Common Name fennel
Light sun to part
Moisture dry to mesic
Edible culinary, tea
Leaves can be raw or cooked, and have a delicious aniseed flavour, the young leaves are best since older ones soon become tough. They are often used as a garnish on raw or cooked dishes and make a very pleasant addition to salads. They help to improve digestion and so are particularly useful with oily foods.
Leaf stalks and flower heads can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a similar aniseed flavour to the leaves. The aromatic seeds are used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, stuffings, etc. The sprouted seeds can be added to salads. An essential oil from the fully ripened and dried seed is used as a food flavouring in similar ways to the whole seed. The root is eaten cooked, and is somewhat parsnip-like. The leaves or the seeds can be used to make a pleasant-tasting herbal tea. The plant was formerly used as a strewing herb.
Skin contact with the sap or essential oil can cause photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis in some people. Ingestion of the oil can cause vomiting, seizures and pulmonary oedema. Avoid for small children. Avoid if cirrhosis/liver disorders.
Fennel has a long history of herbal use and is a commonly used household remedy, being useful in the treatment of a variety of complaints, especially those of the digestive system. The seeds, leaves and roots can be used, but the seeds are most active medicinally and are the part normally used. An essential oil is often extracted from the fully ripened and dried seed for medicinal use, though it should not be given to pregnant women. The plant is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, galactogogue, hallucinogenic, laxative, stimulant and stomachic.
An infusion is used in the treatment of indigestion, abdominal distension, stomach pains, etc. It helps in the treatment of kidney stones and, when combined with a urinary disinfectant like Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, makes an effective treatment for cystitis. It can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and as an eyewash for sore eyes and conjunctivitis.
The seed yields up to 5% of an essential oil. This is used medicinally, as a food flavouring, in toothpastes, soaps, perfumery, air fresheners, etc. The flavour of fennel oil depends upon its two main constituents. 'Fenchone' is a bitter tasting element whilst 'anethole' has a sweet anise-like flavour. The proportions of these two ingredients varies according to strain and region. Plants growing in the Mediterranean and southern Europe usually have a sweet oil whilst plants growing in central and northern Europe usually produce a more bitter oil. The quality of the oil also depends upon how well the seed has been dried - the oil from fully ripened and dried seeds being much sweeter and more fragrant. The dried plant is an insect repellent, the crushed leaves are effective for keeping dogs free of fleas. Yellow and brown dyes are obtained from the flowers and leaves combined.