Ayurvedic Spice Cabinet: Fennel for Digestion, Memory & More
You might be familiar with fennel as a bright, aromatic herb whose fronds are garnished on salads and whose bulbs are eaten sautéed, roasted or even raw. In addition to adding a fresh anise-like flavor to dishes, fennel also boasts a number of medicinal properties. That’s why it has been used all around the world throughout history, from ancient Greece to the Holy Roman Empire.
For centuries, fennel has been used for an impressively wide range of purposes. It has served as a breath freshener, a digestive aid and as a supplement for women’s reproductive health and for nursing mothers. It boosts heart health, contains hunger-alleviating properties and more.
In Ayurveda, it is believed that fennel strengthens the agni, or digestive fire, which lies at the heart of maintaining health and combating illness and foreign toxins. It is also an ingredient full of sattvic qualities, meaning it promotes inner harmony, mental awareness and tranquility. To top it off, it is a tridoshic herb, meaning its benefits can be reaped by all three doshas.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the many benefits of this impressive herb.
Benefits of Fennel
It aids digestion
In Ayurveda, fennel is especially revered for its digestion-boosting capacities. Given its sweet and cooling properties, it serves as a digestive stimulant. It can also cool down digestive inflammation, such as bloating, gas, burping and acid reflux. By increasing blood flow to the stomach, fennel strengthens the digestive system overall, boosting agni and promoting robust digestive health.
It helps curb hunger
At the same time that eating fennel seeds before a meal can help stimulate appetite, research has also suggested that fennel also curbs feelings of hunger, allowing people to consume fewer calories when they eat, thanks to a component called anethole. Thus, while those who struggle with building up an appetite can benefit from fennel, so can those who are looking to regulate their consumption and find a healthy medium.
It boosts heart health
Fennel is brimming with essential nutrients that include fiber, manganese and Vitamin C. Its extremely high fiber content can potentially lower risk of heart disease. In addition, research has suggested that nutrients like magnesium, potassium and calcium boost heart health and combat heart disease.
It supports menstruating, nursing & menopausal women
Fennel’s benefits for the abdominal area extend beyond its digestive-aiding qualities. In Ayurveda, it is believed that fennel helps to balance Vata, which governs menstruation. More specifically, it helps to balance and direct Apana Vata, which is located in the lower abdomen and rules over the menstrual cycle. As a result, fennel can help reduce abdominal pain and cramps before and during menstruation and promote a healthy flow.
In addition, fennel is believed to positively affect rasa dhatu, which influences the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers. Some research backs up this ancient wisdom, noting that fennel may help stimulate milk production. However, as with any substantial change to one’s routine, nursing women should consult their doctor before consuming fennel for breast milk secretion.
To top off fennel’s potent benefits for women’s health, research has shown that fennel can also help relieve symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness, hot flashes, vaginal pain and difficulty sleeping.
It improves mental alertness
Fennel is believed to contain sattvic qualities, which means that it promotes intelligence, awareness, harmony and consciousness. Sattva brings balance and mental clarity, regulating and processing chaos, negative emotions and inertia. Animal studies have backed up this Ayurvedic wisdom, demonstrating that fennel can alleviate memory deficits related to aging.
Feeling inspired to incorporate this wellness powerhouse into your diet? One simple, yet delicious place to start is Divya Alter’s recipe for Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Beet with Saffron Almonds, which incorporates fennel alongside other health- and digestion-boosting herbs like coriander, turmeric and ginger.