Fennel is a hardy, perennial, umbelliferous herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalised in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on riverbanks. Because it is highly aromatic, it has many culinary and medicinal uses. Fennel can be found growing wild along roadsides and in fields and it propagates well from seed. Florence Fennel was one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink in France and other countries.
The flowers of Fennel grow like an umbrella and eventually these seeds turn to the seed which can also be used in cooking or medicine. Fennel is thought to be good for the eyes and extracts of Fennel have been used in animal studies to treat Glaucoma.
The Fennel seed is used to flavour various dishes such as pastas and meat balls and is used in Asian cooking, including the five-spice powder used in Chinese cooking. The taste is not unlike anise, although it is not quite as strong and is often confused with anise. Fennel tea can be made by pouring boiling water on a teaspoon of crushed Fennel seeds and used as an anti-flatulent and for hypertension and other medical disorders. Fennel syrup can be used to treat babies with colic.
The swollen, bulb-like stem base of Fennel can be used as a vegetable, sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled or eaten raw in salad.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a Fennel plant to steal fire from the gods.
Fennel is also one of the plants which is said to be disliked by fleas, and powdered Fennel is supposed to drive away fleas from kennels and stables.