In Praise of Fennel

In my book I define what the traditional British diet should look like, a diet based on the flavour and health properties of foods, rather than ingredients that generate compulsion, like sugar, that swamp modern food products.

Such a health-based diet has distinctive character, predominant flavours, and these flavours have smells. An example – the French, so we say, stink of garlic. This is unfair of course because the French diet is so much more varied than ours, but actually garlic has such wonderful properties that accusing anyone of such pungence should be seen as a compliment.

So what should we British smell of? We could start with fennel.

Fennel seed, and bulb are mild and aromatic so we can eat them every day. They warm and move to counter our cold, damp, obstructive weather. And they are noted for their benefit to children; not a bad nutritional foundation for the nation.

Not many people talk about the effect that weather has on our health these days, so such awareness has lost its place in our culture. But today the pressure’s been ramped up as we gulp down gallons of ice-cold food and drink (pints of lager! Ice cream! Fruit juice! Office water coolers!) from the fridge and freezer. These stop our gut enzymes working and compromise blood circulation and secretion in the stomach.

Enter fennel, an all round warming superhero. Traditional indications include relief of digestive pain and nausea, and stimulation of appetite. It is also used to warm the uterus, stimulating circulation to treat period pain. And for breast feeding mothers the benefit of fennel tea is said to be passed on to the baby to soothe its growing gut.

A word of warning on dose. Fennel seed is mild, but powerful; a few grams a day in diet is just fine.