Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae), Foeniculum vulgare Mill.
Modified from: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker.
1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific
Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants
of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare Mill., is an erect growing perennial
herb native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean area. Reaching
a height of 1.5 meters, the plant has yellow flowers on a compound
umbel. Sweet or Roman fennel is thought to originate from Foeniculum
vulgare Mill. subspecies capillaceum (Galib.) Holmboe
var. dulce Mill., whereas bitter or wild fennel is from
Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subspecies capillaceum
(Galib.) Holmboe var. vulgare Mill. (8.2-53). Sweet
fennel has also been classified as Foeniculum vulgare Mill.
subspecies vulgare var. dulce Batt. and Trab., and
as Foeniculum dulce Mill. (14.1-4). The subspecies
of bitter fennel has been classified as piperitum rather
than capillaceum (4.3-38). Principal fennel production
areas are located in India, the People's Republic of China, Egypt,
Argentina, Indonesia, and Pakistan. The word foeniculum
is from the latin word for fragrant hay, reflecting the plant's
The reported life zone of fennel is 4 to 27 degrees centigrade
with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 2.6 meters and a soil pH
of 4.8 to 8.3 (4.1-31). Fennel thrives on well drained loam
Although a perennial, fennel is generally grown as an annual or
biennial crop. Yields of the dried fruit, commonly thought of
as fennel seed, are low in the first year but increase in the
second. The umbels do not mature uniformly, and several harvests
are therefore necessary to maximize yield. Mechanical harvesting
of commercial stands must be carefully timed to obtain high yields.
Approximately 60 percent of the essential oil is located in the
fruit, with the rest in the rays of the umber and other green
The oils of both sweet and bitter fennel seed, obtained by steam
distillation, contain anethole, fenchone, -pinene, camphene,
-pinene, sabenine, myrcene, -phellandrene, limonene,
cis-ocimene, para-cymene, camphor, and several
other volatile constituents as well as a fixed oil (8.2-53).
Bitter fennel oil is thought to contain more fenchone (a bitter
mixture with a camphor-like odor and flavor) and less anethole
than sweet fennel oil. Sweet fennel oil is of a superior quality
with a more pleasing aroma and flavor (14.1-9). Some analyses
have indicated a lack of fenchone in sweet fennel and high concentrations
of limonene in bitter fennel (8.2-53).
Fennel seed is used in the food and flavor industry for addition
to meats, vegetable products, fish sauces, soups, salad dressings,
stews, breads, pastries, teas, and alcoholic beverages. Crushed
seed has been used as a substitute for juniper in flavoring gin.
The essential oil and the oleoresin of fennel are used in condiments,
soaps, creams, perfumes, and liqueurs. Several types of fennel
differing in morphology and leaf color are available for ornamental
use and as a fresh vegetable.
As a medicinal plant, fennel seed has been used as an antispasmodic,
carminative, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, stimulant, and stomachic.
Fennel has also been used to stimulate lactation, as a remedy
against colic, and to improve the taste of other medicines. Chinese
herbal medicine includes the use of fennel for gastroenteritis,
hernia, indigestion, abdominal pain, and to resolve phlegm and
stimulate milk production (11.1-10). Fennel is known to provoke
both photodermatitis and contact dermatitis in humans (11.1-96).
The volatile oil may cause nausea, vomiting, seizures, and pulmonary
edema (1.8-100). The essential oil has been reported to stimulate
liver regeneration in rats (7.6-57) .
Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subspecies vulgare or capillaceum
var. azoricum (Mill.) Thell. is known as Florence or finocchio
fennel. This plant has a thickened base of leaves, which can be
blanched or boiled and eaten as a vegetable. Common giant fennel,
a robust plant 2 to 4 meters high and cultivated for its yellow
flowers, is actually Ferula communis L., another member
of the Apiaceae family (14.1-3).
Fennel is generally recognized as safe for human consumption when
used as a spice/natural flavoring or as an essential oil/oleoresin
(21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 ).
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997