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Spice of the month: Fennel Seed.

Fennel Seed

 

Health Benefits: Calms Menstrual Cramps

Fennel is one of the few plants that has it all — it’s a vegetable, herb and spice. That tang of licorice when you bite into a fennel seed comes from the volatile oil anethole, the same compound that gives anise its licorice-like flavor. Fennel seeds are teeming with anethole and dozens of other phytochemicals, including phytoestrogens, estrogen-like compounds found in plants. These can help offset menstrual cramps that affect more than 50 percent of menstruating women.

In a study reported in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, doctors treated 30 women with moderate to severe menstrual cramps, using either an extract of fennel or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) similar to ibuprofen. Both the drug and fennel effectively relieved menstrual pain. In a similar study, involving 110 women, fennel outperformed the NSAID.

Fennel has also been shown to calm colic in babies. In a study, doctors treated 125 infants with colic, dividing them into one group that received a product containing fennel seed oil and one that received a placebo. The fennel seed product eliminated colic in 65 percent of the babies given it, compared with 24 percent of the placebo group.

May also help prevent and treat:
Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, colitis (inflammatory bowel disease), dementia, glaucoma, heart disease, high blood pressure, hirsutism (unwanted hair growth in women), stroke.

How to buy fennel seed:
Fennel seeds are sold whole or ground. Whole fennel seeds are yellow and tinged with green, which indicates top quality. Ground fennel starts to lose its flavor after six months, while whole fennel seeds keep for three years, so it’s best to buy whole and grind as needed.

Most of the fennel seed sold in grocery stores is imported from Egypt. If you shop in an Indian market, you may come across Lucknow fennel seeds, which are about half the size of regular fennel seeds. They’re mostly green and have a sweeter flavor — in India, they are eaten as an after-dinner digestif.

Cooking tips:

* Dry and crush toasted fennel seeds and steep them in tea.
* Fennel seed naturally complements many foods from the Mediterranean diet, including tomatoes, olives, olive oil, basil, grilled meat and seafood.
* Throw in extra fennel seeds the next time you make a sausage ragu.
* Add fennel seeds to fruit salads and compotes.
* Add ground fennel to scrambled eggs.
* Make spiced olives by marinating 2 cups olives in ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon each of fennel seeds, dried oregano and dried thyme.

 

 

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