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Foeniculum vulgare - Mill.                
Common Name Fennel, Sweet fennel
Family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae
Synonyms Anethum dulce. Anethum foeniculum. Foeniculum divaricatum. Foeniculum officinale. Seseli foeniculum.
Known Hazards Skin contact with the sap or essential oil is said to cause photo-sensitivity and/or dermatitis in some people[218, 222]. Ingestion of the oil can cause vomiting, seizures and pulmonary oedema[222]. Avoid for small children. Avoid if cirrhosis/liver disorders. Diabetics check sugar content of preparation [301].
Habitats Found most often in dry stony calcareous soils near the sea[1, 16, 190].
Range S. Europe. Naturalized in Britain.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Foeniculum vulgare is an evergreen Perennial growing to 1.5 m (5ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Aug to October, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.

USDA hardiness zone : 3-10

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

Foeniculum vulgare Fennel, Sweet fennel

Foeniculum vulgare Fennel, Sweet fennel
 Meadow; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root;  Seed;  Stem.
Edible Uses: Condiment.

Leaves - raw or cooked[2, 4, 5, 9, 27]. A delicious aniseed flavour[183], the young leaves are best since older ones soon become tough[K]. They are often used as a garnish on raw or cooked dishes and make a very pleasant addition to salads[183]. They help to improve digestion and so are particularly useful with oily foods[244]. The leaves are difficult to store dried[200], though this does not really matter since they can often be harvested all year round, especially if the plants are in a warm, sheltered position[K]. Leaf stalks and flower heads - raw or cooked[14, 37, 52, 183]. A similar aniseed flavour to the leaves[K]. The aromatic seeds are used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, stuffings etc[2, 4, 5, 21, 27, 183]. They have a similar flavour to the leaves[K] and also improve the digestion[244]. The sprouted seeds can be added to salads[183]. An essential oil from the fully ripened and dried seed is used as a food flavouring in similar ways to the whole seed[1, 46, 183, 245]. Root - cooked[53]. Somewhat parsnip-like. The leaves or the seeds can be used to make a pleasant-tasting herbal tea[16, 183].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Analgesic;  Antiinflammatory;  Antispasmodic;  Aromatherapy;  Aromatic;  Carminative;  Diuretic;  Emmenagogue;  Expectorant;  Galactogogue;  Hallucinogenic;  
Stimulant;  Stomachic.

Fennel has a long history of herbal use and is a commonly used household remedy, being useful in the treatment of a variety of complaints, especially those of the digestive system[244]. The seeds, leaves and roots can be used, but the seeds are most active medicinally and are the part normally used[4]. An essential oil is often extracted from the fully ripened and dried seed for medicinal use, though it should not be given to pregnant women[4, 238]. The plant is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, galactogogue, hallucinogenic, laxative, stimulant and stomachic[4, 7, 9, 21, 147, 165, 176, 192, 238]. An infusion is used in the treatment of indigestion, abdominal distension, stomach pains etc[254]. It helps in the treatment of kidney stones and, when combined with a urinary disinfectant like Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, makes an effective treatment for cystitis[254]. It can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and as an eyewash for sore eyes and conjunctivitis[254]. Fennel is often added to purgatives in order to allay their tendency to cause gripe, and also to improve the flavour[4]. An infusion of the seeds is a safe and effective cure for wind in babies[244]. An infusion of the root is used to treat urinary disorders[238]. An essential oil obtained from the seed is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is 'Normalising'[210]. The essential oil is bactericidal, carminative and stimulant[218]. Some caution is advised, see notes above on toxicity[222]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Foeniculum vulgare for cough, bronchitis, dyspeptic complaints (see [302] for critics of commission E).
Other Uses
Dye;  Essential;  Repellent;  Strewing.

The seed yields up to 5% of an essential oil[1, 4, 46]. This is used medicinally, as a food flavouring, in toothpastes, soaps, perfumery, air fresheners etc[1, 46, 238]. The flavour of fennel oil depends upon its two main constituents. 'Fenchone' is a bitter tasting element whilst 'anethole' has a sweet anise-like flavour[238]. The proportions of these two ingredients varies according to strain and region. Plants growing in the Mediterranean and southern Europe usually have a sweet oil whilst plants growing in central and northern Europe usually produce a more bitter oil[238]. The quality of the oil also depends upon how well the seed has been dried - the oil from fully ripened and dried seeds being much sweeter and more fragrant[245]. The dried plant is an insect repellent[14, 53], the crushed leaves are effective for keeping dogs free of fleas[201]. The plant was formerly used as a strewing herb[201]. Yellow and brown dyes are obtained from the flowers and leaves combined[168].
Cultivation details                                         
An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most soils but prefers a sunny dry position[4, 16, 37, 200]. It grows well in sandy soils[188] and is drought tolerant once established[190]. Plants often self-sow freely in the garden[K]. Plants can be grown in quite coarse grass, which can be cut annually in the autumn[233]. Although hardy in most parts of Britain, plants are liable to die out over the winter if the soil is not well-drained or the weather is persistently cold and wet[238]. Fennel is often cultivated in the herb garden for its edible and medicinal uses, there are some named varieties[183]. Especially in mild winters, the leaves can be available all year round[K]. It is best to cut a few plants back to ground level occasionally during the growing season, thus ensuring a constant supply of fresh young shoots[4]. In a dry summer make sure that you water the cut-down clump or it might not regrow that year[K]. Fennel is also grown commercially as a medicinal plant and for its essential oil[4, 238]. Fennel is in general a poor companion plant in the garden. It inhibits the growth of nearby plants, especially beans, tomatoes and kohl rabi[14, 18]. It is itself inhibited by wormwood and coriander[14, 18]. However, the flowering plant attracts beneficial insects such as bees, parasitic wasps, tachinid flies and hoverflies to the garden. The presence of these creatures will help to maintain a natural balance of insects in the garden and help prevent infestations by aphis etc[238]. It is best not to grow fennel and dill (Anethum graveolens) close to each other since hybridisation can occur and the resulting seedlings will be of indeterminate flavour[238].
Seed - best sown in early spring in situ[1]. The seed can also be sown in situ in the autumn[4, 37]. In many gardens it self sows freely. Division in March as the new growth appears[16, 200]. The plants are very tolerant of disturbance, we have found divisions to take well at any time of the year, though these divisions are never as good as seed-sown plants[K].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[14]Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs.
A good herbal.
[16]Simons. New Vegetable Growers Handbook.
A good guide to growing vegetables in temperate areas, not entirely organic.
[18]Philbrick H. and Gregg R. B. Companion Plants.
Details of beneficial and antagonistic relationships between neighbouring plants.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[27]Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden.
A reprint of a nineteenth century classic, giving details of vegetable varieties. Not really that informative though.
[37]Thompson. B. The Gardener's Assistant.
Excellent general but extensive guide to gardening practices in the 19th century. A very good section on fruits and vegetables with many little known species.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[52]Larkcom. J. Salads all the Year Round.
A good and comprehensive guide to temperate salad plants, with full organic details of cultivation.
[53]De. Bray. L. The Wild Garden.
Interesting reading.
[147]? A Barefoot Doctors Manual.
A very readable herbal from China, combining some modern methods with traditional chinese methods.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[168]Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants.
A very good and readable book on dyeing.
[176]Yeung. Him-Che. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas.
An excellent Chinese herbal giving information on over 500 species. Rather technical and probably best suited to the more accomplished user of herbs.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[188]Brickell. C. The RHS Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers
Excellent range of photographs, some cultivation details but very little information on plant uses.
[190]Chatto. B. The Dry Garden.
A good list of drought resistant plants with details on how to grow them.
[192]Emboden. W. Narcotic Plants
A lot of details about the history, chemistry and use of narcotic plants, including hallucinogens, stimulants, inebriants and hypnotics.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[201]Allardice.P. A - Z of Companion Planting.
A well produced and very readable book.
[210]Westwood. C. Aromatherapy - A guide for home use.
An excellent little pocket guide. Very concise.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[233]Thomas. G. S. Perennial Garden Plants
A concise guide to a wide range of perennials. Lots of cultivation guides, very little on plant uses.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[244]Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs
Deals with all types of herbs including medicinal, culinary, scented and dye plants. Excellent photographs with quite good information on each plant.
[245]Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World.
An excellent, comprehensive book on scented plants giving a few other plant uses and brief cultivation details. There are no illustrations.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[302]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Commission E
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Klaus Dichtel Wed Jan 7 11:13:08 2004
f. vulgare is not evergreen on our side: Hardynesszone 6, 670mm rainfall, windy, quite sandy soil
Elizabeth H.
stevie Mon Oct 16 2006
just interested as to how hallucinogenic effets are derived from fennel... stevie
Elizabeth H.
M. Naqqash Tue Sep 23 2008
name of herbs in different languages
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