Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a plant species in the genusFoeniculum (treated as the sole species in the genus by most botanists). It is a member of thefamily Apiaceae (formerly the Umbelliferae). It is a hardy, perennialumbelliferous herb, with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalised in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on riverbanks.

It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the primary ingredients of absintheFlorence fennel or finocchio is a selection with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable.

Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the mouse moth and the anise swallowtail.

Fennel is widely cultivated, both in its native range and elsewhere, for its edible, strongly flavoured leaves and fruits, which are often mistermed “seeds”.[6]Its aniseed flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong.[6]

The Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group; syn. F. vulgare var. azoricum) is a cultivar group with inflated leaf bases which form a bulb-like structure. It is of cultivated origin,[7] and has a mild anise-like flavour, but is more aromatic and sweeter. Florence fennel plants are smaller than the wild type.[citation needed] Their inflated leaf bases are eaten as a vegetable, both raw and cooked. There are several cultivars of Florence fennel, which is also known by several other names, notably the Italian name finocchio. In North American supermarkets, it is often mislabelled as “anise”.[8][citation needed]

Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, “bronze-leaved” fennel, is widely available in the UK, where it is grown as a decorative garden plant.[9]

Fennel has become naturalised along roadsides, in pastures, and in other open sites in many regions, including northern Europe, the United States, southern Canada and in much of Asia and Australia. It propagates well by seed, and is considered an invasive species and a weed in Australia and the United States.[10] (see Santa Cruz Island)

Florence fennel was one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink in France and other countries.

Culinary uses

The bulb, foliage, and seeds of the fennel plant are widely used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. Fennel pollen is the most potent form of fennel, but also the most expensive.[11] Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice, brown or green in colour when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the seed ages. For cooking, green seeds are optimal.[6] The leaves are delicately flavored and similar in shape to those of dill. The bulb is a crisp, hardy root vegetable and may be sauteed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw.

Fennel seeds are sometimes confused with those of anise, which are very similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Fennel is also used as a flavouring in some natural toothpaste.

Fennel features prominently in Mediterranean cuisine, where bulbs and fronds are used, both raw and cooked, in side dishes, salads, pastas, vegetable dishes such as artichoke dishes in Greece, and risottos. Fennel seed is a common ingredient in Italian sausages and meatballs and northern European rye breads.

Many cultures in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East use fennel seed in their cookery. Fennel is one of the most important spices in Kashmiri Panditand Gujarati cooking. It is an essential ingredient of the Assamese/Bengali/Oriya spice mixture panch phoron and in Chinese five-spice powders. In many parts of Pakistan and India, roasted fennel seeds are consumed as Mukhwas, an after-meal digestive and breath freshener. Some people in farming communities also chew on fresh sprigs of green fennel seeds. Fennel leaves are used as leafy green vegetables either by themselves or mixed with other vegetables, cooked to be served and consumed as part of a meal, in some parts of India. In Lebanon, it is used to make a special kind of egg omelette (along with onions, and flour) called ijjeh (عجة).

Many eggfish, and other dishes employ fresh or dried fennel leaves. Florence fennel is a key ingredient in some Italian and German salads, often tossed withchicory and avocado, or it can be braised and served as a warm side dish. It may be blanched or marinated, or cooked in risotto.

Medicinal uses

Fennel contains anethole, which can explain some of its medical effects: it, or its polymers, act as phytoestrogens.[12]

Intestinal tract

Mrs. Grieve’s Herbal[13] states:

On account of its carminative properties, fennel is chiefly used medicinally with purgatives to allay their side effects, and for this purpose forms one of the ingredients of the well-known compound liquorice powder. Fennel water has properties similar to those of anise and dill water: mixed with sodium bicarbonate and syrup, these waters constitute the domestic ‘gripe water’, used to correct the flatulence of infants. Volatile oil of fennel has these properties in concentration.Fennel tea, also employed as a carminative, is made by pouring boiling water on a teaspoonful of bruised fennel seeds.[13] 


Fennel can be made into a syrup to treat babies with colic (formerly thought to be due to digestive upset), but long term ingestion of fennel preparations by babies is a known cause of thelarche.[14]

For adults, fennel seeds or tea can relax the intestines and reduce bloating caused by digestive disorders[citation needed].


In the Indian subcontinent, fennel seeds are also eaten raw, sometimes with some sweetener, as it is said to improve eyesight.[citation needed] Ancient Romans regarded fennel as the herb of sight. Root extracts were often used in tonics to clear cloudy eyes. Extracts of fennel seed have been shown in animal studies to have a potential use in the treatment of glaucoma.[15]

Blood and urine

Some people use fennel as a diuretic,[citation needed] and it may be an effective diuretic and a potential drug for treatment of hypertension.[16][17]


There are historical anecdotes that fennel is a galactogogue,[18] improving the milk supply of a breastfeeding mother. This use, although not supported by direct evidence, is sometimes justified by the fact that fennel is a source of phytoestrogens, which promote growth of breast tissue.[19] However, normal lactation does not involve growth of breast tissue. There is a single case report of fennel tea ingested by a breastfeeding mother resulting in neurotoxicity for the newborn child.[20]

Other uses

Syrup prepared from fennel juice was formerly given for chronic coughs. It is one of the plants which is said to be disliked by fleas, and powdered fennel has the effect of driving away fleas from kennels and stables.[21]

{Information courtesy Wikipedia}