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This article is from the Herb Reference series.


Other Names:

wild fennel
sweet fennel

Latin Name:

Foeniculum officinale
F. vulgare
F. v. azoricum: Finocchio
Ferula communis: Giant Fennel

Another ancient herb introduced to Western Europe by the Romans, fennel, like its close cousin, dill, was also used extensively in both medicine and magic. Pliny mentions twenty-two remedies in connection with it, and it is one of the mysterious "nine herbs" in the eleventh century Saxon charm of the same name.

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia and has been naturalized in North America.

Stems: smooth, shiny stems

Flowers: bright-gold flowers, which appear in summer have an umbrellalike structure similar to Dill.

Leaves: Branch alternately from joints of stem on broad petioles, are pinate, divided and finely dissected

Fruit: Ovate, and ribbed.

Rootstock: Although its leaves die off every year, fennel posses a thick perennial rootstock that is edible.

Height: to 5 feet

F. v. azoricum: Grows lower and has larger, thicker leaf bases.

Cultivation: Unlike dill, which is more fastidious about its habitat, fennel will grow practically anywhere, ideally in a light, well-drained soil. But it does need plenty of sun. If sown early in April it may grow up to 5 feet in height by the end of the summer, so be careful where you place it in your garden.

When you crush the leaves and fruit of the fennel, you will become immediately aware of its strong, anise like fragrance. Herbal fragrance of whatever kind is always a sure indication of the presence of essential oils. In fennel's case these are anethol (the same oil contained in anise) and fenchone. Fennel also contains traces of potassium, sodium and sulphur.
Digestive stimulant
Fennel is an apiaceous herb, or one that is used as a source of nectar for bees.

Fennel can be used as a dye as well: For a mustard yellow, the fresh leaves and/or flowers can be used with Alum as a mordant, A golden brown color results when a Chrome mordant is used, and brown can be obtained from the tops of the plant and iron as a mordant. Be sure to use fresh fennel for all colors.


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