- Foeniculum vulgaris L.
- Carrot family
Parts Usually Used
Seeds, berries, fruits, roots, and stems.
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
A tall herb of the umbel family, with feathery leaves and yellow
A stout, strongly scented perennial plant, with erect stems and blue-green
leaves. The striated stems are solid when young, becoming hollow with
age. The yellow flowers grow in compound, terminal umbels, each with
10-30 stalks. Aniseed-scented, egg-shaped fruits follow the flowers.
Its light green, feathery foliage and aromatic seeds are used to
flavor foods and medicines. Stems reach 4-6 feet and flowers appear
July to October. Needs full sun; partial shade in warm climates. Zones
Seeds can be planted in autumn to ensure early germination in the
spring, otherwise plant seeds in spring in rich, well-drained soil
but not clay. Sow lightly in a bed or in drills six inches apart.
Keep the bed moist for 2 weeks or until leaves appear. Germination
takes place within 2 weeks. Thin to 6 inches apart. Do not overwater
after that. Do not plant fennel near dill, coriander, bush beans,
or tomatoes. Although it has never been proven, fennel is said to
have a damaging effect on bush beans, caraway, tomatoes, and kohlrabi,
and is harmed by coriander and wormwood. Plant away from garden; most
plants dislike fennel.
Collect seeds in summer and let the plant die back naturally in winter.
Harvest seeds when mature and brown, but before they drop; check for
aphids. Morning hours for harvest are best to avoid unnecessary seed
Varieties of fennel: F. vulgare Rubrum (bronze fennel)
has beautiful, dark reddish bronze foliage. It makes a striking accent
F. vulgare azoricum (Florence fennel or finacchio; sometimes
listed as var. dulce, incorrectly called sweet anise, and sold as
anise in supermarkets) has thickened leaf bases that form a bulbous
base called the bulb, which is eaten raw or cooked. Finocchio grows
like a stalk of celery and is eaten raw or boiled as a vegetable.
Florence fennel needs cool weather to develop its bulb, so sow seeds
in midsummer for a fall harvest. Plants grown from a spring sowing
may bolt in warm summer weather before forming the bulb. Plants benefit
from frequent fertilization and watering. Cut off flower heads to
encourage development of a thicker base. Once the bulb is about egg
size, it can be hilled up with soil to blanch. It will be ready to
harvest in a few weeks.
Found growing as a weed in waste places in much of the United States,
in southeastern Canada and in southern British Columbia. Also cultivated
for commercial demands in the warmer parts of Europe and in many parts
of Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Native to Mediterranean
Europe where it is found growing wild.
Stomachic, carminative (relieves gas), pectoral (relieves chest congestion
and cough), diuretic, aromatic, antispasmodic, expectorant, mild expectorant,
Anethole, calcium, camphene, cymene, chlorine, dipentene, fenchone,
7-hydrozycoumaarin, volatile oils, oleic acid, petroselinic acid,
phellandrene, pinene, limonene, stigmasterol, sulfur, and vitamins
A and C.
Legends, Myths and Stories
Fennel is one of nine Anglo-Saxon herbs known for secret powers.
In ancient days, a bunch of fennel hung over a cottage door on Midsummer's
Eve was said to prevent the effects of witchcraft. Today, if witches
are not a problem, try nibbling on the herb's seeds, as Roman women
did centuries ago, to help depress the appetite. Women in Roman times
believed fennel prevented obesity.
The ancients believed eating the fennel herb and seeds imparted courage,
strength, and conveyed longevity. In Imperial Roman times the physicians
were in high regard of fennel for medicinal purposes.
The ancient Greeks and Anglo-Saxons snitched on their fast days by
nibbling a little fennel, which reduced the appetite.
The ancients believed that myopic reptiles ate fennel to improve
their vision and so used it themselves for this purpose. It is still
prescribed as an eye-wash. Also, for failing eyesight, a tea was made
from fennel leaves to be used as a compress on swollen eyes.
Fennel is considered one of the oldest medicinal plants and culinary
herbs. It is fairly certain that fennel was in use over 4000 years
ago. It is mentioned in the famous Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian
collection of medical writings made around 1500 BC. There it is referred
to principally as a remedy for flatulence. Later authors of herbals,
such as Pliny (AD 23-79), also describe fennel primarily as an aid
to digestion. In the Middle Ages, it was praised for coughs.
Fennel was well known to the ancient Chinese, Hindus, and Egyptians
as a harmless medicine and spice. Italians are fond of the seeds as
A warm tea of the seeds, slightly sweetened with honey, is a useful
carminative for restless babies. A stronger tea, or the oil on a lump
of sugar, is soothing for older children or adults.
The seed or the oil is combined with other flavors in the making
of liqueurs. Fennel is the principle ingredient of a cordial known
In early American times of the 17th century, every garden had its
little patch of fennel "for keeping old women awake in church." A
sprig of fennel was the theological smelling bottle of the tender
sex, not infrequently of the men, who found themselves too strongly
tempted to take a nap, would sometimes borrow a sprig of fennel.
An old reliable household remedy, good for flavoring foods and medicines.
The tea makes an excellent eye wash. Fennel is a thoroughly tried
remedy for gas, acid stomach or dyspepsia,
and spasms. Ground fennel sprinkled on food will prevent gas in the
stomach and bowels. For colic in children, the herb should be steeped
(weak for infants) and given in small doses every half hour until
the infant or child is relieved. Nursing mothers will find fennel
helpful in stimulating lactation, in a warm tea. Fennel seed, ground
and made into a tea is given for snake
bites, fever, insect
bites, dog bites, hiccoughs, flatulence, backache, toothache,
purifier, or food poisoning.
Good for jaundice when the
liver is obstructed or to improve
appetite. Excellent for obesity. Increases the flow of urine and
increases menstrual flow. Fennel oil may be rubbed
over painful joints to relieve pain or rheumatism,
and may be added to gargles for hoarseness and sore
throat and cough. The shoots of this herb have a laxative effect
and may be consumed raw or as a tisane.
A sweet herb used as an appetite suppressant. Promotes function of
the spleen, liver, and kidneys. Relieves colon
disorders, and good for the cancer patient after chemotherapy
and radiation therapy.
Fennel leaves may be cooked in sauce for oily fish, chicken and egg
dishes or used in salads. When cooked with salmon or mackerel, it
has been claimed to help eliminate oiliness. Eaten fresh, fennel has
a licorice-like flavor similar to anise. Chop the leaves and toss
them into a salad, or sprinkle over grilled seafood. The seeds add
vigorous flavor to breads, sausages, curries, and even apple pie.
With a mixture of fennel seed and dill seed season cucumber salad
and a variety of lettuce salads.
Fennel also yields a yellow or brown dye for wool, and fennel oil
is used commercially in perfumes, soaps, and liquors. Sugar-coated
seeds are used as after-dinner mints in Indian restaurants.
Fennel seeds are used whole or ground to flavor bread, cakes, pastries,
soups, stews, sweet pickles, fish and sauerkraut.
The fennel stalk, stripped of its skin and dressed in vinegar and
pepper, makes a tasty celery-like salad that is popular in the plant's
native Mediterranean area. The Italians call the dish cartucci and
claim it calms and aids sleep.
Formulas or Dosages
Gather the root in the spring for medicinal purposes:
Infusion: steep 1 tbsp. freshly crushed seeds in 1 cup water
for 5 minutes. Sweeten with honey to taste.
Decoction: boil 1/2 tsp. seed in water. Strain. Use as an
eye-wash, 3 times per day.
Extract: mix 10 to 20 drops in water. Use warm water and 1
tsp. honey for a soothing drink daily.
Milk decoction: boil 1 tsp. seed in 1/2 cup milk for 5 to
10 minutes. Take for colic.
Tincture: take 10 to 30 drops in water, as required.
Fennel-honey: add 1 to 3 drops fennel oil to 1 tbsp. honey
and mix. Take a teaspoon at a time. A natural cough remedy.
Capsules or powder form. Take 1 or 2 capsules per day.
Fennel belongs to the carrot family, many members of which are poisonous
and resemble this medicinal plant. There seems to be confusion as
to which family fennel belongs. Some say the parsley family and some
say the carrot family. Either way, care should be taken in identifying
the correct plant before use.
Fennel or its seed oil may cause contact dermatitis. Ingestion of
oil may cause vomiting, seizures, and pulmonary edema.
Fennel is a uterine stimulant, avoid during pregnancy. Small amounts
used in cooking are safe.