Fennel is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe. Florence 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 yields both an herb and a spice. All plant parts are edible: roots, stalks and leaves, with the spice coming from the dried seeds. A native to the Mediterranean, Fennel is an ancient and common plant known to the ancient Greeks and spread throughout Europe by Imperial Rome.
Fennel is also grown in India, the Orient, Australia, South America and has become naturalized in the US. Fennel has been called the “Meeting’ Seed” by the Puritans who would chew it during their long church services. The name derives from the Latin foeniculum, meaning “Little Hay”. Fennel is a versatile vegetable that plays an important role in the food culture of many European nations, especially in France and Italy. Its esteemed reputation dates back to the earliest times and is reflected in its mythological traditions.
Fennel is carminative, a weak diuretic and mild stimulant. The oil is added to purgative medication to prevent intestinal colic. Fennel was once used to stimulate lactation. It allays hunger and was thought to be a cure for obesity in Renaissance Europe. It should not be used in high dosages as it causes muscular spasms and hallucinations. Fennel has been used as a wash for eyestrain and irritations. Chinese and Hindus used it as a snake bite remedy. The major constituents of Fennel, which include the terpenoid anethole, are found in the volatile oil.
Anethole and other terpenoids inhibit spasms in smooth muscles, such as those in the intestinal tract, and this is thought to contribute to fennel’s use as a gas relieving and gastrointestinal tract cramp relieving agent. Related compounds to anethole may have mild estrogenic actions, although this has not been proven in humans. Fennel is also thought to possess diuretic that is increase in urine production, choleretic that is increase in production of bile, pain reducing, fever reducing, and anti microbial actions. The seeds are used as a flavoring agent in many herbal medicines, and to help disperse flatulence. The seeds, and roots, also help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen and gall bladder, and to ease painful swellings, in addition to helping with yellow jaundice, the gout and occasional cramps.
The above composition may not be applicable to all types of samples. It may vary considerably depending on various factors. Fennel seeds also contain 9.0 to 13 % fixed oil. The components of fatty acids of the oil are:
The oil has Saponification value of 181.2, Iodine value of 99 and Unsaponifiable matter of 3.68 %. The plant is pleasantly aromatic and is used as a potherb. The leaves are used in fish sauce and for garnishing; leaf stalks are used in salad. Dried fruits of fennel have a fragrant odor and a pleasant aromatic taste. Fennel are used for flavoring soups, meat dishes, sauces, liquors, pickles, and bakery products.