“Miss Fennel, Miss Fennel, why you look so lovely today, with that white skirt, soft emerald green blouse and that mushroom hat beautifully arranged with yellow umbels”, said Mr Bee, busy in his work. “Well a lady has to keep herself looking good you know, she should never allow herself to become shabby, even in the garden.” replied Miss Fennel.
The herb Fennel has been around since time immemorial, as it has been used since history has been recording, and probably before. A herb that has been doing this much good for that amount of time really has to be in your kitchen cupboard or in your apothecary, or at least in your garden right now.
Fennel is part of the Umbelliferae family or as it is called these days, the ‘Apiaceae’ family, is also part of the family that has carrots, parsley, dill, celery and angelica. There are a few versions of Fennel, the most well known and used is Common fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, but there is also Foeniculum vulgare azoricum, sometimes called Finnochio or Florence fennel, which is not as tall, being only 30 to 40 cm / 1′ to 1′ 4″ high and ‘Bronze fennel’, Foeniculum vulgare purpurascens or – ‘dulce rubrum‘, which has a coppery/ bronze look.
Being a native of southern Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia Minor it can grow up to 1 to 2m /3′ 4″ 6′ 10″ high. The ancient Egyptian Pharaohs had fennel seed amongst their chattels in their tombs. The use of fennel is mentioned in Greek mythology and also in their historical documents as having many different uses, but when we come to the 3rd century B.C. we find Hippocrates prescribing it for the stomach to calm it down and for colic in infants. Pedanius Dioscorides born in 40 A.D. wrote of fennel as a appetite depressant and to be used for improving milk for nursing mothers. Sometimes the Greeks called it ‘maraino’, which means “to grow thin”, suggesting that it helps you lose weight, from the appetite suppression, that is, you eat less.
Did you know that the location ‘Marathon’ or Μαραθών, comes from the herb fennel called marathon, μάραθον, so the word marathon literally means “a place full of fennels”. This was where that famous event in which a runner once carried the news of victory some 42 kms all the way to Athens in 490 B.C. And of course where the term ‘marathon’ also comes from.
Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist amongst other things, went on to write 22 medicinal recipes for fennel. Who must have been unusually observant, as it is said that he watched snakes rub themselves against a fennel plant to remove its skin, and noticed that the glaze of their eyes disappeared. Therefore, assumed that it must assist with eye problems.
The Ayurvedic physicians of ancient India, used it as a digestive aid.
The Doctrine of Signatures takes the idea of yellow flowers, to be a link to the yellow bile of the liver, therefore helps the liver.
During the fifth century the Anglo-Saxons moved to England and used it as a digestive aid as well as a spice in their meals.
It was ordered by Charlemagne the emperor, that all of the imperial medicinal gardens have fennel growing in it. The household of King Edward used 4 kilos of the herb every month, and when peopled fasted or went to meetings, they were allowed to chew on fennel seeds to suppress their appetites, thereby given them the name, ‘meeting seeds’.
The German Benedictine abbess, composer, and writer, who put fennel as one of her top four foods, wrote that fennel should be used for colds and flus, helping with good digestion, with the idea to “make us happy” plus it was good for the heart and good for body odour.
John Gerard’s, ‘History of Plants’, suggests the virtues of fennel as “The pouder of the seed of Fennell drunke for certaine daies together fasting preserveth the eye-sight: whereof was written this Distichon following:”
"Of Fennell, Roses, Vervain, Rue, and Celandine, Is made a water good to cleere the sight eine"
Mr Nicholas Culpeper in his book 'Culpeper's Complete Herbal' has described some of it's virtues. "Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley-water, and drank, are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and to make it wholesome for the child. He also went on to mention how it may help with snakebite, poisonous herbs and mushrooms, benefitting the liver, respiratory issues, losing weight, and helping the eyes, and more.
How to use Fennel
Fennel is just so useful, and you can use the whole plant too, the flowers to the seeds, the stem, the bulb at the bottom and the roots. The most well known use for fennel is in cooking and I suppose it should be due to being so useful and its aroma can just fill the house. One of the reasons for it being used in cooking is simply its milder aniseed flavour.
One of the early uses in culinary recipes was its use with fish and other seafood dishes and this was also mentioned by Culpeper, who didn’t seem to like fish, as it helps with flavouring, tenderising and deodorising the fishy smell that some folks don’t like. But, fennel can go with so many other foods and recipes, such as meats like pork, mutton, veal, rabbit, small goods like salami, and with root vegetables, in pumpkin soup, and mashed potatoes or potato salads, green and fruit salads, tabouleh, in fermented and pickled products, I personally put it in my sauerkraut, you can also add it to eggs, pickles, gherkins, cucumbers, and olives. Let alone stews of many sorts including apples, sauces such as white sauce, marinades, macaroni rice, batter, fritters, dips, quiche, breads, buns, biscuits, pastries and sweets.
This ‘butter’ can be applied to many different uses and recipes and the formula can be used for many other herbs such as, chives, garlic, parsley, sage, oregano, lemon balm, mint, basil and coriander. Just use your preferred herbs instead of fennel.
- A little handful of dried fennel leaves
- 1/2 cup of unsalted organic butter
- 1 tablespoon of cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A sprig to garnish
- 1. Wash the fennel and finely chop
- 2. Place the butter and cream into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until soft
- 3. Add the chopped fennel leaves, Celtic salt and pepper to taste and mix evenly
- 4. Push the mixture into a small container and refrigerate
- 5. Before serving place the fresh fennel sprig on top
- 6. Goes great with fish or chicken, or on toast
No, I don’t have the recipe for Black Jellybeans, which I think are everybody’s favourite including me, but eating the plump fennel seeds while they still green are like eating black jellybeans in flavour. This can be increased by making a candied fennel seed, this is done by some Indian Restaurateurs.
Fennel tea can be made either from the seed or the fresh or dried leaf, both can have therapeutic value, and it’s a tea with a ‘liquorice-flavoured’ infusion.
Fennel Tea from seed
- Place 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon of crushed Fennel seeds into a cup
- Pour in boiling hot water, cover and allow to steep for 15 minutes
- Add sweetener if necessary
A teaspoon of this cooled tea should suffice for an infant with colic. Plus, it can be added to more stronger laxative herbs, such as senna, rhubarb, aloe and buckthorn to buffer against their stronger intestinal cramps.
Fennel Tea from leaf (For a teapot)
- Finely chop 3 to 4 teaspoons either fresh or dried leaves
- Place them into your favourite teapot
- Add boiling hot water allow to steep for a few minutes
- Pour into your favourite cup
- Add sweetener and enjoy
Apart from obviously drinking this tea, it can be used as a facial rinse, once it has cooled. Plus, you can use it as a rinse to wash away fleas from your doggy, and the leaves on their own tend to discourage away flies.
A Tea for nursing mother’s
A formula which comes from the colourful Latin America, for helping mother’s milk production can be done by carefully simmering the crushed seed in milk for about five minutes. Strain and drink.
Fennel helps with the let-down reflex and is also said to help with improving milk production, plus if the mother drinks fennel tea it will indirectly enter the child.
Often colic can be from the mother’s diet, but not always of course, so keep an eye out for what you are eating and if things get better or worse, and alter the diet accordingly.
Chai tea Potpourri
To make Chai Tea Potpourri you can use any or all of the spices listed in the following group: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, ginger, coriander seed, mace, star anise, fennel, and bay leaf. Experiment with these herbs and spices until you find your favourite.
If you chew on a few fennel seeds you will gain a fresher breath for socialising.
A different use of fennel
The fennel flowers can be a delicious gourmet treat; you simply pick and deep-fry the flower umbels once the seeds start to form for an interesting addition to a salad.
Another less known use of fennel is to obtain a yellow dye from it.
More Health uses for Fennel
Apart from the health benefits that are mentioned above here are a few more.
Fennel Eye bath
A douche for the eyes, which can be used for red-eye and blepharitis, which can be made by simply sprinkling half a teaspoon of crushed seeds in cold water, allowed to infuse for 1 hour, strain carefully and use with an eye bath filling halfway.
You can make a fennel tea and when cooled down and use it in a compress to be placed on inflamed, watery and sore eyes.
Fennel oil and Russia
Russian folk healers suggest that fennel oil can be rubbed on tired and sore muscles, and in some areas of Russia they ‘can’ young flower umbels and juicy leaves.
Usually the only thing that it used of fennel for Potpourri is the seed, since it is so aromatic, or the oil is used, which is one of the most common uses of fennel oil. The aroma of fennel can give the feeling of mental alertness and personal well-being.
Apart from growing fennel for its huge range of uses in cooking and the medicinal benefits that comes with Fennel, it can be used just to decorate the garden, and because of its height, flowers and feather-like leaves it makes an excellent back drop or an ornamental plant. And if you’re interested, the bronze variety would be a most attractive plant to plant in the garden.
It is loved by bees and it is a food for some Lepidoptera species, that is, butterflies such as the swallowtail butterfly and mouse moths. It is an excellent predatory insect attractant as well, which is very beneficial in the garden attracting: lady beetles, parasitic wasps, hoverflies and tachinid flies.
With companion planting it is not a good idea to put coriander and fennel together as fennel will not fruit. Also don’t plant strawberries, eggplant or peppers near fennel as fennel is said to inhibit the growth of bush beans, caraway, kohlrabi, and tomatoes. But in saying that, I haven’t had too much trouble, as it is supposed to stunt the growth of other plants. Don’t grow fennel with dill or coriander as they can cross pollinate, and alter the flavour of the seed, or reduce the seed production.
How to grow Fennel
Fennel is a hardy herbaceous perennial herb, with a fleshy bulbous base, that has become naturalised in many parts around the world. The best times to grow fennel is by planting seed in spring and summer for most climates and you can plant all year round in warmer climates. It is very tolerant of a wide range of soils, which it prefers to be well draining and the pH can be a wide range to, but for better results it likes a slightly alkaline 7.0 to 8.0 sandy or loamy soil.
It does not like high summer rains nor high humidity, and grows best in cool to warm climates. It prefers a sunny position if possible, but doesn’t like being exposed to high winds or frosts.
- In the spring, soak your seeds for 24 to 48 hours before sowing to ensure a better germination
- Plant your seeds in drills about 50cm / 20″ apart
- Plant your seeds about 6mm / 1/4″ deep when using containers
- Plant about 1cm / 3/8′ deep in the garden
- Keep the soil moist until the seeds start to sprout
- Seeds should sprout in about two weeks
- Thin out the fennel plants to 30cm to 45cm /12″ to 18″ apart, and when they are 10cm to 15cm / 4″ to 6″ tall
- Fennel will start flowering in about 3 months after planting.
Well not from the typical understanding of cuttings, but it is a cutting in the sense of the word. This is done by basically leaving the last part of the base of the bulb. So when you buy a fennel bulb from the grocery store to cook with, keep the base and leave as much of the root area as possible and keep some of the bulb.
Place this fennel base into a container with water just covering the roots underneath in a sunny to well lit place, for example, beside a window sill. Every couple of days, change the water to keep it fresh and to keep the fennel from going mouldy.
Soon you will see new green shoots coming up from the top, and shortly after that, you will see roots starting to form underneath. When you have the roots big and strong enough you can transplant it either into a large deep pot or into the garden. You can actually keep growing it in the water if you wish.
Although I have not tried this one, I believe the fennel can be propagated via root division, so long as you don’t damage them too much.
On the whole, fennel is not bothered too much by pests and diseases but they can be attacked by white fly and aphids. Aphids can be hosed off and well composted fennel that is not too high in nitrogen and to raise the potash levels, can help the plant to resist white fly. Or encourage predatory insects such as lady beetles, spiders, damsel bugs and hoverflys, or you can use a pyrethrin spray for the whitefly. The other main concern is when the plants are young they can be affected by root rot, this is usually due to over watering.
Leaves can be harvested really at any time, once the plant is established, but of course don’t constantly strip the plant of leaves. If you are after the bulb, wait until it is about golf ball size and start heaping the soil around it, this helps to sweeten it and makes it the lovely white colour, that is, blanching. When it’s about a tennis ball size, which is in about 2 to 3 weeks, it should be ready to harvest. Then keep the base and regrow another one.
If you are after the seed, you can harvest the seed umbels in late summer, which you can dry in a light and airy room and store for replanting next year if you have a cold climate or replant if you are in a warmer climate.
You can keep the leaves well sealed in freezer bags in the freezer for use later on, and they should keep for about 6 months, or you can store the leaves in an oil, which can look nice if prepared right and given as a gift, or you can make a fennel vinegar for storage or as a gift too. Store the dried seeds in airtight containers.
The information below is for informational and education purposes only. So please do not “self-treat”. When seeking any ‘therapeutic’ advice always see a Qualified Health Care Professional first.
Sweet fennel, Large fennel, Wild Fennel, Carosella, Marathon, Meeting seeds, Funcho Fenkel, and Finnochio, also called Florence fennel, which is a smaller cultivar
Fruit/ Seed therapeutically, but you can use the entire plant
Daily minimum to maximum dosage: 2.0 – 3.0 grams
Carminative, spasmolytic, expectorant, orexigenic, galactagogue, antimicrobial, oestrogen modulating, aromatic, digestive, rubefacient, diuretic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory in polyarthritis
Intestinal colic, flatulence, flatulent colic, infantile colic, dyspepsia, anorexia, nausea, diarrhoea, difficult lactation, spasmodic dysmenorrhoea, secondary amenorrhoea, obesity, nasopharyngeal catarrh, acute and chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and cough. Topically for idiopathic hirsutism, conjunctivitis, blepharitis, and pharyngitis. Plus, Irritable bowel syndrome, may assist weight loss (needs to be applied with change in diet and more movement.)
Essential oil (2-4%) to contain mostly trans-anethole and fenchone, volatile and fixed oil, phenolic acids, flavonoids – rutin, coumarins, sterols, and furanocoumarins
May irritate if you have gastro-oesophageal reflux, avoid therapeutic doses if you are pregnant, doses in menopausal women may bring back slight periods. High doses of the oil can possibly cause convulsions. Women with oestrogen-dependant tumours should avoid fennel.
Also, it does have a similar appearance to Hemlock, so be sure to know how to identify the plant in the wild.
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
Do not use your mind as ‘shins in the dark’ when walking through life — Herbal Panda