Fennel is native to Southern Europe and grown extensively all over Europe, Middle-East, China, India, and Turkey. This herbaceous plant reaches up to 2 meters (about 6 feet) in height with deep green feathery (lacy) leaves and bears golden-yellow flowers in umbels. In general, fennel seeds are harvested when their seed heads turn light-brown. The seeds, which closely resemble that of anise seeds in appearance, feature oblong or curved (comma) shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown-color with fine vertical stripes over their surface.
Fennel seeds are available year around in the markets either in the form of seeds or in processed powder form. In the store, buy whole fennel seeds instead of powder since, oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders.
Store dry fennel seeds as you do in case of other seeds like caraway, dill, etc. Place whole seeds in a clean air-seal container and store in cool, humid free and dark place. Ground and powdered fennel should be stored inside the refrigerator in airtight containers and should be used sooner since it loses flavor quickly due to evaporation of its essential oils.
Fennel symbolizes longevity, courage, and strength. In addition to its use as medicinal values, fennel has many health benefiting nutrients, essential compounds, anti-oxidants, dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
Fennel seeds compose of health benefiting volatile essential oil compounds such as anethole, limonene, anisic aldehyde, pinene, myrcene, fenchone, chavicol, and cineole. These active principles in the fennel are known to have antioxidant, digestive, carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.
Furthermore, the seeds indeed are the storehouse for many vital vitamins. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C as well as many B-complex vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and niacin particularly are concentrated in these seeds.
Fennel seed decoction or added as spice in food has been found to increase breast milk secretion in nursing mothers.
Fennel water often is used in newborn babies to relieve colic pain and help aid digestion.
Fennel seed oil is used to relieve coughs, bronchitis and as massage oil to cure joint pains.