Saturday, May 10, 2014
Parts used: leaves, stalks, seeds
Meridians/Organs affected: digestive, urinary, respiratory, spleen, liver, stomach, kidney, female reproductive
Properties: aromatic, antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, galactogogue, emmenogogue, stomachic, tonic, diaphoretic
Fennel is a member of the Umbelliferae family along with carrot, dill and Queen Anne's lace. It has gray-green feathery fronds that protrude from celery-like stalks and produce lovely yellow flowers on flat topped umbels. The flowers turn to grayish-brown seeds that taste similar to licorice but with a milder flavor. Fennel can get up to four feet in height and is a native of the Mediterranean, particularly Italy, but can now be found all over the globe. It is a beautifully aromatic plant that needs a long growing season and is best planted alone away from other garden plants in a sunny spot.
Fennel is one of those plants that date back to ancient times. The Chinese, Egyptians, and East Indians all used it medicinally as well as a food. Hippocrates and Dioscorides both recommended it to nursing mothers to increase milk flow (something it is still used for today) and Pliny used it for eye conditions. The Romans used it for digestive complaints and would often eat it in cakes or breads after meals to assist with indigestion and to freshen breath. The Greeks used fennel as a slimming herb as it helps to control appetite and acts as a mild diuretic. It was an ingredient in 'gripewater' along with dill to ease colic in infants. The Chinese used fennel to pull the poison from snake and insect bites. Culpeper said it 'expels wind, provokes urine, and eases the pains of the stone and helps it to break." During medieval times it was hung over doors to repel devils and witches and the seeds were put in locks to keep ghosts out (wonder if they were thinking about using a key after stuffing the lock full of fennel...).
Fennel is known to freshen breath and help expel gas from the system and improve digestion. It is commonly used in Asian cultures for gastrointestinal spasms, acid stomach, heartburn, abdominal pain and colon disorders. Fennel is also used as an expectorant for asthma and bronchitis. It has been proven effective for gout, pain, convulsions (except for epilepsy), and to help cancer patients after they have been through treatment. It has been useful for menstrual issues involving irregular menses and to help with jaundice conditions when the liver is obstructed.
The first mention of fennel essential oil was in 1500 in a book called, 'On the Art of Distillation' by Jerome Brunschweig. Fennel oil is distilled from the seeds and smells very similar to anise. Fennel oil helps to detoxify the body, aid in cellulite reduction and suppress the appetite. It has been used successfully for gout, arthritis, rheumatism, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, hiccups, nausea, vomiting, to strengthen muscle tone, fight gum infections and help rehabilitate alcoholics and drug abusers; it acts to counter alcohol poisoning and has a tonifying effect on the spleen, liver and kidneys. It helps with puffiness, inflammation and conjunctivitis. Perhaps the best known use for fennel is that of a culinary nature. It is the herb most commonly paired with fish and is often used in soups and salads. The seeds are used in salamis, breads, curries and in Chinese Five Spice. The stalks can be cooked like celery or eaten raw (my favorite way to eat them). Fennel is also used to flavor the liquor Sambuca.
Fennel should not be used by pregnant women as it can stimulate menstruation.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links below for your perusal. Use them as you feel you need to.