As an aphrodisiac, fennel is noted as more useful to women than men. You see, it is notably high in phytoestrogens, natural estrogen-like chemicals found in plants. In fact, in the 1930’s, it was considered as a possible source for synthetic estrogen.
Throughout history, fennel was linked with healthy circulation, improved vision and inflammation reduction. In fact, in Ancient Greece, the bulb was called marathon for its association with strength, longevity and courage.
Pliny the Elder, the legendary Roman scientist and scholar, promoted its medicinal properties and recommended approximately two-dozen remedies using fennel. Furthermore, by medieval times, fennel was not only used as a curative, but was coveted for a believed ability to protect against witchcraft and evil spirits.
Today, we know that fennel offers a number of phytonutrients that promote antioxidant activity in the body (the source of it’s anti-inflammatory effects). It is a source of manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron and fiber, all of which are important for libido and longevity. And it might come as a surprise that its also a good vitamin C source. The vitamin C found in fennel bulbs is shown to be antimicrobial and is not only useful for it’s anti-aging properties, but may also be useful in boosting the immune system.
In the kitchen
The variety most commonly used in cooking is called Florence Fennel. The plant’s feathery fronds resemble dill and are used similarly as a seasoning in Mediterranean dishes. And the stalks are fibrous like celery. They make an excellent seasoning for soups and stocks. The bulb, which contains the most nutrients, can be thinly sliced and served raw, sautéed, grilled or roasted.
But we’re most familiar with the flavor of fennel as a spice. The vegetable’s seeds are a prominent flavoring in Italian sausage, Mediterranean stews and even, occasionally, in artisan breads. And ground into a powder, its seeds are also a key ingredient in complex, Indian spice mixes and in Chinese five-spice powder.
A hot trend in recent years is fennel pollen. It is collected from the flowers of wild fennel, dried and sold in tins through gourmet retailers. Rub it on fish before grilling, finish a pasta dish or dust a salad with this subtle, anise-like flavoring.