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  • Foeniculum vulgaris L.
  • Umbelliferae
  • Apiaceae
  • Carrot family

Common Names

herbsLarge fennel
herbsShatapushpa (Sanskrit name)
herbsShih-lo (Chinese name)
herbsSweet fennel
herbsWild fennel
herbsXiao-hue-xiang (Chinese name)

Parts Usually Used

Seeds, berries, fruits, roots, and stems.

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

A tall herb of the umbel family, with feathery leaves and yellow flowers.

A stout, strongly scented perennial plant, with erect stems and blue-green leaves. The striated stems are solid when young, becoming hollow with age. The yellow flowers grow in compound, terminal umbels, each with 10-30 stalks. Aniseed-scented, egg-shaped fruits follow the flowers.

Its light green, feathery foliage and aromatic seeds are used to flavor foods and medicines. Stems reach 4-6 feet and flowers appear July to October. Needs full sun; partial shade in warm climates. Zones 6-9.

Seeds can be planted in autumn to ensure early germination in the spring, otherwise plant seeds in spring in rich, well-drained soil but not clay. Sow lightly in a bed or in drills six inches apart. Keep the bed moist for 2 weeks or until leaves appear. Germination takes place within 2 weeks. Thin to 6 inches apart. Do not overwater after that. Do not plant fennel near dill, coriander, bush beans, or tomatoes. Although it has never been proven, fennel is said to have a damaging effect on bush beans, caraway, tomatoes, and kohlrabi, and is harmed by coriander and wormwood. Plant away from garden; most plants dislike fennel.

Collect seeds in summer and let the plant die back naturally in winter. Harvest seeds when mature and brown, but before they drop; check for aphids. Morning hours for harvest are best to avoid unnecessary seed losses.

Varieties of fennel: F. vulgare Rubrum (bronze fennel) has beautiful, dark reddish bronze foliage. It makes a striking accent in gardens.

F. vulgare azoricum (Florence fennel or finacchio; sometimes listed as var. dulce, incorrectly called sweet anise, and sold as anise in supermarkets) has thickened leaf bases that form a bulbous base called the bulb, which is eaten raw or cooked. Finocchio grows like a stalk of celery and is eaten raw or boiled as a vegetable. Florence fennel needs cool weather to develop its bulb, so sow seeds in midsummer for a fall harvest. Plants grown from a spring sowing may bolt in warm summer weather before forming the bulb. Plants benefit from frequent fertilization and watering. Cut off flower heads to encourage development of a thicker base. Once the bulb is about egg size, it can be hilled up with soil to blanch. It will be ready to harvest in a few weeks.

Where Found

Found growing as a weed in waste places in much of the United States, in southeastern Canada and in southern British Columbia. Also cultivated for commercial demands in the warmer parts of Europe and in many parts of Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Native to Mediterranean Europe where it is found growing wild.

Medicinal Properties

Stomachic, carminative (relieves gas), pectoral (relieves chest congestion and cough), diuretic, aromatic, antispasmodic, expectorant, mild expectorant, anti-inflammatory, stimulant

Biochemical Information

Anethole, calcium, camphene, cymene, chlorine, dipentene, fenchone, 7-hydrozycoumaarin, volatile oils, oleic acid, petroselinic acid, phellandrene, pinene, limonene, stigmasterol, sulfur, and vitamins A and C.

Legends, Myths and Stories

Fennel is one of nine Anglo-Saxon herbs known for secret powers. In ancient days, a bunch of fennel hung over a cottage door on Midsummer's Eve was said to prevent the effects of witchcraft. Today, if witches are not a problem, try nibbling on the herb's seeds, as Roman women did centuries ago, to help depress the appetite. Women in Roman times believed fennel prevented obesity.

The ancients believed eating the fennel herb and seeds imparted courage, strength, and conveyed longevity. In Imperial Roman times the physicians were in high regard of fennel for medicinal purposes.

The ancient Greeks and Anglo-Saxons snitched on their fast days by nibbling a little fennel, which reduced the appetite.

The ancients believed that myopic reptiles ate fennel to improve their vision and so used it themselves for this purpose. It is still prescribed as an eye-wash. Also, for failing eyesight, a tea was made from fennel leaves to be used as a compress on swollen eyes.

Fennel is considered one of the oldest medicinal plants and culinary herbs. It is fairly certain that fennel was in use over 4000 years ago. It is mentioned in the famous Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian collection of medical writings made around 1500 BC. There it is referred to principally as a remedy for flatulence. Later authors of herbals, such as Pliny (AD 23-79), also describe fennel primarily as an aid to digestion. In the Middle Ages, it was praised for coughs.

Fennel was well known to the ancient Chinese, Hindus, and Egyptians as a harmless medicine and spice. Italians are fond of the seeds as seasoning.

A warm tea of the seeds, slightly sweetened with honey, is a useful carminative for restless babies. A stronger tea, or the oil on a lump of sugar, is soothing for older children or adults.

The seed or the oil is combined with other flavors in the making of liqueurs. Fennel is the principle ingredient of a cordial known as Fenouillette.

In early American times of the 17th century, every garden had its little patch of fennel "for keeping old women awake in church." A sprig of fennel was the theological smelling bottle of the tender sex, not infrequently of the men, who found themselves too strongly tempted to take a nap, would sometimes borrow a sprig of fennel.


An old reliable household remedy, good for flavoring foods and medicines. The tea makes an excellent eye wash. Fennel is a thoroughly tried remedy for gas, acid stomach or dyspepsia, gout, cramps, colic, cystitis, and spasms. Ground fennel sprinkled on food will prevent gas in the stomach and bowels. For colic in children, the herb should be steeped (weak for infants) and given in small doses every half hour until the infant or child is relieved. Nursing mothers will find fennel helpful in stimulating lactation, in a warm tea. Fennel seed, ground and made into a tea is given for snake bites, fever, insect bites, dog bites, hiccoughs, flatulence, backache, toothache, obesity, blood purifier, or food poisoning. Good for jaundice when the liver is obstructed or to improve appetite. Excellent for obesity. Increases the flow of urine and increases menstrual flow. Fennel oil may be rubbed over painful joints to relieve pain or rheumatism, and may be added to gargles for hoarseness and sore throat and cough. The shoots of this herb have a laxative effect and may be consumed raw or as a tisane.

A sweet herb used as an appetite suppressant. Promotes function of the spleen, liver, and kidneys. Relieves colon disorders, and good for the cancer patient after chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Fennel leaves may be cooked in sauce for oily fish, chicken and egg dishes or used in salads. When cooked with salmon or mackerel, it has been claimed to help eliminate oiliness. Eaten fresh, fennel has a licorice-like flavor similar to anise. Chop the leaves and toss them into a salad, or sprinkle over grilled seafood. The seeds add vigorous flavor to breads, sausages, curries, and even apple pie. With a mixture of fennel seed and dill seed season cucumber salad and a variety of lettuce salads.

Fennel also yields a yellow or brown dye for wool, and fennel oil is used commercially in perfumes, soaps, and liquors. Sugar-coated seeds are used as after-dinner mints in Indian restaurants.

Fennel seeds are used whole or ground to flavor bread, cakes, pastries, soups, stews, sweet pickles, fish and sauerkraut.

The fennel stalk, stripped of its skin and dressed in vinegar and pepper, makes a tasty celery-like salad that is popular in the plant's native Mediterranean area. The Italians call the dish cartucci and claim it calms and aids sleep.

Formulas or Dosages

Gather the root in the spring for medicinal purposes:

Infusion: steep 1 tbsp. freshly crushed seeds in 1 cup water for 5 minutes. Sweeten with honey to taste.

Decoction: boil 1/2 tsp. seed in water. Strain. Use as an eye-wash, 3 times per day.

Extract: mix 10 to 20 drops in water. Use warm water and 1 tsp. honey for a soothing drink daily.

Milk decoction: boil 1 tsp. seed in 1/2 cup milk for 5 to 10 minutes. Take for colic.

Tincture: take 10 to 30 drops in water, as required.

Fennel-honey: add 1 to 3 drops fennel oil to 1 tbsp. honey and mix. Take a teaspoon at a time. A natural cough remedy.

How Sold

Capsules or powder form. Take 1 or 2 capsules per day.


Fennel belongs to the carrot family, many members of which are poisonous and resemble this medicinal plant. There seems to be confusion as to which family fennel belongs. Some say the parsley family and some say the carrot family. Either way, care should be taken in identifying the correct plant before use.

Fennel or its seed oil may cause contact dermatitis. Ingestion of oil may cause vomiting, seizures, and pulmonary edema.

Fennel is a uterine stimulant, avoid during pregnancy. Small amounts used in cooking are safe.

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