Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), is a hardy, perennial, umbelliferous herb, bearing yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is a very aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the active ingredient of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland.

Fennel is an erect, glaucous green plant with hollow stems. It is an perennial herb, and grows up to 2.5 m tall. The feathery leaves, 40 cm long, are similar to those of dill, but thinner. They are finely dissected, and thread-like, about 0.5 mm wide. The yellow flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels 5-15 cm wide. Each umbel segment consists of 20-50 tiny flowers on short pedicels. The fruit is a grooved, dry seed of 4-10 mm long.

Fennel is widely cultivated for its edible, strongly-flavored leaves and fruits, which are often mistermed as seeds. Its aniseed flavor comes from an aromatic compound called anethole. Fennel has taste and aroma that are similar to anise and star anise, but not as strong.

The Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var azoricum) is a cultivar with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable, both raw and cooked. It has a mild anise-like flavor, but is more aromatic and sweeter.

The bulb, foliage, and seeds of the fennel plant are widely used in many cuisines of the world. Fennel pollen is the most potent form and the most expensive. Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavored spice. It is green or brown when fresh, and slowly turning a dull gray as the seed ages. The bulb is a crisp, hardy root vegetable and may be sauteed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw.

Fennel seeds are sometimes confused with anise, due to the similarity in taste and appearance, though smaller. The whole fennel plant is used extensively in Mediterranean cuisine, in side dishes, salads, pastas, vegetable dishes, and risottos. In Italy, fennel seed is a common ingredient in sausages and meatballs, and in northern Europe, it is added to rye breads.

Fennel seed is an important ingredient in Middle East, Indian subcontinent and Asia. It is an important ingredient spice in Kashmiru Pandit cooking, an essential ingredient of the Assamese/Bengali/Oriya spice mixture panch phoron, and Chinese five-spice powders.

Fennel seed is known as saunf or mauti saunf in Hindi and Urdu, sompu in Telegu, mouri in Bengali, jintan manis in Malay, and shomra in Arabic. In Pakistan and India, roasted fennel seeds are consumed as an after-meal digestive and breath freshener. in some parts of India, fennel leaves are used as a leafy green vegetables either by themselves or mixed with other vegetables, cooked to be served and consumed as a part of a meal. In Lebanon, fennel leaves are used to make iijeh, a type of egg omelette.

Fennel contains anethole, a flavoring substance of commercial value, used in alcoholic drinks, seasoning and confectionery applications, oral hygiene products, and in small quantities in natural berry flavors. Fennel water, when mixed with sodium bicarbonate and syrup, will constitute the domestic 'gripe water', used to ease flatulence in infants. It can also be made into a syrup to treat babies with colic or painful teething. Fennel seeds or tea can relax the intestines and reduce bloating by digestive disorders in adults.

Author: Karelj (public domain)

Fennel flowersFennel flowers
Author: H. Zell (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Fennel flowersFennel flowers
Author: H. Zell (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Fennel seedsFennel seeds
Author: Howcheng (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

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