Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel, also known as Fenkel, Sweet Fennel, and Wild Fennel.  Fennel is a member of the parsley family, with yellowish flowers that grow up to 5 or 6 feet tall.  This large herb radiates a sweet, warm licorice odor.  Every part of the fennel plant is edible - seeds, leaves, stalks, and the bulb.

Fennel is a very popular herb with a long history of use in folk medicine. It was used to promote menstruation and to enhance lactation.  Today, the pleasant flavor of fennel is used to mask the unpleasant flavors of medicine or herbal teas.  Extracts of fennel have antimicrobial properties against a number of bacteria (such as Staphylococcus and E. coli), fungi and yeasts (such as Candida).  Fennel also provides numerous phytochemicals that help protect against cancer. 

It is well known to help soothe the digestive tract and relieve stomach bloating and flatulence, and at high concentrations it is anti-spasmodic. It is also used for upper respiratory congestion, to help loosen and expel phlegm. A mild Fennel tea can be used as an eye compress for conjunctivitis. 

Fennel is not recommended for use during pregnancy (culinary use does not pose a problem).  Allergic reactions with fennel are rare.  A few persons who take fennel may become photosensitive in bright sunlight.  Fennel is considered safe when ingested for short periods of time.  It is recommended to use fennel seed or oil medicinally for no more than two weeks. For persistent digestive or respiratory problems, one should consult with a physician.

In mediaeval times, Fennel was used with St. John's Wort to dispel witchcraft and other evil influences, being hung over doors on Midsummer's Eve to warn off evil spirits.  The ancient Greeks used fennel as a slimming aid and their name for it, Marathron, from maraino, meaning "to grow thin," likely refers to this property. The ancient Chinese believed that it could cure snake bites and many English herbalists thought that Fennel could sharpen ones sight, convey longevity, and give strength and courage.  It also makes a good insect repellant.

The herb, which tastes similar to licorice and anise, is often mixed with fenugreek (Foenum-graecum) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) for an effective digestion-soothing blend.  To make fennel tea, steep two to three teaspoons of crushed seeds in a cup of hot water for 10-15 minutes; strain and drink.  This refreshing tea is also considered a pleasant breath freshener.  Fennel seeds are an excellent source of sulphur, potassium, sodium, and calcium.   Fennel is also used as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. 

In culinary use Fennel doubles as a vegetable and a spice. The sweet-flavored tasty stems, which resemble celery, have a pleasant anise-like flavor. They can be diced into soups and salads, or used for savoring stews and stir-fry vegetables. The feathery leaves can also be used to flavor vegetable dishes.  They are an excellent source of sulphur, sodium, and potassium.  The seeds can be used in bread, entrees, apple pie, vegetable dishes, and tomato-based sauces. The Spanish use fennel abundantly in their baking and cooking.  

The black swallowtail butterfly relies on fennel, laying its eggs on the plant, where it's cute black and green striped caterpillar hatches, grows, pupates, and transforms into a butterfly, all while living and feeding on the fennel plant. 

Fennel is a beautiful plant. It has a thick, perennial root-stock, stout stems, 4 to 5 feet or more in height, erect and cylindrical, bright green and so smooth as to seem polished, much branched bearing leaves cut into the very finest of segments. The bright golden flowers, produced in large, flat terminal umbels, with from thirteen to twenty rays, are in bloom in July and August.  The fruit or seeds are greenish yellow to brown in color, and vary in size up to 3/8 inch long. The seeds are oval in shape, grooved and slightly curved. 

Fennel will thrive anywhere, and a root will last for years. It is easily propagated by seeds, sown early in April in ordinary soil.  It likes plenty of sun and is adapted to dry and sunny situations. It does not need  lot of plant food, though it will yield more on rich stiff soil.

Fennel attracts beneficial insects and repels whitefly, but it should be companioned with Garlic, Chervil or Yarrow to help keep greenfly away from it.  Do NOT plant it near Coriander or Wormwood (prevents seed from forming).

There are several varieties of Fennel - Sweet or Roman Fennel, German or Saxon Fennel, Wild or Bitter Fennel, Galician Russian and Roumanian Fennel, Indian, Persian and Japanese. The fruits vary a lot in length, breadth, taste and other characters, and are of different commercial value.


"A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve: http://botanical.com/
Altervista:  http://it.altervista.org/ 
Vegetarian-Nutrition.Info:   http://www.vegetarian-nutrition.info/
Self Sufficientish:  http://www.selfsufficientish.com/

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