Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce belonging to the Family Umbelliferae, is a perennial herb with an erect stem which grows up to around 1.5 m high and is generally considered to be a native of the Mediterranean region. The use of the herb has a long history, apparently Pliny used it in at least 22 remedies and observed that serpents eat it ‘when they cast their old skins, and they sharpen their sight with the juice by rubbing against the plant.’ In mediaeval times, Fennel together with St. John’s Wort and other herbs, was hung over doors on Midsummer’s Eve to warn off evil spirits.
An almost colorless essential oil is obtained by steam distillation from the dried crushed ripe fruit that is commonly called the seed. While there are two varieties of fennel, common or bitter fennel and sweet fennel, it is the sweet fennel that is used in aromatherapy. The yield of essential oil is around 2 — 6% from the seed. The major component of the essential oil is trans-anethole with lesser amounts of fenchone, estragole (methyl chavicol), limonene, camphene, and a-pinene. The concentration of the phenol trans-anethole in the essential oil varies widely and depending on the varieties, sources, ripeness of the fruits and other factors can range from 50 — 90%
Fennel has a strong aroma reminiscent of aniseed and it blends well with lavender, geranium, lemon, rose and sandalwood.
Fennel and sweet fennel oil are used as a carminative or flavoring agent in certain laxative preparations. In Germany, the fruits are used in phytomedicines for dyspeptic disorders, mild gastrointestinal antispasmodic as well as an expectorant for upper respiratory tract conditions. Both bitter and sweet fennel essential oils are used as fragrance components in cosmetics, including soaps, detergents, creams, lotions and perfumes. Sweet fennel oil is widely used in most major food products, including alcoholic (liqueurs) and nonalcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatins and puddings, meat and meat products, and condiments and relishes, among others.
Psychologically, Fennel helps to ease nervous tension and stress and gives strength and courage. It can help to heal issues to do with victimization, dread of new ideas and taking back of one’s power.
On the physiological level Fennel has digestive, diuretic, emmenagogic, expectorant and laxative properties. It can be helpful for disorders of a nervous origin and congestion. It can be particularly helpful with conditions of the digestive system as well as simple water retention, cellulite and obesity.
Contraindications:. Generally considered non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing, it should be avoided during pregnancy and with those who have epilepsy.
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils, Krieger Publishing Company, 1952, reprint 1976
Leung and Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients, John Wiley & Sons, 1996
Beverley Hawkins Aromatherapy 201 Course 1999 revised 2000……2004