Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare, NL:Venkel)

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a Mediterranean hardy perennial herb which is easy to grow, particularly in relatively dry soil. It has been used since ancient times, being found amongst the burial effects of Pharaohs and being highly prized by ancient Romans.  Anglo Saxons revered it as one of the nine sacred herbs and believed it could ward off evil. The Ayurvedic health system sees Fennel as being perfectly balanced in terms of pitta, vata and kapha doshas. There are many different varieties and in many countries such as Greece it grows wild as a very successful “weed”.  Fennel makes a very unusual pot plant, if you have the vertical space. It can quickly grow up to 1.5m high with delicate feathery leaves, a bulbous base and large umbeliferous flower heads.  All parts of this herb are aromatic, tasting of anise, and can be very useful.  The “seeds” are actually fruit.  Fennel is often useful during breastfeeding but shouldn’t be used in quantity during pregnancy.

Uses of Fennel

  • Obesity – Pliny, herbalist of ancient Rome was very enthusiastic about Fennel’s ability to ease hunger during times of fasting and encouraged his contemporaries to eat Fennel and to drink Fennel tea in order to cure obesity.  Apparently chewing Fennel seeds to help weight loss is quite popular in modern day Greece.
  • Breast health – Fennel can help to increase milk production in nursing mothers and to soothe painful pre-menstrual breasts, due to its diuretic properties.
  • Menopausal symptoms – a useful tea for fluid retention and anxiety.  It has been found to have an oestrogen effect. If taken in excess it can cause the return of periods.
  • Digestion – Fennel may help when digestive problems are caused by anxiety or some form of tension. It helps relax the system, to gently release trapped gas and to make rich foods easier to digest. Colicy babies are often given a little cooled fennel tea to help with trapped gas, or the mother can pass on it’s helpful properties via her milk.  Infants should only be given a couple of teaspoons of cooled tea.
  • Cough – Inhalation of honey cured Fennel smoke may help to cure persistent coughs.  Crushed Fennel seeds can be gently heated on a hot plate or charcoal incense brickette, the fumes can help to loosen the chest and lungs.  It is quite easy to crush them with a pestle and mortar.  Alternatively a herbal smoking mix, containing honey cured Sage and Fennel can be burned to release the healing vapours of Fennel.  More details to follow.
  • Eyes – Some people find that fennel lotion, made from cool water as described below, makes is effective remedy for sore, tired eyes. It may be used to saturate cotton pads to use as a compress or as eye drops or an eye wash.  If you try this ensure that the tea is extremely fresh and contains no bits which could irritate the eye.  Drinking fennel tea is also thought to strengthen eyesight.
  • Breath freshener – Chewing fennel seeds, particularly after a rich meal, is a useful way to aid digestion.
  • Joint pain –  Massage with Fennel infused oil often helps to ease the pains of arthritis and rheumatism.
  • Anxiety or mild depression – Massage with Fennel infused oil or gently inhaling the smoke of burning crushed fennel seeds can lift the spirits and relax tension.

Fennel tea
This can be prepared using either chopped dry or fresh leaves or crushed seeds. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed seeds per cup of boiling water.  Crushing the seeds makes a much more potent tea. This can be done with a pestle and mortar, a manual coffee grinder or by gently bashing the seeds with something such as a rolling pin.  Allow to infuse for 15 minutes. If using leaves, infuse 2 – 3 teaspoons in a teapot of boiling water for 5 minutes.

Eye lotion
Boil a cup of water and allow to cool before infusing half a teaspoon of crushed seeds for one hour.  Strain carefully.  Can be used in an eye bath, as drops or to soak cotton pads.

Honey Cured Herbal Smoke Mix
Mix 1 tsp honey with 4 tsp water and add gradually to a 15g dried copped sage and 2 tsp of powdered fennel seeds.  Rub the liquid into the herbs until they are all slightly damp.  Lay out in a shallow dish and leave for a few days, turning occasionally, until the water has mostly evaporated and the herbs feel dry enough to burn.  Store the mix in an airtight container.

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