Sweet Fennel

Sweet clover

Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce Apiceae Also called Florence fennel, Finocchio

A native of southern Europe and the Mediterranean, sweet fennel can grow to a height of nearly 2m, with elegant, long, slender leaves and pretty umbrella-shaped clusters of yellow scented flowers. Some gardeners grow it purely as an ornamental plant. The tiny fruits are a yellowy green, ridged with black, and have a penetrating sugary flavour.

Parts used

  • Root, leaves and fruit (seeds)
  • The roots are harvested in autumn and dried. Sachets of dried root, which are used for infusions, are often on sale in pharmacies.
  • The leaves can be collected at any time, and are used in cookery as a flavouring and garnish.
  • The fruit - usually referred to as 'seed' - is collected when ripe, then dried. Medicinally, it is used to prepare infusions, powders, capsules and liquid extracts. An essential oil is also extracted from it.


Sweet fennel contains a large amount of essential oil, which is rich in anethole, a white crystalline substance with the odour of liquorice. About 60 per cent of this oil is found in the fruit.


Because the anethole in sweet fennel essential oil can be toxic in high doses, the essential oil, like that of anise, should only ever be taken under prescription from a medical herbalist. Preparations should always be taken under medical herbalist supervision.

Sweet fennel essential oil and any products containing it should never be used by pregnant women.


For internal use

TO TREAT digestive problems INFUSION Put 1 teaspoon of dried seeds in 200ml of boiling water. Cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain. Drink three times a day after meals.

TO TREAT constipation INFUSION Add 1 dessertspoon of dried root to a cup of boiling water. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes, then strain. Take three times a day before meals.


Medicinal uses

Essential oil of sweet fennel is traditionally used to treat digestive problems, such as sluggishness, flatulence, constipation, bloating and belching. It also has diuretic and anti-inflammatory powers and can help remedy ailments of the urinary system. It is also reputed to soothe sore throats and gums, when taken as a gargle, and can be used in an eyewash to treat conjunctivitis.

Fennel contains constituents that are thought to mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen, which is why the plant has been used to stimulate lactation and menstruation. Research has shown that anethole polymers are responsible for this activity rather than anethole itself. It has been proved, however, that anethole can stimulate respiratory secretions and act as an expectorant.


Sweet fennel can be grown from seeds, which should be planted in spring. It is suited to rich, light soils and prefers a sunny position.


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