Fennel is a great veggie. A refreshing hybrid of flavours from celery, licorice and leeks make it unique but still mild enough to make a great addition to salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Fennel is a popular food in the Mediterranean, and it has a special place in the mythology and traditions of both the Greek and Roman civilizations. Greek myths actually hold that knowledge from the Gods was brought to mankind in a fennel bulb!

Fennel is a member of the Apiaceae family, a group of plants known for their culinary uses and common medicinal properties. Its relatives include dill, coriander, carrots and parsley.  The Apiaceae family of plants are well known for their long-standing uses as seasonings and aromatics in food preparation, but also as important digestive system medicines.  Fennel (fennel seed in particular) is a carminative herb, which means that it helps to reduce gas, cramping and inflammation in the digestive tract.  As a Naturopathic Doctor, I have combined fennel with other carminative herbs (chamomile, dill, lemon balm to name a few) in the treatment of digestive ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, gas/bloating/indigestion, and colic in young children and infants. Fennel is actually on of the main ingredients in the tried and true colic remedy known as "gripe water".  Bruised or crushed fennel seeds can make a lovely aperitif to help ensure that your food agrees with you.

The fennel bulb has the same carminative effects as the seeds, but this part of the plant also contains a phytochemical called anethole - This phytochemical can also be found in anise and licorice (which accounts for why they all share the same distinct flavour).  Anethole has been researched as a powerful inhibitor of inflammation; and specifically its ability to reduce the activation of cancer-promoting chemicals that cause tumour growth.  Anethole has already been studied for use in the treatment and prevention of recurrent breast cancer!

Fennel bulb is a great source of fibre, vitamin C and folic acid – and not to mention it is naturally low in calories.  Try chopped fennel with your other fave veggies for a great snack and add some hummus for extra protein to give yourself an energy boost.  Sliced fennel bulb can be grilled, steamed, stirfried, baked, even barbequed! Fennel is great friends with fish and pork – try experimenting with the stalks and the seeds the next time you are preparing these meats.

Bronwyn Hill, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor & food lover. She is currently in practice in Toronto's Forest Hill Neighbourhood, at Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health. She specializes in using food as medicine, acupuncture & traditional chinese medicine & botanicals; and has particular experience treating digestive concerns, women's health concerns including menopause, stress management, insomnia, healthy detoxification, and chronic respiratory conditions including asthma. She can be reached at bhillnd@gmail.com . Follow her on Twitter @drbronwynnd.