FENNEL - extracted from the pages of One Planet - http://www.oneplanetnatural.com/spicetrade.htm

(species Foeniculum vulgare), perennial or biennial aromatic herb of the family Apiaceae (Umbelliferae). Because fennel is grown in dry areas, seed can be sown only after the spring monsoon. Seeds are ready for harvest when they harden and turn a greenish gray. The plants are then cut by hand and dried. The fennel seed has a warm, sweet, agreeable flavor and an odor similar to licorice and anise seed. Today, the three largest sources of fennel seed are India, Egypt, and China. Of these, Egyptian fennel is considered the premium because of its consistent flavor, size, color, and cleanliness. In countries where fennel is grown, it is sometimes used like a bank account by farmers who bring it to market when they need cash. For this reason, buyers constantly monitor the market to buy only the freshest available. Since ancient times, fennel seed has been enjoyed as a condiment and valued for its supposed medicinal qualities. The name is derived from the Latin foenum meaning 'hay.' In ancient Greece, it was considered a symbol of success. In fact, the Greek word for fennel is "marathon," because the Greek victory over the Persians in 470 b.c. at Marathon was fought on a field of fennel. According to a Greek myth, knowledge came to man from Olympus in the form of a fiery coal contained in a fennel stalk. In more recent history, the Puritans referred to it as the "meeting seed" because it was a favorite practice to chew the seed during meetings. Throughout the centuries, fennel has been used in medicines to relieve everything from a toothache to colic. The seeds are considered an appetite suppressant. All parts of the plant are aromatic and used in flavouring; the blanched shoots are eaten as a vegetable; and the seed is a traditional carminative.

The cultivated plant is about 3 feet (1 m) tall and has stalks with finely divided leaves composed of many linear or awl-shaped segments. The grayish, compound umbels bear small yellow flowers. The fruits, or seeds, are greenish brown to yellowish brown oblong ovals about 6 mm (0.25 inch) long with five prominent longitudinal dorsal ridges. Their aroma and taste are suggestive of anise. They contain 3 to 4 percent essential oil; the principal components are anethole and fenchone. The seeds and extracted oil are used for scenting soaps and perfumes and for flavouring candies, liqueurs, medicines, and foods, particularly pastry, sweet pickles, and fish.

Giant fennel is Ferula communis, a member of the same family, native to the Mediterranean region, where the stems, which grow to about 10 feet (3 m) high, are used for tinder. Hog's fennel, or sulfurweed, Peucedanum officinale, is another member of the Apiaceae family, but the fennel flower, Nigella sativa, is a member of the family Ranunculaceae.

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