Also known as Foeniculum vulgare, Aneth Doux, Fenkel, Sweet Fennel, Bitter Fennel and Wild Fennel.
Fennel is a hardy, perennial weed that is a member of the Parsley family. It grows wild in most parts of temperate Europe, but is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, spreading eastwards towards India and Persia. It has followed civilization, 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 often found in chalky districts inland in a semi-wild state.
Fennel can grow up to 6 feet tall, and is bright green with bright yellow umbrella shaped flower heads (blooming in July and August) and feathery, segmented leaves. The fruit is about 1cm long, oblong, cylindrical, and slightly curved. The colour varies from greenish to brown, the taste is sweet and aromatic, and the odour fragrant. Fennel contains up to 8% volatile oil, flavonoids, including rutin and quercetin, coumarins, d-pinene, phellandrine, anisic acid and anisic aldehyde.
In ancient history, fennel was cultivated by the ancient Romans for its aromatic fruits and succulent, edible shoots. The Greeks noted fennel for its ability to suppress the appetite - it was one of the earliest diet aids. Their name for fennel is marathron, which is thought to be from a verb which means 'to grow thin'. In medieval times, Fennel was employed, together with St. John's Wort and other herbs, as a preventative of witchcraft and other evil influences, being hung over doors on Midsummer's Eve to warn off evil spirits.
The seeds, leaves and roots of Fennel are all used in modern medicine. On account of its aromatic and carminative properties, Fennel fruit is chiefly used medicinally with purgatives to allay their tendency to griping - 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. It is widely used to relieve excess stomach acid, flatulence, stomachaches and nausea, and acts as an appetite suppressant.
Fennel has been shown in research to increase liver regeneration and have anti-inflammatory and oestrogenic effects. Applied as a loose eye compress, it can help to relieve inflammatory eye conditions such as blepharitis and conjunctivitis.
Fennel is a popular flavouring in drinks, sweets, and in cooking, because of its distinctive aroma and flavour.