As a kid, my favourite part about eating out was having “bill”. No, I do not eat paper. I simply believed that saunf is, in fact, called bill as it was served whenever the bill was called for.
This memory was refreshed few days back when I chanced upon the herb growing in all its beauty along the fence of an old church. It wasn’t easy to identify the sweet fragrance first. So, I stopped, looked around and immediately spotted the mighty saunf. Couldn’t resist picking few tiny flowers to bring back home. I always keep saunf at home but this was the first time that I saw it growing. The fresh fennel seeds were far juicier and sweeter than that dried ones we get in the market.
Used globally to add flavour and enhance the culinary experience, this robust herb is still widely underestimated in terms of its therapeutic role. Being loaded with vitamins and minerals, its uses are manifold. It has numerous health benefits owing to its antioxidant properties and volatile oils.
If you have travelled through Punjab or Himachal and eaten at a dhaba, you must have been served saunf with gud (jaggery) post your meal. This age-old wisdom of using each food to bring out the best in all other foods, too, is an inspired idea in itself. A combination of gud and saunf ensures that your hearty meal of paranthas and makhan (white butter) is well digested. So, that you do not have to worry about bloating even after dabaoing (gorging on) the delicious paranthas to your heart’s content. This really is one of the many secrets behind our ‘gabru jawaans’ of Punjab. The entire meal works wonderfully to maximise nutrient absorption, add strength to the bones and keep our gut healthy and happy.
Move towards Delhi and the same saunf is served with mishri (rock sugar). The reason being that it is much hotter in Delhi than in Himachal. While jaggery works best to keep the body warm in Himachal, mishri makes sure that the body and mind stay cool to withstand the weather in Delhi.
Additionally, saunf and mishri work wonders for dry cough and seasonal allergies. Boil water with few saunf seeds and mishri and sip on it through the day (at room temperature) to fight the “gale mein khich khich”/ sore throat.
Recently, I have learned that this same recipe is common in Gujarat and some parts of Rajasthan. There it is known as variyali sherbet. Used popularly for improving digestion and managing bloating. Furthermore, it is considered to be a therapy for increasing sperm mobility in men and given to women post pregnancy for better lactation. Variyali sherbet is also a great diuretic and aids in flushing out of toxins from the kidneys #naturaldetox.
Few more of its many health benefits:
To treat colic pain in babies. Saunf ka pani or gripe water is a great remedy to ease gastric discomfort that babies are more likely to experience when unable to pass gas. Gripe water is also good for teething pain and hiccups.
Ability to restore full vaginal and reproductive health post pregnancy. The polyphenol antioxidants in fennel seeds with anti-inflammatory properties also help in fighting various bacteria and viruses, keeping you safe from various diseases like urinary tract infection (UTI) and other vaginal infections which women are more prone to post pregnancy.
In Marwari households, saunf is rolled into laddoos and or given in paan (betel leaf + gulkand) to lactating women. It is part of a routine followed post pregnancy – called jhapa. This cultural practice is rightly backed by science. Fennel has been shown to have galactogenic properties, meaning it helps increase milk secretion. Fennel increases milk secretion and blood levels of prolactin (a hormone that signals the body to produce breast milk). Research suggests that specific substances found in anethole, such as dianethole and photoanethole, are responsible for the galactogenic effects of the saunf seeds.
Vital for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Fennel contains essential oils like anethole, fenchone, and estragole that contributes to the anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. This adds to its ability to prevent IBS and tumors. The presence of antioxidants gives the seeds powerful, free radical scavenging properties. Thus, helping in neutralizing free radicals that are responsible for developing cancer.
My nani has her own special saunf recipe – besan saunf ka puda (gram flour, fennel and jaggery pancake). Mix some besan (gram flour) in water, add saunf and gud; mix well, spread on a hot pan, flip to cook both sides and enjoy! It is a great breakfast option for when time is not your best friend. Also, a good evening meal, best enjoyed with masala chai and love. What is your saunf recipe?
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