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  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  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
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  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.