The herb fennel has a long and colorful history. In ancient times, it was considered to be a sacred herb capable of curing nine separate instances of illness. Fennel is indigenous to the Mediterranean area and, since the Middle Ages, has been grown near monasteries.
The United States is now one of the leading producers of fennel but it the herb got its start in in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks called fennel "marathon." The herb grew in abundance in fields where a historic Grecian battle was fought. That battle was later dubbed "The Battle of Marathon."
Introduced to the United States in the 1800s, fennel is a hardy perennial.
Legend has it that snakes ate fennel to promote the shedding of their skin and to hone their vision. It has long been thought that fennel also helps improve the vision of humans and has a restorative and rejuvenatory effect on humans. Fennel apparently contains properties that are akin to amphetamines (speed) that stimulate the human system. Puritans reportedly ate it because it suppressed their appetite during times of religious fasting and it also helped keep them awake. Legend also has it that tucking a sprig of fennel into a horse's harness will discourage flies.
In medieval times, fennel was thought to be a treasured herb that treated disease and that brought good fortune to those who had it in their possession. People would put fennel in their keyholes to ward off evil spirits. Fennel was believed to cure many different medical problems including snakebites, toothaches, earaches and colic. The Romans, like the Puritans, consumed fennel to control their weight.
Fennel definitely plays a role in Greek mythology. This herb was cherished by the Greeks and Romans not only for it's culinary joys but its medicinal aspects as well as the powerful legend that "knowledge" was reportedly given to mankind by the gods in the form of a coal-filled fennel stalk.
What is Fennel, Exactly?
Fennel is an herb that is green and crunchy like celery and tastes like licorice and anise. According to WH Foods, fennel forms in a bulb from which long stalks shoot out. The stalks have feathery green leaves. The fennel seeds are produced from these leaves. All parts of the fennel plant are edible. Fennel has long been popular with Italian and Mediterranean cooks. Fennel is available from the late fall until the early spring.
Current opinion is that fennel tea helps relieves the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including gas and bloating, because it soothes the gastrointestinal tract; however, too much fennel may have the opposite effect and cause spasms, so be careful about how much you consume.
Fennel stimulates milk production (lactation) and has the same impact on the body as does estrogen. It can also be helpful in treating premenstrual and menopausal systems as well as jump-starting a shrinking libido. Many claim that drinking fennel tea is an effective treatment for conjunctivitis (eye infection).
If all of the claims about fennel are true, we should all be consuming it on a regular basis because fennel is an excellent source of Vitamin C and Vitamin B. It is beneficial to the immune system and may reduce cholesterol levels, is an excellent source of fiber and may prevent colon cancer.
Anethole found in the fennel oil reduces inflammation, so it would be good for arthritics. Anethole is thought to reduce recurrence of cancer. Research has shown that the "tumor necrosis factor" in humans is actually shut down when anethole is consumed.
If you have bad breath, drink some fennel tea, which reportedly freshens your breath. Fennel is also considered a good remedy for colds and can be used as a diuretic if you are full of fluids.
Pregnant women should avoid drinking fennel tea because it can act as an uterine stimulant. Do not apply fennel directly to your skin because it can irritate skin. Drinking copious amounts of fennel is not recommended because it can cause hallucinations and make your muscles spastic. Because fennel can disturb the nervous system if too much is consumed, discuss the consumption of fennel with your doctor or someone who is well-versed in herb usage.