How to Use Fennel

Fennel can be used in a variety of ways. Learn how to use fennel for culinary, medicinal and gardening purposes.

| June 2014

  • Fennel is a tall perennial with hollow, upright stems, and glossy, aromatic leaves.
    Illustration courtesy The Chelsea Physic Garden
  • “Herbal” by Deni Bown is an illustrated collection of 150 essential herbs for modern living.
    Cover courtesy Pavilion Books

Inspired by the extensive herb grounds of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, herbalist Deni Bown has cataloged 150 essential herbs for modern living. Herbal (Pavilion Books Ltd., 2001) is an excellent source book for experts and novices alike. With Bown’s expertise and anecdotes, the story of each herb unfolds and is heavily illustrated with personal photographs and botanical name plates. In the following excerpt, use the herb profile to learn how to use fennel in everything from soap to soup.

Herb Profile: Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare


A tall perennial, reaching 2m (6ft), with hollow, upright stems, and glossy, aromatic leaves that are divided into thread-like segments. Umbels of tiny, dull yellow flowers are produced in summer, followed by grey-brown seeds. Fennel originated in southern Europe and the Mediterranean but is naturalized in coastal areas and waste ground in most temperate countries. In Mediterranean regions, sweet or Roman fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) predominates, while in central Europe and Russia, the bitter or wild fennel (F. vulgare) is more common. The essential oil from these strains is quite different.


The use of fennel as a culinary and medicinal herb dates back to at least ancient Egyptian times. Egyptian herbals recommended it as a remedy for eye problems, and in ancient Greece it was taken as an aid to slimming. Throughout history it has also been regarded as an antidote to poisons, especially to snake venom. In medieval times the seeds were eaten during Lent to allay hunger, and put in keyholes to bar the entry of ghosts.

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