In outward appearance fennel is similar to dill but is a little larger. It has green-blue feathery leaves. Its flowers form in an umbrella shape which develops into seeds.
Fennel herb was used both for medicinal and culinary purposes by ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Indians, Romans and Greeks. Since that time it has been planted all over the world.
The ancient Greeks used the plant as an eye balm and a remedy to promote the flow of breast milk. Thanks to its diuretic properties fennel was considered to be a slimming herb. The Romans appreciated its digestive properties. That is why they used to end a meal with a fennel seed cake. In the 19th century fennel was classified as a tonic, galactagogenic, carminative, stomachic and emmenagogic.
The modern use of fennel derives from ancient Greek medicine which was prctised by Dioscorides and Hyppocrates. In Arabian medicine the herb is still used as an appetizer, diuretic and digestive. In Greek the name of its genus used to be Marathron for maraino which means to become thin. The modern genus name was introduced by ancient Romans. Some modern traditional medicines recommend fennel for such diseases as anorexia, dyspepsia and also flatulent colic, especially with children, some - for vomiting, diarrhea, pains in epigastrium, dysmenorrhea and a lot of other diseases.
In Germany the tree of fennel seed is a standard remedy for such a condition as dyspepsia. The herb is also widely used for cough honeys and syrups and in fennel seed tea, different bowel and stomach preparations , in the form of juice, syrup, water, aqueous infusion. Aniseed is a common component for combinations with fennel. In the USA fennel seeds are a frequent ingredient for galactagogue remedies. Fennel oil is prescribed for the same cases as fennel seeds. Both in the USA and in Germany oil of fennel is applied for cough remedies thanks to its expectorant properties. It can also be used as an ingredient for bowel and stomach remedies due to its carminative properties.
The German Commission E reported that fennel seeds promote gastrointestinal motility and highly concentrated it acts as an antispasmodic. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia proclaimed its action as carminative. A lot of experiments on animals were held in order to test fennel properties.
Commission E approved employment of the fennel seeds for mild, spastic gastrointestinal afflictions, flatulence, fullness and for catarrh of the upper respiratory tract. For catarrh of the upper respiratory tract with children fennel honey and fennel syrup are used.
In France fennel seed is proscribed for the same conditions as the star anise seed or aniseed.
Besides medicine, fennel seeds are widely used in the northern hemisphere as an ingredient to different dishes, such as breads, pickles, curries, crackers, grain and vegetable dishes, liquor, sausages and to apple pie. Being a good digestive, a saucer of fennel is served after a meal in Indian restaurants. In the Mediterranean leaves of wild fennel are also used as a herb.