Fennel is a flowering plant species in the carrot family.
It is grown for its edible bulbs, shoots, leaves, and seeds.
Fennel is native to southern Europe and Asia Minor.
Today, it is cultivated in temperate regions worldwide and is considered an invasive species in Australia and parts of the United States.
The cultivated plant is up to 2.5 metres (8 ft) tall, with hollow stems.
The leaves grow up to 40 centimetres (16 in) long. It is composed of many linear or awl-shaped segments.
The flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels from 5to 15 centimetres (2 to 6 in) wide, each umbel section having 20–50 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels.
The small dry fruits are greenish brown to yellowish brown oblong ovals about 6 mm (0.25 inch) long with five prominent longitudinal dorsal ridges.
The seeds contain 3 to 4 percent essential oil; the principal components are anethole and fenchone.
All parts of the plant are aromatic and used in flavouring, and the bulblike stem base of Florence fennel and the blanched shoots are eaten as a vegetable.
The seeds and extracted oil are suggestive of anise in aroma and taste and are used for scenting soaps and perfumes and for flavouring candies, liqueurs, medicines, and foods, particularly pastries, sweet pickles, and fish.
There are 345 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fennel fruits.
It is a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins and several dietary minerals, especially calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese.
Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, adding a refreshing contribution to the ever popular Mediterranean cuisine.
Most often associated with Italian cooking, be sure to add this to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best.
It is called marathon in Greece, a name derived from the word maraino, meaning to grow thin.
Fennel was introduced to North America by Spanish missionaries for cultivation in their medicinal gardens. Fennel escaped cultivation from the mission gardens, and is now known in California as wild anise.
Fennel was recommended as an herb for weight reduction, “to make people more lean that are too fat,” according to the seventeenth century herbalist and astrologer Nicholas Culpeper.
In Chinese and Hindu cultures fennel was ingested to speed the elimination of poisons from the system, particularly after snakebite and scorpion stings.
As one of the ancient Saxon people’s nine sacred herbs, fennel was credited with the power to cure what were then believed to be the nine causes of disease.
Fennel was also valued as a magic herb. In the Middle Ages it was draped over doorways on Midsummer’s Eve to protect the household from evil spirits. As an added measure of protection, the tiny seeds were stuffed into keyholes to keep ghosts from entering the room.
Fennel is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink in France and other countries.
The word “fennel” developed from Middle English fenel or fenyl. This came from Old English fenol or finol, which in turn came from Latin feniculum or foeniculum, the diminutive of fenum or faenum, meaning “hay”.
Dill, coriander, and caraway are similar-looking herbs, but shorter-growing than fennel, reaching only 40–60 cm (16–24 in).
The essential oil, extracted from the seeds, is toxic even in small amounts.
Pregnant women should not use the herb, seeds, tincture, or essential oil of fennel in medicinal remedies.