All you need to know about this abundant, Mediterranean perennial.
Delving into Gozo’s natural medicine with Heléna Szöllősy.
You can’t fail to miss the abundance of wild fennel across the Maltese islands. Its’ unique aniseed aroma hits your nose perfectly after rainfall. But read on for ample reasons why you should pick a bunch on your next walk in Gozo.
Foeniculum vulgare- Mill.
Botanical name: Foeniculum vulgare- Mill. Synonyms: Anethum dulce, Anethum foeniculum, Foeniculum divaricatum, Foeniculum officinale, Seseli foeniculum. Family name: Apiaceae or Umbelliferae Maltese name: Bużbież Common names: Fennel, Sweet fennel, Fenkel
Fennel is a perennial, umbelliferous plant. It has thick, white rootstalk and hollow, striated stems. Leaves are feathery, deeply cut, alternate and triply pinnate. It is erect, glaucous green, and grows to heights of up to 2.5 m, with hollow stems. The leaves grow up to 40 cm long; they are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments filiform (threadlike), about 0.5 mm wide. (Its leaves are similar to those of dill but thinner.) Flowers are yellow, produced in large terminal compound umbels 5–15 cm wide, each umbel section having 20–50 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels. On Gozo the plant flowers from May to October. The fruit is a dry seed from 4–10 mm long, half as wide or less, and grooved.
- Habitats: Found most often in dry stony calcareous soils near the sea
- Range: It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, South Europe. widely naturalized in many parts of the world
- Status for Malta: Indigenous. Originating from Maltese islands. Very common in the wild.
- Parts used: the whole plant- essential oil, leaves, roots, oilseeds.
- Medicinal use: Analgesic, Anodyne, Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Antiviral, Appetite Depressant, Aromatic, Carminative, Depurative, Diuretic, Emmenagogue, Expectorant, Galactagogue, Hallucinogenic, Insect repellents, Laxative, Splenic, Stimulant, Stomachic, Vulnerary.
- Main constituents: alpha-pinene, anethole (50 to 80%), complex carbohydrates, creosol, essential oil (up to 5% containing), estragole, flavonoids, fenchone, fibre, limonene, organic acids, polysaccharides, tannins.
The seeds, leaves and roots can be used, but the seeds are most active medicinally.
- Fennel is most commonly used in treatments of gastrointestinal disorders. It has shown to be extremely helpful in the relief of abdominal cramps, gas, indigestion, and bloating.
- It is remarkably successful as an appetite suppressant.
- Fennel extracts are known to have estrogenic properties, and therefore are extremely helpful in coping with hormonal imbalances caused by menopause.
- Due to its calming effect, it can also be included in treatments of asthma, coughs, and bronchitis.
- An infusion is used in the treatment of indigestion, abdominal distension, stomach pains etc.
- An infusion of the root is used to treat urinary disorders.
- It helps in the treatment of kidney stones and, when combined with a urinary disinfectant like Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, makes an effective treatment for cystitis.
- Fennel is often added to purgatives in order to allay their tendency to cause gripe, and also to improve the flavour.
- An infusion of the seeds is a safe and effective cure for wind in babies.
- Drinking a cup of fennel seed tea 15 minutes before eating a heavy meal seems to take the edge off your appetite.
- An essential oil obtained from the seed is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is ‘Normalising’. The essential oil is bactericidal, carminative, and stimulant.
Fennel can be used as a gargle for sore throats and as an eyewash for sore eyes and conjunctivitis.
You can eat the leaves, raw or cooked, they are a delicious aniseed flavour. The young leaves are best since older ones soon become tough. The leaves are difficult to store dried, though this does not really matter since they can often be harvested all year round, especially if the plants are in a warm, sheltered position,
- They are often used as a garnish on raw or cooked dishes and make a very pleasant addition to salads.
- They help to improve digestion and so are particularly useful with oily food.
- You can eat the leaf stalks and flower heads raw or cooked. The aromatic seeds are used as a flavouring in cakes, bread and stuffing. They also improve digestion.
- Sun-dried seeds are used as food flavouring.
- The sprouted seeds can be added to salads.
- Make an essential oil from the fully ripened dried seed.
- Cook the root, the leaves or the seeds and use to make a pleasant-tasting herbal tea.
Precautions: Skin contact with the sap or essential oil is said to cause photosensitivity and/or dermatitis in some people. The essential oil should not be given to pregnant women. Avoid if cirrhosis/liver disorders. Diabetics check sugar content of preparation.
Recipe: FENNEL AND ALMOND SALAD
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, thinly sliced, fronds reserved
- 1/2 cup natural almond kernels, roughly chopped
- Roughly chop 2 tablespoons of fennel.
- Whisk lemon juice, oil, and salt together in a bowl.
- Season with pepper.
- Place the fennel in a large bowl. Add the almonds and lemon mixture.
- Toss to combine. Serve.
Author : Heléna Szöllősy. Editor: GITH
Helena is an expert on the medicinal properties of plants having trained in Herbal Medicine and Naturopathy, specialising in Phytotherapy including Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Apitherapy and Bach Flower Therapy.