Fennel flowers. Photo by Steve Andrews
The fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a common medicinal and culinary herb often found growing wild by the sea. It is a tall plant with umbels of yellowish flowers and produces finely divided feathery foliage that is very aromatic and smells like anise.
Fennel is native to the Mediterranean, parts of Europe and the UK but is found in many other parts of the world, including America, Canada and Australia. It is a perennial plant and likes to grow in grassy areas and on waste-ground near the sea and is often to be found when foraging in coastal areas. It is very common in the north of Tenerife in the Canary Islands and can be found on the other islands.
Fennel is included and recommended in Richard Mabey’s Food For Free, which is an excellent book on edible plants that can be found while foraging and that has been republished over and over and is now in its fortieth year after its first publication.
The aniseed aroma that fennel produces is a very good way to identify this herb which is in the Apiaceae or parsley family, a group of plants that also has several very poisonous species such as the hemlock.
Fennel, from Koehler's Medicinal-plants (1887) in Public Domain
Fennel seeds are good in curries and other spicy dishes and can be used to make fennel tea. In Spanish the herb is known as hinojo and teabags are commonly sold in grocery stores and supermarkets under this name.
Fresh fennel leaves can be eaten in salad, used as a garnish or made into sauces which are very good with oily fish. Fennel is actually very good for indigestion so using it in your cooking makes a lot of sense.
There is a variety of fennel known as Florence fennel or finnochio that has a bulb at the base and this is popular as a vegetable to be eaten raw or cooked.
In herbal medicine fennel is recommended for digestive problems and is said to improve the vision. It is also said to be an aid to slimming.
Fennel can be grown easily in the herb garden and will produce large clumps. There is a bronze fennel too with attractively coloured foliage.