While eating at an Indian restaurant recently, I was handed a small bowl of fennel seed and sugar at the end of the meal. It was delicious to chew, with a taste a bit like anise, and I thought it was a healthy sort of dessert. Later I learned that fennel seed helps with digestion, bad breath and flatulence, so it makes for an obvious after-meal treat.
Fennel is a key ingredient in Indian curries as well as Chinese five-spice powder. The sweet, delicate-tasting fronds make an excellent addition to mandarin orange salads. Fennel stalks can be eaten as a vegetable – think celery with anise-tinged flavor. Even fennel root can be shredded raw into salads, sautéed, or roasted.
In both Chinese and Western medicine, fennel has been used to stimulate breast milk in lactating women. A weak fennel tea has also been used as a remedy against colic when mixed with bottled breast milk or baby formula.
If you’re growing fennel in your garden, it’s best to plant it in its own bed because it can have an adverse effect on other plants. Fennel will also cross-pollinate with dill, leaving both plants with duller tasting seeds.