the spice that helps digest your Thanksgiving dinner
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and for a lot of us that means more food and more family than usual.
And let’s be honest, both of those can be a lot to digest!
Luckily I have just the remedy…
what’s in my spice cupboard (to aid digestion) today?
Fennel is an herb, a vegetable and a spice!
While I’ve shared my love for the vegetable with its feathery fronds (get a recipe for my favorite fall fennel soup here), it’s high time I talk about the sweet little seed, especially since this super spice can help with many of your digestive woes.
Fennel has been used throughout Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian civilizations for its ability to relieve flatulence and other gastrointestinal issues.
That might be enough for you to want to fetch some fennel from the spice rack now!
If you’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant and saw a little bowl of seeds at the counter, that’s fennel. It’s common practice in India to chew the seeds after a meal both to help freshen breath and to stimulate digestion.
Let’s look at why during this holiday season when there certainly can be a lot to digest…
In culinary circles, fennel is a favorite in Italian, French and Mediterranean recipes, especially for fish dishes, spicy sausages, marinades and dressings.
It’s in the same family as licorice, giving it that unique salty-sour taste and sweet smell. Like licorice, people either love fennel or they’re just not a fan. If you’re in the latter camp, read on on to learn what a love, or even a tolerance, for fennel can do for you.
While some of its close cousins in the vegetable family (yes, I’m looking at you cabbage and cauliflower) might cause bloating and gas, fennel (the vegetable and the seeds) can come to the rescue.
Fennel seeds are best known as a powerful carminative, an herb that helps dispel or expel trapped gas from your digestive tract. In fact, herbalists consider it one of the best cures for relieving gas, burps and bloating.
And let’s face it, we all might need a little help in that department this week!
These little seeds pack a punch as they’re rich in a variety of volatile essential oil compounds including anethole, limonene, anisic aldehyde, pinene, myrcene, fenchone, chavicol, and cineole. And while those might sound like crazy chemicals, I assure you, they’re the chemicals of the natural and curative sort. In fact, it’s those oils that make fennel magical as a powerful antioxidant and digestive aid.
Fennel seeds also help stimulate bile flow, soothe stomach cramps, and relax the colon, all helping to relieve post-meal discomfort. They ensure that your food is indeed digested and absorbed.
Even for more severe digestive symptoms associated with Crohn’s, colitis, and IBS, fennel is often a useful addition to a healing protocol to help relieve associated pain and discomfort.
Clinical research (and good ‘ol mama wisdom) shows that fennel can help soothe symptoms for babies with colic. A diluted fennel tea is considered safe for infants but check with a healthcare provider first before giving it to your little one.
On a non-digestive note, fennel is known to be a mild diuretic and can help flush excess water and toxins out of the body. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce joint and muscle pain.
Some wise women herbalists say that fennel helps to increase the flow of breast milk, ease the birth process, decrease PMS symptoms, and stoke sex drive!
Note, there’s not much clinical evidence for these claims but hey, I bet you might want to try some fennel tea now and I’ve got just the recipe for you below.
Fennel, Orange & Lavender Milky Tea
- 1 cup brewed Earl Grey tea (or an herbal orange blossom tea)
- 1 cup cashew or coconut milk
- 1 Tbspn fennel seeds
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp dried lavender
- zest of one organic orange
- maple syrup to taste (or liquid stevia)
Brew the tea as you normally would. Gently simmer milk, fennel seeds, cardamom, dried lavender and orange zest in a small saucepan for 5 minutes.
Strain and pour into hot brewed tea. Sweeten to taste. Top with an orange slice.
Here’s your homework.
Find a way to feature fennel in your Thanksgiving meal or with your leftovers. (Fennel and beets are one of my favorite combos!)
If nothing else, have a small bowl of seeds ready to share with your guests after the table is cleared.
Fennel will help us all avoid that not-so-celebratory-feeling of being over-stuffed and in need of digestive rescue.
Let fennel free you up so you can celebrate the true beauty of the holiday season with gratitude, good food, and perhaps best of all, digestive peace.
Happy Thanksgiving to you!
Simple Ways to Use More Fennel
- Chew and swallow a good pinch (10- 15 seeds) of fennel seeds after meals to aid digestion
- Brew a simple fennel tea by adding 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds to 1 cup boiling water, let steep for 5 minutes, strain, and sip as needed to relieve gas or bloating
- Add fennel seeds, whole or crushed, to marinades, dressings, soups, fish, vegetable dishes, and baked treats
- Gently toast the seeds in a dry skillet or crush the seeds to bring out the flavor, fragrance, and those important essential oils
- For on-the-go digestive support, purchase tea bags with fennel like Gaia Herbs or Traditional Medicinals
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