(Foeniculum vulgare) Fennel, also known as Florence fennel, is a biennial herbaceous plant belonging to the family Apiaceae. The plant originates from the Mediterranean area and is cultivated in many countries of Asia and Europe, including Poland. Fennel is one of the oldest plants used in herbalism.
Although most people imagine fennel as a plant grown in gardens, it also occurs in the natural state, where it is a perennial plant.
In the first year of its growth, fennel produces a leafy rosette and a spare root. Only in the second year of growth, it produces a branched stalk up to 1.5m tall. The Romans called it Foeniculum, meaning ‘fine hay’, because of the small feathery leaves with thread-like sections. Fennel blooms from July to September, and it produces fruit in the form of a grey-green, elongated mericarp.
Fennel has a strong, slightly anise, pleasant scent, which spreads across fields when fennel fruits are harvested.
Yes, it is fennel fruit that is used as a valuable herbal ingredient from fennel. Fennel fruits ripen in a non-uniform manner, so the harvest begins when most of the fruits in the umbels start to mature and are of a light brown colour. From fennel fruits, fennel oil is extracted.
Fennel has long been known for its positive effects on the human body. What problems can be addressed today by using fennel?
Mature fennel fruits contain essential oil, flavonoids, fatty oil, carbohydrates, protein compounds, and many other valuable substances. Fennel fruit products have a spasmolytic effect, stimulate the secretion of gastric juice and improve the assimilation of nutrients. They are an effective carminative and they alleviate or relieve pain related to bloating, as well as restore normal digestive functions and appetite, especially in children and the elderly. Fennel fruit products also demonstrate expectorant properties, increase mucus secretion, and therefore are recommended to aid the treatment of diseases associated with the upper respiratory tract.
Today, fennel fruit is commonly used as a spice due to its digestive benefits.
Apart from their expectorant and spasmolytic activities, fennel fruits enhance the peristaltic movements of the intestines, and therefore are helpful in preventing flatulence and intestinal colic, also in young children. That is why fennel fruits are often used in cooking as a spice. Fennel is at the heart of, in particular, Mediterranean cuisine, and it also perfectly fits fish and soups.
Fennel is one of the longest known and used medicinal plants.
It was used already in ancient Egypt, Rome and Asia. It was classified as one of the seven plants considered to be sacred. It was also widely used in the Middle Ages. St. Hildegard recommended fennel as a spice, and in medieval cuisine, abundant quantities of fennel were added to food as salt in those days was quite an expensive commodity. Of course, in St. Hildegard’s times, the chemical composition of fennel was not known, but it was nevertheless known that it has beneficial effects on the human body for specific diseases and ailments.