Other Common Names:
The other common names for the herb fennel are large fennel, sweet fennel, wild fennel, finocchio, carosella, florence fennel and fenkel.
The uses for fennel go far beyond the kitchen however; fennel has been used as a medicinal herb by the early Romans and Greeks. Fennel was well known to the Ancients and was cultivated by the ancient Romans for its aromatic fruits and succulent, edible shoots. Fennel is native to Europe and is a garden plant in North America. This plant was attached by Linnaeus to the genus Anethum, but was separated from it by De Candolle and placed with three or four others in a new genus styled Foeniculum, which has been generally adopted by botanists. This was corrupted in the Middle Ages into Fanculum, and this gave birth to its alternative popular name, 'fenkel.'
' A member of the parsley family, the plant resembles dill with its small clusters of upturned yellow umbrel flowers, but it easily distinguished by its sweet licorice aroma and taste. A tall wispy perennial it earns a place in any well stocked herbal garden not only for its culinary uses but also as one of the best digestive aids that also relieves gas. As early as the tenth century A.D. the mystic Hildegard of Bingen recommended fennel seeds as a treatment for body odor. At Indian restaurants you may see fennel seeds instead of after dinner mints. Fennel is widely cultivated, both in its native range and elsewhere, for its edible, strongly-flavoured leaves and seeds. The flavour is similar to that of anise and star anise, though usually not as strong.
Fennel has a distinctive smell rather like Aniseed. The roots are large, thick and white and are carrot shaped root produces a stout, pithy, finely grooved stem with fine buish stripes. The leaves are decompound, dissected into numerous filiform segments, the upper leaves on broad sheaths that surround the stem.The bright golden flowers, produced in large, flat terminal umbels, with from thirteen to twenty rays, are in bloom in July and August. The Yellow flowers appear from July to October.
The fruit consists of two joined carpels, together taking an oblong form with prominent ribs. Fennel looks very much like dill with its feather leaves and yellow umbel flowers and hollow stems and they have the fragrance of anise, or licorice.
Fennel is a biennial or perennial plant that grows wild in the Mediterranean area and in the Asia Minor, but is commonly cultivated in the US and Europe. It propagates well by seed, and is considered an invasive species and a weed in Australia and the United States.
Fennel has become naturalized along roadsides, in pastures, and in other open sites in many regions. It has followed civilization, especially where Italians have colonized, and may be found growing wild in many parts of the world upon dry soils near the sea-coast and upon river-banks. It flourishes particularly on limestone soils and is now naturalized in some parts of this country, being found from North Wales southward and eastward to Kent, being most frequent in Devon and Cornwall and on chalk cliffs near the sea. It is often found in chalky districts inland in a semi-wild state.
Fennel will thrive anywhere, and a plantation will last for years. It is easily propagated by seeds, sown early in April in ordinary soil. It likes plenty of sun and is adapted to dry and sunny situations, not needing heavily manured ground, though it will yield more on rich stiff soil. From 4 1/2 to 5 lb. of seed are sown per acre, either in drills, 15 inches apart, lightly, just covered with soil and the plants afterwards thinned to a similar distance, or sewn thinly in a bed and transplanted when large enough.
Though the leaves and roots of fennel are used the major part which is of medicinal use are the seeds.
The flowering season for this particular herb generally falls between early to midsummer.
Pests and Diseases
The major disease problem in fennel is a Cercosporidium fungus. This can be managed with early preventative fungicide applications to reduce the level of inoculum. High humidity during flowering will promote Cercosporidium development, such that heavy leaf loss and damage to developing flowers and seed will be sustained. Late infections can be controlled by fungicide application, but usually the only option is using the less desirable aerial techniques. The major yield-reducing pests of fennel have been thrips, potato myrid and aphids. Particular care has to be taken with insect pest management during flowering as bee activity is vital for pollination and subsequent seed set. Watch for greenflies in the foliage and for snail damage to the seedlings.
• The leaves or seed, boiled in Barley-water, and drunk, are good for the nursing mother.
• Fennel is good to break wind, provoke urine, and eases the pains of the stone and to help break it.
• The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough and soothes the stomach of sick and feverish persons.
• The seed boiled in wine is good for those that have eaten poisonous herbs or mushrooms. The seed, or roots, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen and gall, and ease painful and windy swellings and help the yellow jaundice, the gout and cramps.
• The leaves, seeds and roots are much used in drink or broth to make people lean that are too fat.
• The distilled water of the whole herb dropped into the eyes cleanses them from mists and films that hinder the sight.
• Fennel not only improves digestion, but also can reduce bad breath and body odor that originates in the intestines.
• Fennel also acts as an excellent digestive aid to relieve abdominal cramps, gas and bloating.
• Fennel is one of the plants that repel fleas, and the anise like taste may be more acceptable choice for indigestion and gas in finicky dogs and cats.
• Recent studies have found fennel to possess diuretic, choler tic (increase in production of bile), and pain-reducing, fever-reducing, and anti-microbial actions.
• The fennel tea traditionally made a good eye wash. It is a tested remedy for gas, acid stomach, gout, cramps, colic and spasms. Fennel oil was traditionally rubbed over painful joints to relieve pain. It was gargled for hoarseness and sore throat.
• Fennel water has properties similar to those of anise and dill water: mixed with sodium bicarbonate and syrup, these waters constitute the domestic 'Gripe Water,' used to correct the flatulence of infants.
• The seeds are mainly used as a flavouring agent in medicines and to disperse flatulence. It is an ingredient of the official compound powder of liquorice. Added to a laxative, it prevents griping. Fennel seeds are a common cooking spice, particularly for use with fish. Fennel seed ground and made into tea is believed to be good for snake bites, insect bites or food poisoning.
• Fennel is best known as a culinary herb, all parts of the plant are edible. The fresh stems of fennel can be eaten much like celery; the seeds add a lovely anise flavor to fish and other dishes.
• Drinking a cup of fennel seed tea before eating a heavy meal can edge off of your appetite as well, and works in this regard for me personally.
• Fennel teas are useful for chronic coughs and act as an expectorant to help clear mucus from the lungs, syrup prepared from fennel juice was formerly given for chronic coughs.
• Oil of fennel relieves muscular or rheumatic pains and is warming and soothing in massage oil blends.
• Fennel is also largely used for cattle condiments.
• It is one of the plants which is said to be disliked by fleas, and powdered Fennel has the effect of driving away fleas from kennels and stables.
• The tender leaves are often used for garnishes and to add flavour to salads, and are also added, finely chopped, to sauces served with puddings. Roman bakers are said to put the herb under their loaves in the oven to make the bread taste agreeably.