Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a plant species in the genus Foeniculum (treated as the sole species in the genus by most botanists). It is a member of the family Apiaceae (formerly the Umbelliferae). It is a hardy, perennial, umbelliferous herb, with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalised in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on riverbanks.
It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses, and, along with the similar-tasting anise, is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe. Florence fennel or finocchio is a selection with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable.
Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the mouse moth and the anise swallowtail.
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, is a perennial herb. It is erect, glaucous green, and grows to heights of up to 2.5 m, with hollow stems. The leaves grow up to 40 cm long; they are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments filiform (threadlike), about 0.5 mm wide. (Its leaves are similar to those of dill, but thinner.)
The flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels 5–15 cm wide, each umbel section having 20–50 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels. The fruit is a dry seed from 4–10 mm long, half as wide or less, and grooved.
Fennel is widely cultivated, both in its native range and elsewhere, for its edible, strongly flavoured leaves and fruits, which are often mistermed “seeds”. Its aniseed flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong.
Chicken with Lemon and Fennel Seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed
Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to pan, and cook 3 minutes on each side. Add lemon juice, fennel seeds, and garlic. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer mixture 5 minutes or until chicken is done.
Fennel contains anethole, which can explain some of its medical effects: it, or its polymers, act as phytoestrogens.
On account of its carminative properties, fennel is chiefly used medicinally with purgatives to allay their side effects, and for this purpose forms one of the ingredients of the well-known compound liquorice powder. 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. Volatile oil of fennel has these properties in concentration. Fennel tea, also employed as a carminative, is made by pouring boiling water on a teaspoonful of bruised fennel seeds. Fennel can be made into a syrup to treat babies with colic (formerly thought to be due to digestive upset), but long term ingestion of fennel preparations by babies is a known cause of thelarche. For adults, fennel seeds or tea can relax the intestines and reduce bloating caused by digestive disorders.
In the Indian subcontinent, fennel seeds are also eaten raw, sometimes with some sweetener, as they are said to improve eyesight. Ancient Romans regarded fennel as the herb of sight. Root extracts were often used in tonics to clear cloudy eyes. Extracts of fennel seed have been shown in animal studies to have a potential use in the treatment of glaucoma.
Blood and urine
Fennel may be an effective diuretic and a potential drug for treatment of hypertension.
There are historical anecdotes that fennel is a galactagogue, improving the milk supply of a breastfeeding mother. This use, although not supported by direct evidence, is sometimes justified by the fact that fennel is a source of phytoestrogens, which promote growth of breast tissue. However, normal lactation does not involve growth of breast tissue. There is a single case report of fennel tea ingested by a breastfeeding mother resulting in neurotoxicity for the newborn child.
Syrup prepared from fennel juice was formerly given for chronic coughs. It is one of the plants which is said to be disliked by fleas, and powdered fennel has the effect of driving away fleas from kennels and stables.