Fennel is a perennial herb belonging to the carrot family - which also includes coriander, cumin, and dill.
The word fennel traces its roots to the Latin word feniculum, the diminutive of fenum, meaning "hay" - thought to be a description of the seed's aroma. As one of the world's oldest cultivated plants, fennel was prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used it as medicine, food, and even insect repellent. Through the Middle Ages, fennel was among the herbs found in medicinal arsenals of monks and apothecaries. Arab traders helped spread the plant from its native Mediterranean to Asia and India. Now, fennel is either farmed or found growing wild around the world.
Like the Florence Fennel, some cultivars grow a large white bulb and are eaten as a vegetable. It is delicious when roasted or raw - chopped as an addition to salads.
Pictured Bulbs of Fennel
The dried fruit, also called seed, is a prized spice known for its sweet anise-like taste and culinary versatility, used in everything from seasoning fish to pickling vegetables. It is an integral spice in the garam masala blend of India and the famed Chinese five-spice powder. Toasting the seeds will bring out more of the warm, licorice flavor.
Pictured Rumi Fennel Seeds
Fennel, praised by some for its antioxidants, is brewed as a tea. In his 1842 poem "The Goblet of Life," Longfellow repeatedly refers to the plant and mentions it's believed ability to improve eyesight:
Above the lower plants it towers,
The Fennel with its yellow flowers;
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers
Lost vision to restore.
Rumi will stick with its use in the kitchen, with a cup of hot licorice-scented fennel tea.
Pictured Cup of Fennel Tea