Introducing the Fennel-Foeniculum vulgare.

The fennel is a hardy perennial, an umbellifer herb of the family Apiaceae { formerly the Umbelliferaceae} with yellow flowers and feathery leaves.

                            Above the lower plants it towers

                            The fennel with its yellow flowers


The Romans called the plant foeniculum from the Latin name foenum indicating hay. During the Middle Ages the name was corrupted to fanculum which was in turn eventually changed to fenkel and ultimately to its modern form of fennel. In my opinion the fennel is a beautiful plant. 

Description of fennel

The rootstock is thick and perennial in nature, from which rise up stout stems which are erect and of a bright green colour. they are hollow and ridged. The stems are much branched and produce several leaves. As the foliage expands they divide into a vast number of fine slender segments. The foliage is arranged alternately. The outline of the whole leave is triangular . When bruised they have the unmistakeable scent of aniseed . Where the leaf joins the stem the base is covered by a sheaf a characteristic of this family.

Foliage of the fennel

Images by Dal

The flowers appear in loose umbels, each umbel, of which there are many, is 4-8cm wide. The seeds are dark coloured and ridged or furrowed, they have a sharp acrid taste.

Fennel with its umbels of flowers. 

Photograph by Dal

Historical perceptions of the fennel.

 First in this section we shall review extracts from  his book- Of The Historie of Plantes- {1597}, where John Gerard a herbalist of some repute states " these herbs are set and sown in gardens. They flower in June and July and the seeds are ripe at the end of August. the seed is hot and dry in the third degree. the powder of the seed of fennel drunke for certaine dais together fasting, preserveth the eye sight. The green leaves of fennel eaten or the seed drunke made into a ptisan do fill womens' breast with milke. The decoction of fennel drunke, easeth the paines of the kidnies, causeth one to void the stone and provoketh urine."

" The roots are effectual, and nor only good for the intents aforesaid but against the dropsie also, being boiled in wine and drunken. Fennel seed drunke assuageth the paine of the stomach and the same or desue to vomit and breaketh winde."

" the herbe, seed and root of fennel are very good for the lungs, the liver and kidnies, for it openeth the obstructions or stoppings of the same and comforteth the inward parts. The seed and herbe of sweet fennel is equal in virtues with anise seed. Pomet in his History of Druggs" assures us that confectioners take clusters of green fennel which, when covered with sugar they sell, make the breath sweet, for the green is reckoned to be of the greatest virtues" 


In her book Weeds and Wild Flowers {1858} lady Caroline Catherine Wilkinson She States "

There are several other species known under the genus name of Anthethum or Dill { in her book the Latin name for the fennel was Anethum foeniculum still in use at that time}  taken from the Greek word signifying to burn { from the warm aromatic qualities of the tribe} while the specific name is said to derive from the Latin foenum, meaning hay , from a fanciful resemblance to that substance in the smell."

"Large quantities of fennel seed are imported into this country where they are employed in the manufacture of gin, and, also medicine as a harmless calminative., very much resembling aniseed in its qualities, the two species being nearly allied. The infusion of fennel seed, in all its species, is generally known as dill water and is greatly prized by nurses as a "baby medicine", though apparently, if there is any truth in expression of countenance, not so fully appreciated by the poor little babies themselves. it is much given to sickly lambs in rainy and cold seasons."

Next we take extracts from The Useful Family Herbal; by John Hill  { 1755}--fennel is a common garden plant kept for use in the kitchen .rather than for its medicinal virtues. The seed is small and dark coloured and ridged. and has a sharp acrid taste. the root is the part used most. A decoction of it with common water, and is given in large quantities, works by urine, and is good against gravel and jaundice."

The above paragraphs are for historical interest only and not intended as encouragement of its alleged medicinal properties.  

Fennel seeds.

Courtesy of Howcheng {Creative Commons Attribution} CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Modern day uses.

The active ingredients are essential oil and fatty oil. fennel is employed to counteract coughs, flatulence, and other digestive problems. For flatulence and digestive problems an infusion is recommended of the crushed seeds. One teaspoonful  of crushed seeds are infused by pouring over them 250mm of boiling water. Leave to infuse for ten minutes. Drink one cup 2-5 times daily. Always get your seed for a reputable stockist for they can easily be confused with poisonous species of the family. Always take recommended doses of fennel for large quantities can be detrimental to your health.

For the forager--- The leaves can be added to salads, young stems in salads and soups, and the leaves may be cooked with fish. The fruit { seeds} are used to flavour liquers and toothpaste.

Fennel belongs to the large group of plants in the Apiaceae family  which include common beneficial plants such as caraway, parsley, celery and carrot, however, the family also includes some of Britain's most poisonous plants such as hemlock, hemlock water dropwort  and fool's parsley. Therefore correct identification is essential when using species from this family. 

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Wild Herb Advise.

Cow parsley.


Giant Hogweed.


Poisonous plants 2-Hemlock.

Poisonous plants 3-Hemlock Water Dropwort.

Goutweed/ground elder.

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