According to Greek myth, fennel was associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks reverred the fennel stalk as a vehicle for passing knowledge from the gods to men at Olympus.
Closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander, and often associated with Italian and French cooking, fennel is a crunchy and slightly sweet herb that is in season and readily available from autumn through early spring.
Fennel is packed with phytonutrients that provide strong antioxidant activity. Anethole, a phytonutrient compound found in fennel, has been proven in animal studies to reduce inflammation and even help prevent cancer. In addition, fennel bulb is an excellent source of vitamin C, which contributes to a healthy immune system and can help protect against pain and joint deterioration from conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Fennel bulb is also a good source of fiber and potassium, and may help reduce bad cholesterol and protect from stroke and heart attack.
When shopping for fennel, look for whitish or pale green bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting, with relatively straight and closely superimposed stalks. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green in color. Pass on fennel with signs of flowering buds as this indicates that the fennel is past maturity. Fresh fennel should be used as soon as possible, but can be stored in the refrigerator crisper for about four days. Some creative ways of using fennel, the stalks in particular, is to add them to soups, stocks and stews. The leaves can be used as an herb seasoning.
Photo credit. "Fennel flower heads" by user:Fir0002 - Own work. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fennel_flower_heads.jpg#mediaviewe/File:Fennel_flower_heads.jpg
Fennel. The World's Healthiest Foods.
Pitchford, Paul. 1996. Healing with whole foods: oriental traditions and modern nutrition. Berkeley, Calif: North Atlantic Books.
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