Aromatic Culinary Herb Called the Fennel
Also, Known As:
- Common Fennel
- Large Fennel
- Roman Fennel
- Sweet Fennel
- Wild Fennel
The well known aromatic culinary herb called the fennel was extensively used as a herbal remedy to aid digestion in the ancient eras; it is a very pretty and feathery looking fragrant herb. Digestion and absorption of food are promoted by the herb, as the volatile oils in the plant effect and increase the secretion of digestive enzymes in the stomach. Spasms in the digestive tract are relaxed by the effective carminative properties of the herb and in addition, the herb also helps in relieving excess abdominal wind, it aids in bringing about a reduction in colic and in reducing the discomfort of hiccoughs, in this role the fennel is an ingredient in the gripe water used to reduce colic. Disorders such as long-term indigestion, problems like heartburn, persistent constipation, and abdominal pain can be treated using the fennel as a herbal remedy, traditionally the ability of the fennel to increase digestion was known, and it was added to cooking food for this very reason. Many types of disorders which are peculiar to women can be treated with the herbal remedies made from the fennel herb. Lactation was traditionally promoted in nursing mothers in ancient Greece, by giving them fennel, the herb actively aids secretion of breast milk, and digestive troubles in the nursing baby can also be alleviated as the volatile oils in the fennel pass from mother to the baby via the breast milk. Some other uses of the fennel in the treatment of disorders in women include its use as an aid in the regulation of the menstrual cycle and as a herbal aid in relieving period pains during menstruation. Fluid retention in the body is also aided by the strong and effective diuretic properties of the fennel, the volatile oils in the herb are also antiseptic – for this reason, the herb is a very effective remedy for the treatment of urinary infections in patients. The strong detoxification action of the fennel also renders it a very effective remedy for disorders such as arthritis and gout, the herb promotes the quick elimination of accumulated metabolic toxins in the body via the urine, it thus cleanses the body of toxins. Accumulated urinary stones and gravel in the digestive system can also be rid using the fennel based herbal remedy. The sight was believed to be strengthened in many ancient societies by taking the fennel in meals, in addition, many traditional and ancient cultures in Europe used the fennel to prepare herbal eyewash for treating soreness, to beat back tiredness, and to heal the inflammation and infections affecting the eyes of people. An antiseptic action is also observed in the volatile oils extracted from the fennel herb; these oils are the reason that the fennel is useful in the treatment of infections in different parts of the body – and especially the infections affecting the respiratory system of patients. The volatile oil of the fennel is often used diluted as massage oils for topical treatment of the body, and in many external liniments for the treatment of painful joints in the body, the oil is also used to treat abdominal problems especially the ones which involve colic and griping pains. Local application of the oil on the body or the bruised seed exudates is used in alleviating the pain of a toothache and earache in patients.
The carminative actionable to expel gas to relieve flatulence – of the fennel herb is the primary reason for the use of the herb in herbal medicine, even though the herbal remedy made from fennel is used as a remedy for treating a variety of other ailments, its main use is in dealing with flatulence and excess abdominal gas affecting patients. The tendency to griping is often treated using a herbal combination containing a formula of the fennel along with various herbal purgatives – such as the senna, for example – this treatment usually results in an immediate remedial effect. Fennel is found as a very common ingredient in many European cough remedies – as it has a very good reputation for loosening accumulated phlegm. Colic is relieved in affected infants by giving them fennel water; the herb is also reputed to have strong calming effects on the body of infants. Fennel under chemical analysis in the laboratory has been found to contain a large variety of different chemical constituents in the form of organic compounds, the volatile oil of the plant is, however, thought to be responsible for all the different stomachic and carminative properties possessed by the herb. The fruits of the fennel contain about 2 to 6 percent of this important herbal volatile oil, which is the major remedial agent in the herb. The various organic compounds which comprise this important herbal volatile include 50 to 90 percent of the compound called the trans-anethole, followed by 20 percent or less of the compound fenchone, and other compounds such as the estragole, the limonene, the camphene and a-pinene in lesser amounts. The oil when used alone also induces similar remedial actions as the fruit in the body of patients, a strong spasmolytic action – capable of reducing spasms – is also possessed by the oil and this action is mainly felt in the smooth muscles of the body, at least in test animals in the laboratory. The effectiveness of the fennel as a carminative herb may be partly attributed to this property of the volatile fennel oil.
Many cosmetic preparations on the market also use extracts of the fennel fruit and especially the volatile fennel oil as the fragrance components in the product, these herbal essences are also used as a flavoring in foods, they are used to add fragrance to many types of beverages, to spice up condiments, and for other culinary preparations. When the fennel essences are used in the very minute amounts in such preparations, the issue of safety does not arise at all and the herbal essence is regarded as being very safe for external or internal uses. A very rare allergic response is sometimes induced by the fennel fruit, though in the large part, considering the quantities of the fruit which is usually added to the herbal fennel based medicinal teas and other kinds of herb-based preparations, it is rather innocuous and safe for patients. The same cannot be said for the volatile oil of fennel and this herbal extract must only be used in small amounts, for example, severe skin irritation and even vomiting, physical seizures, and some types of respiratory distress including pulmonary edema have been known to be triggered by taking even small volumes of the oil, even one to five ml of the herbal volatile oil may induce such side effects. The volatile oil must be avoided and must not be used in self-medication, it is best that only the fennel fruits-seeds-be used for purposes of self-medication by patients.
Plant Parts Used:
Seeds, root, essential oil.
Herbal Remedy Use:
Patients affected by abdominal bloating are the main beneficiaries of herbal remedies made from the seeds of the fennel, in addition, the fennel seeds are also used to alleviate problems such as stomach pain, they are used in stimulating poor appetite in patients, the diuretic action and the anti-inflammatory properties of the seeds are also used to treat a variety of disorders affecting different individuals. Abdominal distension and unsettled digestion in the patient is also relieved using the fennel seed infusion, in this aspect, the seeds of the fennel have similar actions displayed by the anise and the caraway herbs. Cystitis can also be treated using the seeds of the fennel and these seeds are also an excellent remedy for kidney stones, especially when they are used in combination with herbal urinary antiseptics, like the uva-ursi herb. The seeds are also prepared into a herbal infusion, which has a mild expectorant action and can be used as a gargle by individuals suffering from soreness in the throat. Used either in the form of a syrup or as an infusion the fennel can also be used in the treatment of children and is considered safe even for babies, these forms of the herbal remedy can be used in the treatment of colic and painful teething in babies and to treat other types of disorders in older children. In lactating mothers, the production of breast milk can be promoted by the taking the fennel regularly. One of the most common uses of the fennel is in the treatment of conjunctivitis and as a herbal eyewash to disinfect sore eyes. The fennel seeds are reputed to increase longevity in people and this belief in its ability to increase lifespan is a very old one, the fennel is also believed to induce weight loss in individuals as well. The sweet variety of the fennel is prized for its essential herbal oil, which promotes digestive functions and possesses relaxing powers and can be very soothing.
Other Medical Use
- Altitude sickness
The fennel is used as a seasoning herb in many styles of cooking, particularly in Europe where it is used in virtually every national cuisine. The stem and leaves of the fennel are chopped finely and used as a herbal stuffing, it is used to flavor marinades, it is used to season sauces to be added to vegetable dishes, and it is the main additive in butter and cheese spreads which have been flavored using herbs. As a herbal seasoning, salads made from the tomato and cucumber lend themselves especially well to seasoning with fennel herb, dishes made with asparagus are also enhanced well if seasoned with the fennel herb. Fish dishes are particularly conducive to being flavored using the fennel; the use of the fennel is especially apt for oily fish, and many strong smelling fishes, like the mackerel and other oilfishes. Digestion is promoted by the fennel at the same time that it is defeating the strong odors in the fish. The freshly plucked leaves of the fennel can be used as a herbal stuffing for the fish, poached fish can be seasoned by adding leaves to the water used for cooking. Some fresh fish dishes such as the classic Provencal dish Grillade au Fenouil, require the fennel, in this dish sea bass, red mullet, or trout is grilled or flamed in some brandy over a bed of dried fennel stalks and the only flavor of the fennel is the main seasoning. Add fresh leaves to hot dishes just before serving, as heat quickly reduces the flavor of the leaves. For seasoning and flavoring stews, long-term stored products such as sausages, different types of pickles, sauerkraut, lentils and beans based dishes, different salad dressings, all types of tomato-based sauces, all kinds of bread, cookies, and cakes – the strongly flavored fennel seeds can be used instead of the milder leaves. Commercial stored condiments and pre-packaged products tend to use a fennel seeds as a seasoning, the seeds are used to flavor ice creams, they are used as a seasoning in prepared meats like pepperoni, and they are used as a flavoring agent in many commercially available liqueurs, such as the anisette – a herbal flavored alcoholic drink. Cooking oils used domestically can also be flavored using the fennel simply by adding the fresh fennel leaves to some extra virgin olive oil or to any other cooking oil used in the home.
Floral bouquets which are typically prepared in the summer can be enhanced for purposes of a presentation by including the dainty yellow flowers of the fennel among the other fresh summer blooms.
Habitat of Fennel:
While extensively cultivated in many temperate regions of the world these days, the fennel is a native plant of the Mediterranean region and originally grew only in those areas bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Ideal soils for cultivating the fennel are deep and well-drained soil, which is non-acidic in chemical composition, at the same time, any good quality soil can be used to cultivate the fennel. The optimum pH range tolerated by the fennel lies from 4.8 to 8.2. The plant grows best when it is exposed to the full sunlight, even though it also grows quite well in shaded areas. The best results are obtained when the fennel plants are planted near a fence or a wall, as the fennel needs protection from strong winds, and the plants may need to be staked into the soil for extra firmness. Fennel plants may also need to be watered on a regular basis during dry spells in the summertime, the fennel is known to bolt if the temperature increases all of a sudden. As soon as the ground is free of frost, the seeds can be sown directly in the garden after working on the soil and aerating it, this sowing can normally be done several weeks before the coming of the last spring frost date in that year. Transplantation of the fennel is a difficult proposition and the seeds of the plant must be sown in the place where you want the plants to grow up to avoid the trouble of transplantation, which will likely not succeed. Fennel plants grow at an optimal soil temperature ranging between 15° and 18°C – which in F is about 60° and 65° and ideally, plants should be grown in this temperature range. When planting the seeds in the soil, a depth of 0.6 to 1 cm or a quarter to half an inch deep per seed is ideal for the optimal growth of the plant. It usually takes ten to fourteen days for the first fennel seedlings to emerge out of the ground. The ideal spacing for individual plants is too thin them out with each individual plants about 20 cm or 8 inches apart from the next plant. The fennel is an ideal garden plant in that new plants can be propagated by dividing the established and growing plants during the next spring season and the population can grow despite the absence of seeds. The newly propagated plants can then be spaced at distances of 30 cm or 12 inches apart per plant. As the possibility of cross-pollination between the fennel and the dill herb exist, it is best not to grow fennel plants near dill plants. If at all cross-pollination occurs, the hybrids are produced and are not viable and cannot be used to propagate good quality dill nor fennel, the taste of the seeds do not change in the produced hybrids, but the hybrids are all non-viable plants and are dead ends without reproductive capacity. To ensure the supply of new stems and leaves throughout the growing season, from time to time, some of the stems and leaves can be cut off and used during the growing season, this also ensures fresh herbs are always available for the kitchen. Aphids and other insect pests such as the whitefly can cause serious damage to fennel plants and the herb is susceptible to such pests, the fennel is also susceptible to being affected by root rot especially if the soil is too moist or waterlogged. Due to its vulnerability to frost, the fennel is usually grown as an annual in the short season gardens before the approach of winter.
Growing Fennel in Containers:
Fennel can also be grown in containers as well as in pots, a container of dimension 10- to 12-inch or 25 to 30 cm filled with a soil based potting soil can be sown with fennel seeds and placed in a location exposed to direct sunlight during the day. The container can be sown crowded with six to eight plants per pot if the need is only for the “baby” fennel greens. The ideal ratio per pot to grow full plants with tall stalks is two to three plants per individual. Potted soil must be fertilized once every three weeks or so, and the soil contained in the pot must be kept evenly moist at all times, fertilization of the potting soil can be done by using a mild fish emulsion or any one of the other manufactured plant manures available in stores. The fennel plants can be grown along with other bright flowering annuals like the marigolds and the nasturtiums, the seeds of these flowering plants can be layered between rows of the fennel. Whenever needed, the leaves of the fennel can be snipped off for culinary use in the kitchen at home, harvesting of the fennel seeds can begin when they have turned a brown color – these can also be used in culinary recipes as flavoring agents. Though no seeds or bulbs will be produced at the base of the stem, indoor cultivation of the fennel for its foliage alone is possible and many people do grow these plants inside their homes. For growing the fennel herb indoors, use a ten inch or 25 cm pot to grow several closely spaced plants under bright light with moderately cool temperatures, once they germinate these plants will produce fresh greens, that can be snipped on a regular basis for culinary purposes. Fertilization of the potting soil must be done once every three weeks or so and the soil in which the plants grow must be kept moist at all times.
Fennel contains volatile oil (inc. estragole, anethole), essential fatty acids, flavonoids (inc. rutin), vitamins, minerals.
A herbal tea can be prepared from the whole seeds of the fennel; these seeds can also be chewed as condiments. Prepare the herbal fennel tea by using half a teaspoon of the crushed seeds, boil these in 250 ml or a cup of water for a period of ten to fifteen minutes and allow the herbal essences to steep into the water by covering the pot with a lid while boiling the water. Once the water has been boiled, remove the pot from the heat, allow it to cool, carefully strain the solution, and drink in doses of three cups every day as a treatment for different disorders. The herbal fennel tincture can also be drunk, and doses of this herbal tincture are 2-4 ml of the tincture taken three times every day during the treatment period.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions:
Side effects have been known to be present in the use of certain fennel based herbal products, for example, contact dermatitis may be triggered in some individuals by the oil found in the fennel herb – at the same time, incidences of allergic skin reactions to the herb have not been reported in large numbers and this type of side effect rarely occurs. A peculiar type of skin condition known as photodermatitis, which is a form of allergic rash that appears on the skin after eating the herb and then being exposed to direct sunlight – this form of side effect is experienced by a few individuals from time to time, whenever they consume fennel based herbal products. Problems such as sudden feelings of nausea, a sudden need to vomit, seizures, and even pulmonary edema are known to be induced by the oil of the fennel; this oil must never be used in cooking or in any food preparations to avoid this potential health hazard. The safety of the foliage and the whole seeds are guaranteed and these parts of the herb find wide usage in many culinary preparations and cuisines of different European countries. Pregnant women must avoid consuming a lot of fennel in their meal as the herb has a potential estrogenic effect it is thought to be a phyto-estrogenic herb or a herb that mimics the action of the hormone estrogen in the body. As far as products such as fennel honey and fennel syrup are concerned, it is suggested that any diabetics who are using such herbal products consider the sugar content in these commercial preparations before consuming them – this is not directly linked to the herb itself but excess sugar can cause problems to diabetics.
- INFUSION – The seeds of the fennel can be used to prepare a special herbal seed infusion which is very palatable and effective as a remedy for digestive problems of all kinds. The fennel seed infusion can be used following the meals in the treatment of flatulence, in the treatment of indigestion, in the treatment of colic, and in treating many other digestive complaints affecting patients. A baby’s colic can also be relieved indirectly by making the nursing mothers drink the infusion, this results in an increase of milk flow and some of the beneficial effects are passed on to the baby via the milk.
DECOCTION – The seeds of the fennel are also used to prepare a herbal decoction which is extensively used in the Chinese system of medicine for treating problems such as abdominal pain, in treating colic, and in reducing chills affecting the stomach of patients.
TINCTURE – The seeds of the fennel are also prepared into a herbal tincture which can be taken for the treatment of different types of disorders in the digestive system. This herbal tincture is often used combined with other herbal laxatives like the root of the rhubarb or the senna and used in preventing problems such as colic affecting different patients.
MOUTHWASH/GARGLE – The seeds of the fennel are also used as a mouthwash or a throat gargle, in this role the seed infusion can be used as a mouthwash to treat problems with the gums, this remedy is also used in treating loosened teeth, and used as a gargle to treat laryngitis and the symptoms of sore throats in patients.
- Essential oil:
- CHEST RUB – The essential oil extracted from the fennel finds use as a topical herbal remedy and can be utilized as a massage or oil rub. To treat chest problems, a combination herbal oil is typically used, containing about 25 drops of the thyme herbal oil, the same amount of the oil of eucalyptus, and the fennel oils, these three are mixed in about 25 ml of the sunflower or almond oil. This oil is rubbed onto the chest of patients affected by disorders in the chest area.
- DECOCTION – The fennel root is used in the preparation of a special root decoction. This herbal decoction is usually used in the treatment of different urinary system problems and is prescribed by many herbalists for the treatment of kidney stones, and in treating disorders related to the presence of high amount of uric acid in the body.
Harvesting of the fresh leaves for immediate use can be carried out throughout the summer right up to the time when the first frost appears – pluck leaves from plants and use as and when needed. Morning is the ideal time to collect the leaves, and this must be done when the sun is already shining and evaporated the dew. For long-term storage, fennel must be dried after harvesting, collect the stems still bearing the leaves before the plant has started to bloom and then hang each plant upside down in a cool and air dry area or room. Once such plants are entirely dry, the leaves can be stripped or peeled off and stored in an airtight container for long-term use. Ice cubes can also be used to freeze the fennel leaves during cold storage of the herb. The seeds must be harvested only during the fall when they are ripe and have become fully mature. To dry the collected fennel seeds, they can be spread in a thin layer on a screen within a shaded area not directly exposed to sunlight – the seeds are usually grey-green in color, during the drying process turning the seeds often so that each surface of the seed is exposed equally to the drying air. An airtight container can be used for long-term storage of the dried fennel seeds.
Cold Vegetable Salad with Fennel:
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 cup oil and vinegar dressing
- 4 to 6 cups cooked green or lima beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower, or another vegetable
- 1 large iceberg lettuce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- 2 slices stale bread, crustless
- 2 Tbs. minced fresh fennel weed, or 1 Tbs. dried
Blend shallot and dressing, and pour over the vegetables in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, simmer, uncovered, 3 minutes, then cover and chill with the lettuce broken into bits.
Heat the oil and butter in a skillet, and brown the garlic in it. Remove the garlic, and fry the bread until golden, flipping often so both sides absorb oil and butter.
When ready to serve, toss the vegetables and lettuce with the bread, crumbled, and garnish with fennel. Serves 8 to 10.
Buttermilk and Fennel Cleanser:
Buttermilk and fennel cleanser is prepared using the following:
- 2 teaspoonfuls (30 grams) of fennel seeds
- 1/ 2 cup or 125 ml of buttermilk
Mash the fennel seeds and boil it in the buttermilk gently for about 30 minutes in a double boiler. Allow the blend to cool down and permeate for another two hours. Subsequently, filter the cleanser in a bottle. If you store it in a refrigerator, this herbal cleanser will remain in good condition for about a week.