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What is Foeniculum Vulgare?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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Foeniculum vulgare, also known as fennel, is a well-known herb cultivated for its culinary and medicinal applications. Commonly used as a remedy for indigestion, fennel is a perennial plant grown in temperate climates and harvested during the summer and fall. Though side effects associated with the use of foeniculum are rare, women who are pregnant should consume fennel in moderation.

Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, foeniculum vulgare is widely cultivated in temperate climates for its leaves and seeds. Fennel leaves are generally harvested during the months leading up to the first frost. Belonging to the parsley family, fennel is a feathery perennial plant that matures to a height of 6 feet (2 m). The delicate, yellow flowers of the foeniculum vulgare are frequently used to accentuate summer, floral bouquets.

Historically, foeniculum vulgare has been used to treat various disorders associated with the digestive system, such as constipation, heartburn, and abdominal discomfort. The fennel's volatile oils contribute to the secretion of digestive enzymes needed to promote healthy digestion and, for this reason, the herb is a popular culinary ingredient used for seasoning and preservation purposes. Stems and leaves of the foeniculum vulgare are used in vegetable, seafood, and dairy dishes. The herb may also be employed to flavor cooking oils, meats, and marinades. Commercially, fennel is utilized as a preservative for condiments and prepared meats, such as pepperoni.

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Since ancient Greece, fennel has been utilized to increase lactation for nursing mothers. Historically, fennel has also been associated with strengthening eyesight and as a treatment for eye conditions, including fatigue, irritation, and infection. The detoxification properties of fennel make it a valuable herb for cleansing the body, promoting weight loss, and fighting infection. Traditionally, herbal fennel infusions have been used to treat infections associated with the respiratory system.

Foeniculum vulgare seeds may be prepared as an herbal infusion, decoction, or tincture to alleviate symptoms associated with various disorders. Combined with herbs, such as rhubarb, fennel tinctures may be used to regulate the bowels and alleviate constipation. When prepared as a tincture, 0.5 to 1 teaspoon (about 2 to 4 ml) may be drunk three times a day. Prepared as a mouthwash, fennel may be utilized to treat sore throats and laryngitis. Fennel essential oil can be used to ease discomfort associated with aching, inflamed joints, or as a topical herbal remedy for treating tooth and ear pain.

When fennel root is prepared as a decoction, it may be used to treat urinary issues and for alleviating symptoms associated with high concentrations of uric acid in the body. As an herbal tea, 0.5 teaspoon (about 1.2 grams) of whole fennel seeds are crushed and prepared per cup of water. After boiled for generally 15 minutes, the tea is strained and cooled. Herbalists and holistic medical practitioners commonly recommend the herbal decoction be taken up to three times a day. Prepared as an infusion or syrup, fennel may be given to babies who are teething or colicky.

Leaves collected for long-term storage are best harvested during the morning hours once the dew has evaporated. The collected stems of the foeniculum vulgare should be hung upside down and dried in an arid environment. Once the stems and leaves have dried, the leaves may be removed and stored in airtight containers away from direct sunlight. Fennel seeds are harvested during the fall after they have reached maturation. As with the leaves, fennel seeds should be kept in an airtight container and away from direct sunlight.

There can be a rare allergic response induced when an individual consumes the fennel fruit. The volatile oil of fennel and its prepared extracts should only be consumed in minimal doses due to the risk of skin irritation, vomiting, respiratory distress, and seizure. Due to its potential health hazards, fennel oil should never be used as a culinary or self-medication ingredient. Women who are pregnant should avoid using fennel excessively due to its potential estrogenic effects.

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