GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Biennial or perennial herb up to 2 metres high, with feathery leaves and golden yellow flowers. There are two main varieties of fennel: bitter or common Fennel, slightly taller with less divided leaves occurring in a cultivated or wild form and sweet fennel (also known as Roman, garden or French fennel) which is always cultivated.
DISTRIBUTION: Bitter fennel is native to the Mediterranean region, found growing wild in France, Spain, Portugal and North Africa. It is cultivated extensively world-wide, the main oil producers being Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Italy and India. Sweet fennel is thought to have originated on the island of Malta, having been introduced by monks or crusaders thousands of years ago. It is now grown principally in France, Italy and Greece.
HERBAL/FOLK TRADITION: A herb of ancient medical repute, believed to convey longevity, courage and strength. It was also used to ward off evil spirits, strengthen the eyesight and to neutralize poisons. In eastern and western herbalism it is considered good for obstructions of the liver, spleen and gall bladder and for digestive complaints such as colic, indigestion, nausea and flatulence (an ingredient of children’s ‘gripe water’). It has traditionally been used for obesity, which may be due to a type of oestrogenic action, which also increases the milk of nursing mothers. Still current in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, used locally for conjunctivitis, blepharitis and pharyngitis.
ACTIONS: Aperitif, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, depurative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, galactagogue, laxative, orexigenic, stimulant (circulatory), splenic, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge.
EXTRACTIONS: Essential oil by steam distillation.
CHARACTERISTICS: 1. A colourless to pale yellow liquid with a very sweet, anise -like, slightly earthy-peppery scent. It blends well with geranium, lavender, rose and sandalwood. 2. The seed oil is a pale yellow liquid with a sharp, warm camphoraceous odour. PRINCIPAL CONSTITUENTS: Anethole (5O-6O per cent), limonene, phellandrene, pinene, anisic acid, aisic aldeyde, fenchone, camphene, limonene, among others. SAFETY DATA: Non-irritant, relatively non-toxic, narcotic in large dosis. Can cause sensitization in some individuals. Use in moderation.
USE: In pharmaceutical products it is known as codex fennel oil, used in cough drops, lozenges, etc., also used in carminative and laxative preparations. Extensively used as a flavour ingredient in all major food categories, in soft drinks and especially in alcoholic drinks such as brandy and liqueurs. Fennel oil is used in soaps, toiletries and perfumes. It also provides a good masking agent for industrial products, room sprays, insecticides, etc.