It is a highly aromatic perennial herb, erect, glaucous green, and grows to 2 m tall. The leaves grow up to 40 cm long; they are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments filiform, about 0.5 mm wide. The flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels 515 cm wide, each umbel section with 2050 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels. The fruit is a dry seed from 49 mm long, half as wide or less, and grooved.
Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Mouse Moth and the Anise Swallowtail.
Cultivation and uses
Fennel is widely cultivated both in its native range and elsewhere of for its edible, strongly flavoured leaves and seeds. The flavour is similar to that of anise and star anise, though usually not so strong.
The Florence fennel (F. vulgare Azoricum Group) is a selection with inflated leaf bases which form a sort of bulb. It comes mainly from India and Egypt and it has a mild anise-like flavour, but is more aromatic and sweeter. Its flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise. Florence fennel is smaller than the wild type and has inflated leaf bases which are eaten as a vegetable, both raw and cooked. There are several cultivars of Florence fennel, which is also known by several other names, notably the Italian name finocchio. In United States supermarkets, it is often mislabeled as "anise".
Fennel has become naturalised along roadsides, in pastures, and other open sites in many regions, including northern Europe, the United States, southern Canada and in much of Asia and Australia. It is propagated by seed, and is considered to be a weed in Australia and the United States.
Both the foliage and seeds of the fennel plant have secure places in the culinary traditions of the world. Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice; brown or green in
Fennel seeds are sometimes confused with aniseed, which is very similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Indians often chew fennel seed (or saunf) as a mouth-freshener. Fennel is also used as a flavouring in some natural toothpastes. Some people employ it as a diuretic, while others use it to improve the milk supply of breastfeeding mothers.
Many cultures in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East incorporate fennel seed into their culinary traditions. It is an essential ingredient in the Bengali spice mixture Panch phoron and in Chinese five spice powders. It is known as saunf or moti saunf in Hindi and Urdu, mouri in Bengali, and shombu in the Tamil language.
Many egg, fish, and other dishes employ fresh or dried fennel leaves. Florence fennel is a key ingredient in some Italian and German salads, often tossed with chicory and avocado. One may also blanch and/or marinate the leaves, or cook them in risotto. In all cases, the leaves lend their characteristically mild, anise-like flavour.
Essential oil of Fennel is included in European and some national pharmacopoeias. It is traditionally used in drugs to treat chills and stomach problems.
Fennel essential oil is used in soaps, and some perfumes.
Other useful herb information: Stevia | Gentian | Gotu Kola | St johns wort | Pygeum | Dhea | Salvia
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