We all know the pleasant taste of Fennel sauce when eaten with

boiled mackerel. This culinary condiment is made with Sweet

Fennel, cultivated in our kitchen gardens, and which is a variety of

the wild Fennel growing commonly in England as the Finkel,

especially in Cornwall and Devon, on chalky cliffs near the sea. It is

then an aromatic plant of the umbelliferous order, but differing from

the rest of its tribe in produ
ing bright yellow flowers.

Botanically, it is the Anethum foeniculum, or small fragrant

hay of the Romans, and the Marathron of the Greeks. The whole

plant has a warm carminative taste, and the old Greeks esteemed it

highly for promoting the secretion of milk in nursing mothers.

Macer alleged that the use of Fennel was first taught to man by

serpents. His classical lines on the subject when translated run


By eating herb of Fennel, for the eyes

A cure for blindness had the serpent wise;

Man tried the plant; and, trusting that his sight

Might thus be healed, rejoiced to find him right.

Hac mansa serpens oculos caligine purgat;

Indeque compertum est humanis posse mederi

Illum hominibus: atque experiendo probatum est.

Pliny also asserts that the ophidia, when they cast their skins, have

recourse to this plant for restoring their [180] sight. Others have

averred that serpents wax young again by eating of the herb;

Wherefore the use of it is very meet for aged folk.

Fennel powder may be employed for making an eyewash: half-a-teaspoonful

infused in a wineglassful of cold water, and decanted when

clear. A former physician to the Emperor of Germany saw a

monk cured by his tutor in nine days of a cataract by only applying

the roots of Fennel with the decoction to his eyes.

In the Elizabethan age the herb was quoted as an emblem of flattery;

and Lily wrote, Little things catch light minds; and fancie is a

worm that feedeth first upon Fennel. Again, Milton says, in

Paradise Lost, Book XI:--

The savoury odour blown,

Grateful to appetite, more pleased my sense

Than smell of sweetest Fennel.

Shakespeare makes the sister of Laertes say to the King, in

Hamlet, when wishing to prick the royal conscience, There's

Fennel for you. And Falstaff commends Poins thus, in Henry the

Fourth, He plays at quoits well, and eats conger, and Fennel.

The Italians take blanched stalks of the cultivated Fennel (which

they call Cartucci) as a salad; and in Germany its seeds are added

to bread as a condiment, much as we put caraways in some of our

cakes. The leaves are eaten raw with pickled fish to correct its oily

indigestibility. Evelyn says the peeled stalks, soft and white, when

dressed like salery, exercise a pleasant action conducive to sleep.

Roman bakers put the herb under their loaves in the oven to make

the bread taste agreeably.

Chemically, the cultivated Fennel plant furnishes a volatile aromatic

oil, a fixed fatty principle, sugar, and some [181] in the root; also a

bitter resinous extract. It is an admirable corrective of flatulence;

and yields an essential oil, of which from two to four drops taken on

a lump of sugar will promptly relieve griping of the bowels with

distension. Likewise a hot infusion, made by pouring half-a-pint of

boiling water on a teaspoonful of the bruised seeds will comfort

belly ache in the infant, if given in teaspoonful doses sweetened

with sugar, and will prove an active remedy in promoting female

monthly regularity, if taken at the periodical times, in doses of a

wineglassful three times in the day. Gerard says, The green leaves

of the Fennel eaten, or the seed made into a ptisan, and drunk, do fill

women's brestes with milk; also the seed if drunk asswageath the

wambling of the stomacke, and breaketh the winde. The essential

oil corresponds in composition to that of anise, but contains a

special camphoraceous body of its own; whilst its vapour will cause

the tears and the saliva to flow. A syrup prepared from the

expressed juice was formerly given for chronic coughs.

W. Coles teaches in Nature's Paradise, that both the leaves,

seeds, and roots, are much used in drinks and broths for those that

are grown fat, to abate their unwieldinesse, and make them more

gaunt and lank. The ancient Greek name of the herb, Marathron,

from maraino, to grow thin, probably embodied the same notion.

In warm climates, said Matthiolus, the stems are cut, and there

exudes a resinous liquid, which is collected under the name of

fennel gum.

The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia orders Sweet Fennel seeds,

combined with juniper berries and caraway seeds, for making with

spirit of wine, the 'compound spirit of juniper,' which is noted for

promoting a copious flow of urine in dropsy. The bruised plant, if

applied [182] externally, will speedily relieve toothache or earache.

This likewise proves of service as a poultice to resolve chronic

swellings. Powdered Fennel is an ingredient in the modern laxative

compound liquorice powder with senna. The flower, surrounded

by its four leaves, is called in the South of England, Devil in a

bush. An old proverb of ours, which is still believed in New

England, says, that Sowing Fennel is sowing sorrow. A modern

distilled water is now obtained from the cultivated plant, and

dispensed by the druggist. The whole herb has been supposed to

confer longevity, strength and courage. Longfellow wrote a poem

about it to this effect.

The fine-leaved Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe Phellandrium),

is the Water Fennel.