Eat It All! Fennel

I love this time of year because fennel is everywhere. But the most common reaction to those beautiful, feathery green stalks isn’t “Ooh, pretty!” — it’s “What the heck is that,” followed by “What do I do with it?” Well, here’s the answer!

Fennel: A Feathery Wonder

First off, every part of the above-ground fennel plant is edible; the whole thing packs a mild licorice, anise-like taste. When you’re shopping for fennel, look for clean, firm, solid bulbs and stalks. The bulbs should be white or pale green, and the stalks and leaves should be green and growing clustered close together. Flowering buds give away a fennel plant’s advanced age, so avoid those.

When you take fennel home with you, it will keep for a few days in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Use the leaves or seeds as herbs, add slivers of the bulb and stalks into sandwiches, soups, or meat and pasta dishes, or sauté them as a decadent side dish for fresh salmon.

Close up of fennel.

Why Fennel is Food for You

Aside from their obvious beauty, those delicate fennel fronds are rich in Vitamin C and a number of other nutrients, including heart-healthy potassium, calcium, folate, manganese, copper, phosphorus, molybdenum and pantothenic acid. And fiber too, of course, plus the potent antioxidant quercetin.

Like most highly nutritious herbs, fennel has a long history in folk medicine; it’s been used for to soothe colic and other digestive ailments, to get gas out of your system, to expel phlegm from your lungs, and to freshen bad breath.

Science is proving a laundry list of other benefits you can get from fennel, too. It can help preserve strong bones, boosts your immune function, decreases menstrual pain, protects your liver, and anethole — the primary component in fennel’s volatile oils and a big part of its distinctive taste — fights cancer.

Fennel is also antimicrobial, and here’s one more unusual benefit: fennel gel has been shown to decrease hair thickness for women with mild to moderate hirsutism. But even if you’re not looking to reap any of these wellness benefits, fennel is first and foremost a delicious food. If you’re on the Fast Metabolism Diet, it’s appropriate for Phases 2 and 3.

Note: There aren’t many reports of fennel allergies — but the seeds can sometimes cause a reaction in those with mugwort allergies.