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Sardinian Fennel - A Blue Zone Herb

Fennel is a staple food in the Blue Zone regions of Sardinia, Italy, Greece and Ikaria, a tiny Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Today, Ikarians are almost entirely free of dementia and some of the chronic diseases that plague Americans; one in three live into their 90s. Ikaria, like the island of Sardinia, about 5 hours by ferry from Rome, is a designated Blue Zone. Global pockets of health and well-being where the world’s longest living cultures are supported by a lifestyle and culture that increases their chances of living a healthy, happy life.

Sardinia is an island where the conviviality of good wine and good food encourages friendship and reduces stress. Where the land draws you outdoors into an active lifestyle. A place where seasonality in both food and culture influences the quality of life. Fennel is one of 5 herbs (oregano, rosemary, cilantro and garlic) that are prevalent in the diets of Blue Zone regions and grows spontaneously throughout the island. The bright green, feathery fronds and yellow flowers of fennel cover the Sardinian countryside like a delicate carpet. You can find it cooking in soups, stews, pastas and salads as a staple of the Sardinian diet. Rich in fiber and soluble vitamins A, B, and C, fennel is high in potassium and reported to be a good diuretic to keep blood pressure low.

This herb of longevity is the main ingredient in a light, healthy, seasonal summertime salad that is easy to make and when eaten at the end of a meal (an older tradition in Italy) is highly valued for its digestive qualities.

Fennel, Tomato, and Basil Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette


¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 fennel bulbs, small to medium

8 small tomatoes

10 fresh basil leaves, washed, dried well and cut into thin slices


In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, shallots, and a grind of salt and pepper. Whisk in olive oil in a steady stream until it is incorporated well and emulsified. Cut the stalks off of the fennel bulbs. Slice off the tough bottom end and remove any discolored outer layers. Slice each bulb in half lengthwise, and then slice fennel as thin as you can. If you have a mandoline it will be easier. Put slices in a bowl with room to toss. Stem tomatoes and cut in half. Add them to the bowl with the fennel and basil. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat.

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