content and should be consumed in moderate amounts by diabetics. People having liver problems should also take it after consulting a doctor first. A person who is allergic to carrots or celery should not consume fennel seeds as it causes photosensitivity in sunlight.