Have you ever wondered about the difference between anise and fennel? I know I have—especially when you look at the seeds. They look and taste very similar, but they come from entirely different plants.
Let’s start with anise, which presents us with even more confusion. Anise seeds , or pimpinella animus are not the same thing as star anise, or illicium verum. Star anise is a beautiful little star-shaped pod that’s used in many potpourris, to flavor Vietnamese pho broth, and sometimes in Chinese 5-spice blend. It’s a carminative (relieves gas) and a diuretic.
Regular anise (pimpinella anisum) is a delicate herb that resembles dill. The seeds are dried and have a subtle licorice flavor. They’re used in teas and desserts to aid in digestion and relieve gas, in cough syrups (esp. for dry coughs), and to relieve colic, nausea, abdominal pain, hiccups, and epilepsy. Anise is also an antiseptic and an insect repellant.
Fennel, or feniculum, comes in many varieties, but the most common is feniculum dulce or Florence fennel (as pictured below). The plant forms a bulbous base, with stalks that resemble celery stalks, topped with feathery fronds like dill. The seeds are also dried and eaten like anise seeds to relieve gas and aid in digestion. Their flavor and potency is somewhat less than anise.
The fennel bulb is a delicious vegetable that can be braised, added to soups, sautéed with other vegetables, and mixed into salads. The feathery fronds make a lovely garnish too!
Fennel is useful for colic, coughs, bronchitis, backache, and was used in Medieval times to make food more palatable and relieve hunger pains during fasts, like Lent. It is said that fleas dislike the smell, so it was often ground into a powder and sprinkled around kennels.
Today, you’ll see fennel seeds served in Indian restaurants as an after-dinner digestive aid and breath freshener. Look for it in natural cough syrups and lozenges too.
Copyright © by Bobbi Mullins, originally published February 25, 2015