Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
[size=75]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [/size]
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a species in the genus Foeniculum (treated as the sole species in the genus by most botanists), native to the Mediterranean region and southwestern Asia, from Morocco and Portugal east to Pakistan, and north to southern France and Bulgaria. It is a member of the family Apiaceae, formerly the Umbelliferae.
It is a highly aromatic perennial herb, erect, glaucous green, and grows to 2.5 m tall, with hollow stems. The leaves grow up to 40 cm long; they are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments filiform, about 0.5 mm wide. Its leaves are similar to those of dill, yet slightly thinner in comparison. The flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels 5–15 cm wide, each umbel section with 20–50 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels. The fruit is a dry seed from 4–10 mm long, half as wide or less, and grooved.
Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Mouse Moth and the Anise Swallowtail.
Fennel is widely cultivated, both in its native range and elsewhere, for its edible, strongly-flavoured leaves and seeds. The flavour is similar to that of anise and star anise, though usually not so strong.
The Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group; syn. F. vulgare var. azoricum) is a Cultivar Group with inflated leaf bases which form a bulb-like structure. It is of cultivated origin, and has a mild anise-like flavour, but is more aromatic and sweeter. Its flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise. Florence fennel plants are smaller than the wild type and have inflated leaf bases which are eaten as a vegetable, both raw and cooked. There are several cultivars of Florence fennel, which is also known by several other names, notably the Italian name finocchio. In North American supermarkets, it is often mislabelled as “anise”.
Fennel has become naturalised along roadsides, in pastures, and in other open sites in many regions, including northern Europe, the United States, southern Canada and in much of Asia and Australia. It propagates well by seed, and is considered an invasive species and a weed in Australia and the United States (see Santa Cruz Island).
Florence fennel was one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of Absinthe, an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 1800s, a popular drink believed by many to have psychoactive properties beyond those found in other alcoholic beverages. Due to these beliefs, Absinthe was banned in most countries by the 1940s, but a recent relaxation of laws governing its production, importation and sale has caused a moderate resurgence in consumption. Many modern preparations marketed under the name “Absinthe” do not make use of fennel as did the traditional recipes.