‘Above the lowly plants it towers,
The fennel, with its yellow flowers,
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers,
Lost vision to restore.
It gave new strength, and fearless mood;
And gladiators, fierce and rude,
Mingled it in their daily food;
And he who battled and subdued,
A wreath of fennel wore.
‘The Goblet of Life’
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1846)
A beautifully ornamental plant that is often used as such in a border, it has long been grown, used and cultivated for various reasons and it is no wonder that some should wax lyrical about it and its effects. Many people these days are familiar with fennel tea and some use the herb in their cooking. However, what are the medicinal uses of this superb plant?
A tall, feathery herb, this plant grows to about 5 foot high. This makes it a pretty addition to a border. It is not very long-lived, but easy to grow from seed. It should be grown in a well-drained, sandy soil and should be grown in full sun.
Bronze fennel can go beautifully with yellows and reds.
Fennel is also a great ‘companion plant’ as it acts as a trap crop for certain beetles. However, fennel should not be grown near most plants, except dill.
A quote from William Langland’s The Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman (1377) says, “I have…a farthingworth of fennel seeds, for fasting days.” Fennel has a calming effect on the stomach and thus makes it easier to fast. If fact, the Greeks even use it to help lose weight. However, it must be stressed that nothing substitutes for a well-balanced diet and adequate exercise. A few pointers to consider:
- Because of its carminative properties, it is useful for indigestion or wind.
- A few teaspoons of fennel seed tea given to a baby will help to wind it and relieve colic, better than any gripe water even.
- Another benefit for babies is that fennel tea, taken every day by a nursing mother, will ensure a good supply of milk.
- Fennel has diuretic properties and can help with water retention and can relieve premenstrual breast-swelling.
- Fennel, drunk and eaten, is a useful part of an arthritis regime.
- Fennel tea drunk regularly strengthens eyesight and can make an effective wash or compress for inflamed or sore eyes.
In Indian medicine fennel is considered as a perfectly balanced herb, and the 12th century herbalist Hildegard von Bingen said, “Fennel forces a person back into the right balance of joyfulness.” Once again, the ancient experienced wisdom of folk knowledge is proved true. Fennel’s balancing action extends to the nervous system, calming the nerves, uplifting the spirits and promoting mental clarity. For this action, the most effective method is inhaling the aroma of heated seeds.
Cosmetic and Other Uses
- The essential oil is often included in skin care. It is used to tone tissues that are puffy or slackened.
- In cooking, its balancing effect can also be used to balance the flavour of fish and mushrooms. This can be used in cooking to make their digestion easier, too.
- In India, fennel and aniseeds are mixed together and chewed after meals.
- The leaves, if strewn under the mattress, wards off fleas and bed-bugs.
CAUTION: While the amounts of fennel used in cooking are safe, large amounts of fennel seed should be AVOIDED in pregnancy!