Australia > All Weeds > Fennel

Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare

Origin: S. Europe

Africa

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Family: Umbelliferae.

Known Hazards: Skin contact with the sap or essential oil is said to cause photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis in some people. Ingestion of the oil can cause vomiting, seizures and pulmonary oedema.

Habitat: Found most often in dry stony calcareous soils.

Edibility Rating: 5 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Fennel is a bright green herb with feathery, leaves that smell like aniseed. Flowering stems up to 2.5 m high are produced from the centre of the plant each spring. It has a stout branched taproot and grows best in open, unshaded situations.
Flowers: At the end of each flowering stem there is an umbrella of small greenish yellow flowers.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.Aromatic seeds replace the small flowers at the end of the flowering stems in summer and autumn. It is noted for attracting wildlife.

Similar Plants: Care should be taken not to confuse fennel with the highly poisonous Hemlock which has similar growth habits and seeds.

Dispersal: Seeds fall to the ground very near the parent plant. The plant is spread when seeds contaminate agricultural produce, machinery, animal skins and human clothing. Earth moving equipment may drag seeds and pieces of root to new locations. Seeds are moved by water along drainage lines.



Edible Uses

Leaves; Root; Seed; Stem. Leaves - raw or cooked. A delicious aniseed flavour, the young leaves are best since older ones soon become tough. They are often used as a garnish on raw or cooked dishes and make a very pleasant addition to salads. They help to improve digestion and so are particularly useful with oily foods. The leaves are difficult to store dried, though this does not really matter since they can often be harvested all year round, especially if the plants are in a warm, sheltered position. Leaf stalks and flower heads - raw or cooked. A similar aniseed flavour to the leaves. The aromatic seeds are used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, stuffings etc. They have a similar flavour to the leaves and also improve the digestion. The sprouted seeds can be added to salads. An essential oil from the fully ripened and dried seed is used as a food flavouring in similar ways to the whole seed. Root - cooked. Somewhat parsnip-like. The leaves or the seeds can be used to make a pleasant-tasting herbal tea.

Medicinal Uses

Analgesic; Antiinflammatory; Antispasmodic; Aromatherapy; Aromatic; Carminative; Diuretic; Emmenagogue; Expectorant; Galactogogue; Hallucinogenic. Fennel has a long history of herbal use and is a commonly used household remedy, being useful in the treatment of a variety of complaints, especially those of the digestive system. The seeds, leaves and roots can be used, but the seeds are most active medicinally and are the part normally used. An essential oil is often extracted from the fully ripened and dried seed for medicinal use, though it should not be given to pregnant women.
The plant is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, galactogogue, hallucinogenic, laxative, stimulant and stomachic. An infusion is used in the treatment of indigestion, abdominal distension, stomach pains etc. It helps in the treatment of kidney stones and, when combined with a urinary disinfectant like Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, makes an effective treatment for cystitis. It can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and as an eyewash for sore eyes and conjunctivitis. Fennel is often added to purgatives in order to allay their tendency to cause gripe, and also to improve the flavour. An infusion of the seeds is a safe and effective cure for wind in babies. An infusion of the root is used to treat urinary disorders. An essential oil obtained from the seed is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is 'Normalising'. The essential oil is bactericidal, carminative and stimulant. Some caution is advised, see notes above on toxicity.

Other Uses

Dye; Essential; Repellent; Strewing. The seed yields up to 5% of an essential oil. This is used medicinally, as a food flavouring, in toothpastes, soaps, perfumery, air fresheners etc. The flavour of fennel oil depends upon its two main constituents. 'Fenchone' is a bitter tasting element whilst 'anethole' has a sweet anise-like flavour. The proportions of these two ingredients varies according to strain and region. Plants growing in the Mediterranean and southern Europe usually have a sweet oil whilst plants growing in central and northern Europe usually produce a more bitter oil. The quality of the oil also depends upon how well the seed has been dried - the oil from fully ripened and dried seeds being much sweeter and more fragrant. The dried plant is an insect repellent, the crushed leaves are effective for keeping dogs free of fleas. The plant was formerly used as a strewing herb. Yellow and brown dyes are obtained from the flowers and leaves combined.

Notes: Once well established fennel excludes most other plants. This may be due to its unusual chemical properties. Because the plant is deep rooted it can regrow from pieces left after cultivation.Because many people collect fennel roots, leaves and seeds from roadsides for cooking purposes, a strong dye and large signs should be used to alert the public when herbicides have been in public areas. In ancient times Fennel was considered to have magical properties.

References:


Image from Wikispecies

Detail of leaves and flowers

 

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