A visit to an Indian restaurant anywhere in the country will have one thing for sure – a bowl of mukhwas or breath freshener served up after the meal, or with your bill! And the main ingredient of this special concoction that completes the meal is fennel.
Fennel is botanically known as Foeniculum vulgare. Fennel seeds are also known as Saunf in Hindi, Perunjeerakam in Tamil and Malayalam, Sopu/Sompu in Kannada and Telugu, Variari in Gujarati and Panhohuri in Bengali and Oriya.
The widespread use of fennel in Indian cuisine may make it seem like it’s a native Indian spice, but fennel is actually a Mediterranean spice.
Did you know? Fennel was a very valuable spice in the old days, where it was used as medicine and to increase the strength and courage of warriors before battle. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is believed to have used a huge fennel stalk to carry fire from Olympus to Earth. Fennel was believed to be so powerful that during the Middle Ages, people hung the plant over their doors as protection from evil spirits.
All parts of the fennel plant can be used, including the leaves, seeds, and bulb. What we refer to as fennel seeds are actually the fennel fruit.
Greenish yellow in color, oblong in shape and with ridges on the surface, they resemble cumin or anise. Fennel seeds can be distinguished by their strong yet pleasant aroma, which comes from the compound anethole.
Health Benefits of Fennel Seeds or Saunf
Fennel seeds are extremely nutritious. They contain lots of protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins and essential minerals like iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium. Just 100 grams of fennel seeds provide more than 100% of the daily requirement of all these nutrients, due to which they have many health benefits.
1. Eases Digestive Problems
Fennel seeds or saunf contain many compounds that offer anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic benefits, helping to ease several digestive issues like gas, bloating, heartburn and flatulence.
Fennel seeds also relieve stomach aches and mild symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
2. Offers Relief for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Fennel seeds or saunf have the power to help the muscles of the digestive system relax, preventing constipation. Besides, volatile oils in fennel seeds stimulate the production of gastric enzymes which give a digestive boost.
Fennel seeds also act as laxatives and help regularize bowel movements.
3. Helps Treat Respiratory Symptoms
Fennel seeds or saunf contain several phytonutrients which offer relief for common respiratory symptoms like blocked sinuses, congestion, bronchitis and cough.
The compounds in the seeds have expectorant properties and help loosen up phlegm and clear the respiratory tract.
4. Increases Lactation
Fennel seeds have galactogenic properties which means they can help increase production of milk in breastfeeding women.
It does this by increasing the secretion of prolactin, a hormone that induces breast milk production.
5. Reduce Water Retention
Fennel seeds or saunf act as a diuretic and help flush out excess fluid from the body by increasing the frequency of urination. They also remove toxins along with the fluid and prevent urinary tract infections. The reduced water retention also tackles swelling and rheumatism.
6. Soothes Painful Periods
Painful menstrual cramps or Dysmenorrhea can be severe in certain women and sometimes even OTC medications don’t work. Fennel seeds or saunf can help in such cases, by keeping the uterus from contracting, which is what causes the pain in the first place
7. Eases Menopausal Discomfort
Fennel has properties that mimic oestrogen, which makes it a useful remedy during menopause. Fennel seeds have been shown to relieve symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness and itching as well as sleep disturbances.
5 Home Remedies With Fennel Seeds or Saunf
Multipurpose Fennel Tea
This fennel tea has several benefits – it suppresses the appetite, clears skin, relieves gas, flushes out excess fluids and also eases a sore throat and cough.
DIY Fennel Eye Wash
This eye wash helps relieve dry eyes due to excessive screen time, and also soothes itchy eyes and puffiness.
Sipping on this tonic throughout the day can help breastfeeding women increase their milk supply, and may also relieve colic in the baby.
Fennel Seed Face Mask
This face mask keeps the skin supple and soft, and also eases any irritation, redness or itchiness.
All Natural Mouth Freshener
This mouth freshener is a healthy alternative to store bought versions. It freshens breath and kills bacteria that cause yellowing of teeth.
Tips to Buy and Store Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds are commonly available in most grocery stores and are found in colors ranging from light green to bright green as well as light brown. When buying, choose the bright green seeds for maximum flavor. The seeds should have a plump appearance with a strong aroma.
Fennel seeds are best stored in airtight glass jars, away from direct heat and light. Under proper storage conditions, fennel seeds can last to about 3-4 years, although they may start to lose their potency after about 10 months. The potency of fennel seeds can be checked by crushing a small amount and tasting or smelling it. A weak flavor and aroma indicates the seeds should be replaced.
While fennel is mostly considered safe for consumption, those with an allergy to carrots or celery may be allergic to fennel seeds. Due to its estrogenic properties, fennel seeds are not recommended for pregnant women. They can also interfere with certain cancer medications. Due to these reasons, it’s always recommended to consult a doctor before starting on fennel supplements.
(Pratibha Pal spent her childhood in idyllic places only fauji kids would have heard of. She grew up reading a variety of books that let her imagination wander and still hopes to come across the Magic Faraway Tree. When she's not rooting for eco-living or whipping up some DIY recipes to share with her readers, Pratibha is creating magic with social media. You can view her blog at www.pratsmusings.com or reach to her on Twitter at @myepica.)