In the Kitchen

Ingredient Spotlight: Fennel

Nov 15th

Delicous, soothing and easy to digest—there’s a lot to love about fennel. In this article, Divya explains the healing benefits of fennel, how to cooking with it, when to avoid it and much more.

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From Joy of Balance by Divya Alter (Rizzoli 2022)

Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables not only because of its versatility of cooking and flavor but also because of the soothing and calming feelings I get after I eat it.

BOTANICAL NAMEFoeniculum vulgare Gaertn.


Taste • sweet, slightly pungent
Qualities • light, oily, slightly heating
Metabolic Effect • cooling (in small amounts), heating (in large amounts)
Post-digestive Effect • sweet
Dosha Effect • tridoshic, relieves excess Vata and Pitta in the GI tract, removes excess Kapha in the form of bronchial congestion, in large amounts the seeds aggravate Pitta
Healing Benefits • tonifies the brain, eyes, bladder, kidneys, heart, liver and spleen; soothes the stomach by relieving flatulence, bloating and abdominal discomfort; helps to kindle digestive fire without aggravating Pitta; acts as a mild diuretic and removes semi-digested food residue from the body; increases breast milk and stimulates the menstrual period; nourishes the plasma, blood, muscle, nerve and bone marrow


• Every part of the fennel plant can be used in cooking: the bulb, stalks, umbrella-like flowers and seeds. Select small- to medium-size, unblemished bulbs that feel crisp and firm (some grocery stores label fennel bulbs as “anise,” but the anise plant is a different species). Look for fennel seeds that are of vibrant green color.


• Fennel is good to eat all year round. The peak season for the fennel bulb in subtropical areas is the fall through the spring. In colder climates, it thrives in the summer.


• Fennel in every form is easy to break down and enhances digestion. As a vegetable, you can use fennel as frequently as you want, especially when you need to settle a bloated stomach or reduce congestion. Cooked fennel is easier on the intestines but, if you have a strong appetite, you could add some shaved raw bulb to a salad. I add fennel seeds as a cooling agent to balance pungent spices such as green chiles, turmeric and ajwain.


• Add shaved raw or steamed fennel to a summer salad.
• Braise whole fennel bulbs in the oven.
• Add the chopped bulb to vegetable or lentil soups, stir-fries and sautéed leafy greens.
• Sauté chopped fennel with a tiny pinch of asafoetida to resemble the texture and flavor of cooked or caramelized onions.
• Add fennel seeds to breads.
• Chew (and swallow) 1⁄2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds after meals to serve as a digestive aid.


• counteract acidity or heartburn
• reduce lung congestion,
• eliminate bloating or gas
• soothe or cool your stomach, GI tract or mind
• increase breast milk
• alleviate morning sickness
• increase a scant menstrual flow


Fennel in any form is a high estrogen food—avoid it when you need to lower your estrogen levels or if you’re pregnant.

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