Fennel is a flowering plant in the carrot family with leaves that resemble dill and a bulb that looks like a cross between an onion and the base of a celery stalk. It has a sweet, perfumy, anise-like flavor and presents a light, bright, warm quality to foods. Every bit of the highly aromatic, flavorful plant is edible, including the seeds, bulbs and even the pollen.
The texture of fennel is cold and crisp and the bulb can be sliced and added to salads and slaws, while the leaves can be chopped to flavor numerous dishes. Fennel seeds are one of the main spices in Italian sausage and they are also frequently used in Middle Eastern dishes. Fennel is also one of the primary ingredients in absinthe.
Fennel is a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamin B, calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese. It acts as a digestive aid to relieve abdominal cramps, gas and bloating, and the seeds contain creosol and alpha-pinene—chemicals that help relieve congestion and the dry hacking of bronchitis. Fennel’s ancient reputation as a weight loss aid still holds up today.