What it’s good for: Calming digestion
It’s no coincidence that Indian restaurants set out tiny bowls of fennel seeds to chew on after dinner. Anethole, the active ingredient inside the seed, relaxes the smooth muscles of the stomach, easing digestion. Even the ancient Romans praised its healing properties, including scientist Pliny the Elder, who listed 22 medical uses for it.
How To Grow It: Fennel’s easy to propagate from seed, shooting up to as high as 6 or 7 feet, and returning each year if you let it go to seed. It loves sun and dry, rich soil. Plant the seeds in early April, covering lightly with soil. Thin the seedlings to about 15 inches apart.
How To Use It: Gather the seeds from the end of the feathery stalks. With a mortar and pestle, crush one to two teaspoons—fresh or dry—and add those to a cup of boiling water. Let it steep for ten minutes, strain, and sip. “If you have digestive problems, drink a cup after every meal until your digestion is better,” suggests McIntyre. Or try eating the seeds straight, or brewing a tea with a teaspoon each of fennel seeds and peppermint. You can also sprinkle fennel seeds into bread or biscotti dough. And of course the fennel bulb, which also contains the antispasmodic oils, is delicious added to stews and soups.