When was the last time you cooked with fennel? Ever? Fennel seed?
Do you know what it looks like?
It’s a funny thing, this practice. It has made me realize just how much I don’t know!
So here we begin with the basics....
The first time I ran across fennel was with a community supported agriculture haul in Tucson, AZ. Thankfully they had these really handy recipes that came with our bag of goodies.
Back then I was really terrible at cooking.
These days, after lots of trial an error, I have come quite a long way.
I still experiment and have some not so great recipes. Some that I think are wonderful, but my husband and mother frown upon. Our western palates are not quite accustomed or open to experiencing new flavors.
If I had to say what the number one aid in transforming my life from nightly frozen pizzas (and numerous health disorders, even in my early twenties), to one where I make the time for homemade almond milk, is fostering the LOVE of cooking, of experimenting and of learning.
Learning means not being perfect, but enjoying the process. Due to my perfectionist nature, this has been a lesson all on it’s own [check out next week’s post on how I’m learning to chill out and reflections on the cooling nature of coriander, also known as cilantro].
To me, Ayurveda is providing the next level of self-awareness.
Let’s start here by introducing you to the properties of fennel and how they can increase your awareness of the relationship between food and the body.
In this writing, I’ll go over the basic energies, called doshas. They were mentioned in the last post, but they deserve a bit more attention.
[If you missed the last post on the power packed mustard seed, check it out here www.ayurverica.com/mustardseed]
Division of Natural Qualities
Natural phenomenon was described in terms of qualities in the ancient world. There are 20 of these qualities which are 10 pairs of opposites (e.g. hot/cold, static/mobile).
The world was also divided into the 5 elements which can be described by the qualities. The elements are water, earth, fire, air and ether (space).
The three energies, or doshas, are known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It is these that we will work with most often. Understanding their make-up can be helpful in determining if a food, spice or environment will increase the dosha or balance the dosha. The goal is Ayurveda is always to find the balance appropriate for each person.
Each person has unique proportions of the three doshas. One is usually dominant.
Our dominant constitution, or prakruti, is determined by our genes. Vatas tend to be born into families of vatas. Although, this is not always the case.
In the examples above we would say Person A (furthest left) is Kapha, with secondary Pitta; Person B (middle) is Pitta; Person C (right) is Vata, secondary Kapha.
The current state of the doshas, or vikruti, can be different than our prakruti. For that reason, we focus on our vikruti as that is the state that has been altered by our environment, stress and daily habits.
The goal of Ayurveda is to bring us into alignment with our prakruti. Our prakruti is who we were when we were born. It is easier said than done.
For example, I am predominantly Pitta dosha, but often experience Vata vitiation. This is the case for many of us. Vata most easily goes out of balance as it is the nature of air and ether – easily disturbed. When we are distracted by our phones, the TV, electronics and our non-stop, eat-on-the-way lifestyle, we are vitiating Vata.
Let’s begin to dive a bit deeper into the doshas, starting with Vata.
As we just discovered, Vata is the nature of air and ether.
In the body this can manifest as a thin frame and small facial features. They tend towards constipation and dryness in the body.
In the mind and personality this can manifest as feeling spacy and ungrounded if out of balance.
When a person of predominant Vata constitution is in balance they are the creative types.
Pitta is the nature of fire.
Pitta predominate bodies are usually medium size with good muscle tone. If pitta is out of balance there can burning bowel movements, acid reflux and burning indigestion.
In the mind it can manifest as a perfectionist or controlling if out of balance.
When a Pitta is in balance, they are great leaders and planners.
Kapha is the nature of earth and water.
The body type is usually a bit stockier and fleshier than pitta. If a Kapha is out of balance there can be sluggish digestion, heavy stomach after eating and low appetite. Interestingly enough, kapha is also associated with the respiratory system. Excess mucous can be seen as Kapha vitiation.
In the mind an imbalanced Kapha can be extra stubborn and resistant to change.
When in balance, a kapha is loving, loyal and a great support.
Seats of Doshas in the Digestive System
In the body, vata is located in the colon, pitta in the small intestine and kapha in the stomach. What is so fascinating is that we can see which dosha is vitiated based on digestive symptoms.
Yupp. We’re going there. Gut health, the Ayurveda way.
If you’re anything like me, you grew up fairly prude in regards to talking about our daily elimination habits. In fact, I was told by several doctors that elimination 1-2x a week was perfectly acceptable.
Let me tell you, this is simply not true.
Elimination is the method our body uses to remove anything that is not useful to the body. It is imperative that we learn to tune into our digestive system, see what is working and what isn’t.
Everything we do in Ayurveda stresses the importance of proper digestion. If digestion is poor, quality nutrition will be much less valuable.
Efficient digestion means no gas, no heaviness, no burning indigestion. Just smooth flow of food in to waste out with barely a noticeable change in the body.
Sound too good to be true?
I feel ya. I used to laugh when my teachers said this too.
But through some habit and dietary changes, I can attest that it is possible, plausible and you can implement it into modern living. Stick around and I'll show ya how ;)
Fennel – The Super Spice
Fennel is considered tridoshic in nature.
Its impressiveness lies in the fact that it increases agni, our digestive power (and efficiency), without aggravating Pitta.
In Indian restaurants, there is usually a bowl of fennel mixed with some sugar near the check out counter. This is to take a pinch after eating to improve digestion. It is offered to all, as it is helpful for most everyone.
Here is a bit of deep dive into the Ayurvedic understanding of fennel seed:
o Taste (rasa): sweet
o Warming/Cooling effect (virya): Cooling
o Post-digestive effect (vipaka): Sweet (water and earth)
o Dosha effect: VPK-
o Qualities (gunas): light, moist, sharp
o Fennel is considered a dipana (it increases agni, or the digestive fire); a carminative (dispels gas); emmenagogue (can bring on menses); diuretic (rids of excess water)
o Contraindications include pregnancy, but only in doses larger than ¼ cup/day
Modern View of Fennel
Taken from drugs.com:
“All parts of the plant have been used for flavorings, and the stalks have been eaten as a vegetable. The seeds aid digestion.
Fennel has been used to flavor candies, liqueurs, medicines, and food, and it is especially favored for pastries, sweet pickles, and fish.
The oil can be used to protect stored fruits and vegetables against growth of toxic fungi.
Beekeepers have grown it as a honey plant. Health claims have included its use as a purported antidote to poisonous herbs, mushrooms, and snakebites.
It also has been used for the treatment of gastrointestinal inflammation, indigestion, to stimulate milk flow in breast-feeding, as an expectorant, and to induce menstruation.
Tea made from crushed fennel seeds has been used as an eyewash. Powdered fennel is said to drive fleas away from kennels and stables.”
“Fennel has been used as a flavoring agent, a scent, and an insect repellent, as well as an herbal remedy for poisoning and stomach conditions.
It has also been used as a stimulant to promote milk flow in breast-feeding and to induce menstruation.”
“Fennel seed and fennel seed oil have been used as stimulant and carminative agents in doses of 5 to 7 g and 0.1 to 0.6 mL, respectively.”
I just get a kick out of the fact that Ayurveda reinforces what our modern understanding of the power of these plants.
We just forgot…
How to Take Fennel
I have two go-to recipes. Both the kid will eat. One, the husband will not.
I use them as my gauge for what is acceptable to our western palates. The kid eats just about anything, unless it’s really really terrible. The husband would prefer hot-dogs and potatoes nightly.
It’s one thing to recommend foods, but if they are in no way compatible with our western style of living, then there has to be a substitute used.
This is a digestive tea, made of equal parts cumin seed, coriander seed, and fennel seed. It has a sweet, but earthy taste. It may take some time to acquire the taste, but the benefits are well worth the effort. This is the recipe that the kid loves, but the husband won’t touch.
I have been using it as part of my digestive health regimen for about a month.
If I use it regularly, after each meal, I don’t experience any heaviness, gas or burning indigestion. My digestive issues tend to be vata based, in the colon, or and manifest as uncomfortable gas and bloating. As we learned earlier, fennel is a carminative, or dispeller of gas.
The tea works in two ways. It is great for the medicinal use of fennel.
But it is also great because of the intake of warm/hot water.
In fact, Ayurveda recommends we never drink cold water. *GASP*… I know…
Sipping warm water every 15-20 minutes is said to stimulate the lymphatic system.
According to Dr. John Douillard
“Drinking plain boiled hot water is an ancient Ayurvedic method for flushing the lymphatic system, softening hardened tissues, and dilating, cleansing and then hydrating deep tissues. It also heals and repairs the digestive system and flushes the GALT (lymph on the outside of the intestinal wall).”
Eggs with Fennel
An easy way to add fennel to our already standard foods is through a small bit of fennel to scrambled eggs.
Just put fennel is a salt/pepper grinder. While the eggs are cooking, grind a bit over the pan. Since fennel is a dipana, or it increases agni, which can be translated loosely as digestive fire, it helps the efficiency of digestion of the foods we take.
This is a recipe that both the husband and the kid will eat.
It’s funny. I’m always surprised at the variety of foods the kid will eat. At some point I realized that kids all over the world eat foods we would find strange. If they’re introduced at an early age, they just don’t know any better.
So, it is my job to introduce, without expectations and if it is a hit, it will be better in the long run for wellbeing.
Fennel for all Doshas
Fennel is a great addition regardless of your vikruti or prakruti.
Here is the progression of my little home experiment with fennel seed. It has taught me patience, more so than the quick growing mustard seed. It took the full 10 days to see the sprout.
I was so flipping excited to see that sprout.... That I knocked it over, into the sink. The photo below is what survived. *face-palm* All in the joy of the journey
Check out the next post on coriander (the seed of cilantro!) if you’re interested in the next herb that is in my beloved CCF tea. Sign-up below for reminders and for my newsletter. Which I am slowly working on rolling out…. Trust me. I will not be bombarding your email box. Still having troubles regularly getting out posts. ;)
Alright, foodies, homemade chefs, yogis and lovers of all things of mother nature. Enough for today.
Many blessings to you and yours.
Love & Om