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Other names: Yellow weed, Dog fennel
For the medicinal use of its fruits, commonly called seeds, fennel is largely cultivated in the south of France, Saxony, Galicia, and Russia, as well as in India and Persia. Fennel was well known to the Ancients and was cultivated by the ancient Romans for its aromatic fruits and succulent, edible shoots.
In medieval times, Fennel was used together with St. John’s Wort and other herbs as a preventative of witchcraft and other evil influences. On Midsummer’s Eve it was hung over doors to warn off evil spirits.
It was likewise eaten as a condiment to the salt fish so much consumed by our forefathers during Lent.
Fennel is a beautiful plant. In the kitchen garden this naturally ornamental, graceful plant, generally has its stems cut down to secure a constant crop of green leaves for flavoring and garnishing, so that the plant is seldom seen in the same perfection as in the wild state.
Indian Fennel is brownish, usually smaller, straighter and not quite so rounded at the ends with a sweet anise taste.
Persian and Japanese fennel, pale greenish brown in color, are the smallest and have a sweeter, still more strongly anise taste and an odor intermediate between that of French and Saxon.
The odor of Fennel seed is fragrant, its taste, warm, sweet and agreeably aromatic. It yields its virtues to hot water, but more freely to alcohol. The fennel seed extract may be separated by distillation with water.
Fennel as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
The medicinal parts are the Fennel oil extracted from the ripe fruit and the dried ripe fruit and Fennel seeds of Foeniculum vulgare. Fennel has a spicy aroma.
The roots of Fennel were formerly employed in medicine, but are generally inferior to the fruit, which is now the only portion recognized by any of the Pharmacopoeias.
In folk medicine, fennels is used for peptic discomforts, such as mild, spastic disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, feeling of fullness, flatulence; catarrh of the upper respiratory tract. Fennel honey is used for catarrh of the upper respiratory tract in children.
In Southern folk medicine, folk practitioners used fennel for its assumed positive effects on the stomach (Moss 1999). Fennel was used for colic in infants and for gas and indigestion.
Fennel helps to take away the appetite. Fennel also improves digestion. Taken before meals, it can help you eat smaller meals and still feel full. It is often used as a sedative for small children and to treat colic. Fennel has a long history of use as a weight loss aid.
Fennel seeds have been eaten during Lent and fasts to stave off hunger.
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.
Syrup prepared from Fennel juice was formerly given for chronic coughs.
Fennel is also used for cancer patients after radiation and chemotherapy treatments to help rebuild the digestive system.
Fennel oil is used externally to ease muscle and joint pain.
Fennel is used to enrich and increase the flow of milk for lactating women. In traditional medicine, fennel was also used to encourage menstruation. Some sources caution against using for lactation due to possible toxicity to infants.
Fennel oil is approved by Commission E for:
- Dyspeptic complaints
Modern science indicates that fennel has anti-inflammatory effects. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and lowers blood pressure (Weiner and Weiner 1994). It has been approved for cough, bronchitis, and dyspeptic complaints (Fleming 2000).
Culinary Uses of Fennel
In Italy and France, the tender fennel leaves are often used for garnishes and to add flavor to salads. They 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 agreeable.
The tender stems are used in soups in Italy, though are more frequently eaten raw as a salad. The Italians eat peeled stems, which they call ‘Cartucci’ as a salad, cutting them when the plant is about to bloom and serving with a dressing of vinegar and pepper.
Formerly poor people used to eat fennel to satisfy the cravings of hunger on fast days and make unsavory food palatable. Fennel was also used in large quantities in the households of the rich.
The unique aroma and flavor of fennel lends itself well to heavier meats.
Chopping fennel seeds can seem like an impossible task. Place your seeds in a pile and add enough water or oil until they are moist. Now you can chop them easily without having them all over your kitchen.
Days of Yore Recipes
From The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected, 1675, by William Tabisha.
A Sallet of Fennel: ‘Take young Fennel, about a span long in the spring, tye it up in bunches as you do Sparragrass; when your Skillet boyle, put in enough to make a dish; when it is boyled and drained, dish it up as you do Sparragrass, pour on butter and vinegar and send it up.’
From Recipe Book of Henry Howard, Cook to the Duke of Ormond, 1710.
Fennel and Gooseberry Sauce: “Brown some butter in a saucepan with a pinch of flour. Put in a few chives shred small, add a little Irish broth to moisten it. Season with salt and pepper. Make these boil, then put in two or three sprigs of fennel and some Gooseberries. Let all simmer together till the Gooseberries are soft and then put in some Cullis.”
- Gooseberries are a very good source of Vitamin A.
- Gooseberries contain large amounts of L-ascorbic acid or vitamin C.
- Traces of pantothenic acid in gooseberry plays a vital role in the health of andrenal glands.
- Significant amounts of riboflavin, niacin, alpha-tocopherol and folate are also included in its nutritional value.
- Good source of dietary fiber.
Did You Know? Fennel Seed is the Herb of the Month for September.
Folklore & Magical Uses
Grow fennel around your home for protection. Hangs sprigs at the doors and windows to keep out evil spirits. Use fennel in purification sachets and healing mixtures.
Fennel was considered a snake bite remedy in ancient China..
Fennel is also associated with the origin of the marathon. Ancient Athenian Pheidippides carried a fennel stalk on his 150 mile, 2 day run to Sparta to gather soldiers for the battle of Marathon with Persia in 490 B.C. The battle itself was also reportedly waged on a field of fennel.
Health risks or side effects following the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages are not recorded. Allergic reactions following intake of Fennel have been only very rarely observed. Cross sensitivity among patients with celery allergy appear to be possible.
Preprarations should not be given to pregnant women or children.
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