Fennel, or foeniculum vulgare, is a hollow-stemmed perennial herb that blooms in clusters of tiny, bright yellow flowers. Native to the Mediterranean coast, today fennel is cultivated all over the world for its aromatic smell and numerous culinary uses. Fennel flowers, bulbs, and leaves are incorporated into many international dishes but fennel seeds, which we use in Jamu Juice, are the most commonly consumed component of the plant. You may recognize the distinctive flavor and aroma of fennel from italian sausages, which incorporate fennel seeds, or the infamous botanically derived absinthe, which is infused with both fennel and anise for its distinctive taste.
Fennel boasts a mostly uneventful history despite its relative popularity, although there are references to fennel in texts dating back to the 10th century and beyond. In China and India (India produces the largest share of the world’s fennel) fennel has been held in high esteem for centuries as an integral part of several popular and longstanding spice mixes. In countries where fennel has become naturalized, such as the United States and Australia, it is sometimes considered an invasive species.
Although fennel is a hearty plant with a great deal of nutritional value, it does not share the folk remedy cache of other common spices. It was believed to improve the eyesight, as noted in this stanza from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1892 poem “The Goblet of Life”:
Above the lower plants it towers,
The Fennel with its yellow flowers;
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers
Lost vision to restore.
Fennel was also reputed to lessen the nausea and cramps associated with menstruation- a claim tentatively supported by several modern studies.
As mentioned above, fennel is a fantastically nutrient rich plant; fennel seeds alone can provide up to 20% of our daily value of protein, fiber, vitamin B, iron, and calcium, to name just a few. Preliminary studies have also shown that fennel is effective in treating gastrointestinal distress and repairing gut function after invasive medical procedures (citation needed).
To conclude, not only do fennel seeds provide a pungent, savory kick to Jamu Juice’s flavor, but they also contribute greatly to Jamu’s nutritional benefits.