Fennel – a Sacred Garden Herb

 My fennel (Foeniculum vulgare syn. Anethum foeniculum) plants are starting to come into seed. I love this delicate, feathery aromatic plant, and find so many uses for it. It really is a gift of the Gods.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all ate fennel’s seeds, aromatic leaves and tender shoots. [1] Young shoots were cooked as vegetables, the raw stalks were chopped into salads, and seeds were placed under loaves of bread as they were baked to add flavour.[2] The seeds, bulb and leaves are all used in cooking. The flowers and feathery leaves can be sprinkled into salads, soups and sauces.  The stems, which resemble celery, have a pleasant anise-like flavour. They can be diced into soups and salads, or used for savouring stews and stir-fry vegetables, or eaten like celery sticks.  Fennel seeds are used to flavour bread, cakes, pastries, soups, stews and sweet pickles, apple pie, and tomato-based sauces. The fennel ‘root’ you can buy is Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce).  The edible white bulb is actually stacked leaves, and not a root at all.

And then fennel is great for the skin! It has skin-softening and anti-aging properties. Use a fennel seed tea (see below) as a wash to cleanse and tone the skin, remove grime, excess grease and dead skin cells. It will firm the skin, tighten pores and reduce wrinkles. If you wake up with swollen and sore eyes, prepare a cup of fennel tea, soak a cotton ball in it and place it over your closed eyelids for 10 minutes. Use fennel seed tea as a final hair rinse to cleanse chemical residues, revitalise hair, strengthen hair follicles, and to treat dandruff and scalp problems. Rub cellulite patches with a paste of ground fennel seeds and water or use the paste as an exfoliant. If you have acne, add some crushed fennel seeds to a bowl of boiling water, and give your face a cleansing steam, by leaning over the bowl with a towel over your head to keep the steam in.

Fennel has been used in healing since ancient times. In the third century BCE the Greek Hippocrates used it as a stomach soother for infant colic, Dioscorides recommended it to nursing mothers, and the Roman naturalist Pliny included the plant in 22 remedies. [3] The Physicians of Myddfai declared “He who sees fennel and gathers it not, is not a man, but a devil”,’[4] while the mediaeval abbess and herbalist Hidegard of Bingen wrote: ‘Fennel forces (a person) back into the right balance of joyfulness and that its benefits included good digestion and a good body odour. Is it any wonder that Charlemagne mandated its growth in every garden? [5]

Fennel is considered an antispasmodic herb, meaning that it relaxes the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract, so it is used for gas pains, indigestion and IBS.  Many Indian restaurants have a bowl of fennel seeds provided as an aid to digestion. [6] Fennel contains a compound called fenchone, which helps relax the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract. Chew a few fennel seeds or drink Fennel Seed Tea twenty or thirty minutes before a meal to prevent cramping and dispel wind in the gut.

Fennel Seed Tea

1 tsp seed, slightly crushed

1 cup boiling water

Infuse 10 minutes in a covered container (a teapot is good), strain and drink.

It also has anti-acidic properties and is extensively used in commercial antacid preparations. A cup of Fennel Seed Tea can help ease heartburn. Commission E (the German equivalent of the FDA) endorses fennel for treating digestive upsets. [7]

Fennel is also used for treating cough and catarrh as Fennel Seed Tea is a mild expectorant, containing the phytochemicals cineole and anethole, effective in treating inflammation of the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, helping remove mucus and phlegm from the lungs.

Fennel is a diuretic, increasing urination. Its reputation as a weight loss herb may simply relate to its diuretic action, though fennel seeds have the reputation of supressing appetite. The ancient Greeks called fennel maraino which means ‘to grow thin’, believing it contributed to weight loss, while Roman ladies took fennel to prevent obesity. [8] Culpeper also wrote “…all parts of the fennel plant used in drink or broth to make people lean that are too fat”. They were believed to stave off hunger and were used by those fasting on Christian feast days, and widely employed in old and modern slimming formulas. [9]. Fennel seeds are used to be used by people fasting to combat hunger, so Fennel Seed Tea may be useful if you are dieting.

Last but not least, a cup of Fennel Seed Tea may relieve a hangover!

Fennel is one of our most widely used sacred garden herbs. According to Greek mythology, [10] the earliest humans lived naked, cold and hungry, without hope or inspiration. The Titan Prometheus (‘Foresight’) felt pity for them, and implored the Olympian gods to help but they refused, saying that they didn’t want humans to become more like gods.  Deciding to act alone, Prometheus stole fire from the hearth of the gods and, concealing it in a fennel stalk, took it down to the earth.  He taught humans how to warm their homes and how to use fire to cook. Bleakness and darkness were now illuminated by light and hope. People learned how to grow food, domesticate animals, craft metal, create art and writing, to pursue philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. One spark of celestial fire concealed in a fennel stalk made all the difference.

Everything is illuminated and vitalised from within a divine spark from the gods; it animates all life. Inspiration sent by the Gods is called the ‘fire in the head’, where thought and spirit meet to create something new. Sometimes we feel that the fire within has gone out, and this is when you can utilise the magic of fennel. The abbess Hildegard of Bingen said “However fennel is eaten, it makes men merry, and gives them a pleasant warmth…”  If you are feeling stuck, low and uninspired, fennel can be employed in spells, rituals and spiritual work to ignite the fire within. Use in the form of Fennel Tea, in spells, rituals, incenses, charm bags, sachets and talismans. One spark is all that is needed to change a life or indeed, the world.

Fennel is a protective herb, used to dispel negative influences. It is one of the sacred herbs mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Nine Herbs Charm recorded in the 10th-century CE [11] to treat the ‘flying venom’ thought to cause disease, or those who had been ‘elf shot’ i.e. bewitched with illness after being shot by fairy arrows. The nine herbs (fennel, mugwort, cockspur grass [or perhaps betony], lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, crab-apple and thyme), were used as a herbal salve and a recited charm, the Lacnunga, or Lay of the Nine Herbs.  During the Middle Ages fennel was hung over the door on the dangerous Midsummer’s Eve to keep away evil spirits. The seeds were also pushed into keyholes in the belief that this would prevent ghosts from entering. For protection and purification, fennel can be used in incenses, add fennel seeds to charms, amulets, talismans, add Fennel Seed Tea or Fennel Leaf Tea to the ritual bath or use in a wash to cleanse ritual space and magical tools. Use Fennel Seed Tea to magically seal doorways and windows to prevent evil from entering.

CAUTIONS:

Fennel is considered safe for most people, but do not use on children and avoid if you have bleeding disorders, hormone sensitive cancers or are taking Tamoxifen, have endometriosis or uterine fibroids.  Fennel may slightly decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. Pregnant women should not take fennel as a medicinal herb internally as it is a uterine stimulant, though small amounts used in cooking are considered safe.

© Anna Franklin, July 2020

[1] Jeanne D’Andréa, Ancient Herbs In the J. Paul Getty Museum Gardens, ©1982 The J. Paul Getty Museum

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael Castleman, The New Healing Herbs, Rodale Inc., New York, 2001

[4] John Pughe (trans.), The Physicians of Myddfai, The Welsh Mss. Society, facsimile reprint Llanerch Publishers, Felinach, 1993

[5] https://jonbarron.org/herbal-library/foods/fennel accessed 13.9.17

[6] Michael Castleman, The New Healing Herbs, Rodale Inc., New York, 2001

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] Julie Brunton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Kitchen Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books Ltd, London, 2010

[10] Hesiod

[11] Pettit, Edward. 2001. Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The ‘Lacnunga’, 2 vols. (Lewiston and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press).

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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