Scientific Name(S): Foeniculum vulgare Mill. syn. F. officinale All. and Anethum foeniculum Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) A number of subspecies have been identified and their names add to the potential confusion surrounding the terminology of these plants.
Common Name(S): Common, sweet or bitter fennel, carosella, Florence fennel, finocchio, garden fennel, large fennel, wild fennel.
Uses of Fennel
Fennel has been used as a flavoring, scent, insect repellent, herbal remedy for poisoning and GI conditions, and as a stimulant to promote lactation and menstruation.
Fennel is an herb native to southern Europe and Asia Minor. It is also cultivated in the United States, Great Britain and temperate areas of Eurasia. All parts of the plant are aromatic. When cultivated, fennel stalks grow to a height of about three feet. Plants have finely divided leaves composed of many linear or awl-shaped segments. Grayish, compound umbels bear small, yellowish flowers. The fruits or seeds are oblong ovals about 6 mm long and greenish or yellowish brown in color; they have five prominent dorsal ridges. The seeds have a taste resembling that of anise. Besides F. vulgare, F. dulce ("carosella") is grown for its stalks, while F. vulgare var azoricum Theil. ("finocchio") is grown for its bulbous stalk bases.
According to Greek legend, man received knowledge from Mount Olympus as a fiery coal enclosed in a stalk of fennel. The herb was known to the ancient Chinese, Indian, Egyptian and Greek civilizations, and Pliny recommended it for improving the eyesight. The name "foeniculum" is from the Latin word for "fragrant hay." Fennel was in great demand during the Middle Ages. The rich added the seed to fish and vegetable dishes, while the poor reserved it as an appetite suppressant to be eaten on feast days. The plant was introduced to North America by Spanish priests and the English brought it to their early settlements in Virginia. All parts of the plant have been used for flavorings, and the stalks have been eaten as a vegetable. The seeds serve as a traditional carminative. Fennel has been used to flavor candies, liqueurs, medicines and food, and it is especially favored for pastries, sweet pickles and fish. The oil can be used to protect stored, fruits and vegetables against infection by pathogenic fungi. Beekeepers have grown it as a honey plant. Health claims have included its use as a purported antidote to poisonous herbs, mushrooms and snakebites and for the treatment of gastroenteritis, indigestion, to stimulate lactation and as an expectorant and an emmenagogue. Tea made from crushed fennel seeds has been used as an eyewash. Powdered fennel is said to drive fleas away from kennels and stables.
Side Effects of Fennel
Fennel may cause photodermatitis, contact dermatitis and cross reactions. The oil may induce hallucinations, seizures, etc. Poison hemlock may be mistaken for fennel.
Ingestion of the volatile oil may induce nausea, vomiting, seizures and pulmonary edema. Its therapeutic use in Morocco has occasionally inducec epileptiform madness and hallucinations. The principal hazards with fennel itself are photodermatitis and contac. dermatitis. Some individuals exhibit cross-reactivity tc several species of Apiaceae, characteristic of the socalled celery-carrot-mugwort-condiment syndrome. Rare allergic reactions have been reported following trs ingestion of fennel. Fennel oil was found to be genotoxic in the Bacillus subtilis DNA-repair test. Estragole, present in the volatile oil, has been shown to cause tumors in animals.
A survey of fennel samples in Italy found viable aerobic bacteria, including coliforms, fecal streptococci and Salmonella species suggesting the plant may serve as a vector of infectious gastrointestinal diseases.
A serious hazard associated with fennel is that poison hemlock can easily be mistaken for the herb. Hemlock contains highly narcotic coniine, and a small amount of hemlock juice can cause vomiting, paralysis and death.
Fennel is a popular herb that has been known since ancient times. It is widely used as a flavoring and scent and has served as an herbal remedy. Fennel oil contains compounds with estrogenic activity. The principal hazards associated with the plat are allergic reactions, photodermatitis and contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals, and some samples may be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. However, poison hemlock can be mistakenly identified as fennel.
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