Foeniculum vulgare Mill. Umbelliferae. Fennel. Finochio.
Europe. Fennel was cultivated by the Romans as a garden herb and was so much used in the kitchen that there were few meats seasoned, or vinegar sauces served without it. It was used as a condiment by our English forefathers. The plant is a native of temperate Europe and Asia. It is now largely cultivated in central Europe, Saxony, Franconia and Wurtemburg, in the south of France, in Italy, in India and in China. Fennel was included among American garden herbs by McMahon, 1806. Darwin found it growing wild in the neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Monti video and other towns. The leaves are used in sauces, the stalks eaten in salads, and the seeds are employed in confectionery and for flavoring liquors. Fennel is constantly mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon medical recipes which date as early, at least, as the eleventh century. The diffusion of the plant in central Europe was stimulated by Charlemagne, who enjoined its cultivation on the imperial farms. Fennel shoots, fennel water and fennel seed are all mentioned in an ancient record of Spanish agriculture of 961 A. D. There are three different forms recognized, all believed to belong to the common species.
In 1863, Burr describes a common and a dark-leaved form; in 1586, Lyte's Dodoens' Herball describes in like manner two varieties. This is the common wild sort, hardy and often spontaneous as an escape from gardens. Bitter fennel is the Anethum foeniculum Linn., 1763, and the Foeniculum of Camerarius, 1586. Sometimes, but rarely, the leaves are used for seasoning but the plant is grown chiefly for its seeds which are largely used in flavoring liquors. Bitter fennel appears to be the common fennel or finckle of Ray, 1686, and the foennel and fyncle of Turner, 1538.
This form is cultivated more frequently as a garden plant than the preceding, and its seeds are also an object of commerce. As the plant grows old, the fruits of each succeeding season gradually change in shape and diminish in size, until, at the end of four or five years, they are hardly to be distinguished from those of the bitter fennel. This curious fact was noted by Tabernaemontanus, 1588, and was systematically proved by Guibort, 1869. This kind has, however, remained distinct from an early date. It is described by Albertus Magnus in the thirteenth century and by Charlemagne in the ninth. It is mentioned throughout Europe, in Asia, and in America as an aromatic, garden herb. The famous carosella, so extensively used in Naples, scarcely known in any other place, is referred by authors to F. piperitum DC. The plant is used while in the state of running to bloom; the stems, fresh and tender, are broken and served raw, still enclosed in the expanded leaf-stalks. This use is, perhaps, referred to by Amatus Lusitanus, 1554, when, in speaking of finocchio, he says the swollen stalk is collected and said to be eaten.
This form is very distinct in its broad leaf-stalks, which, overlapping each other at the base of the stem, form a bulbous enlargement, firm, white and sweet inside. This seems to be the finochi, or Italian fennel, stated by Switzer, 1729, to have but recently been introduced to English culture and yet rare in 1765. The first distinct mention is by Mawe, 1778, under the name of Azorian Dwarf or finocchio. It is again described in a very perfect form by Bryant, 1783, under the name of Sweet Azorian fennel. According to Miller's Dictionary, 1807, it is the F. azoricum Miller, 1737. Ray, 1686, uses the name Foeniculum dulce azoricum, but his description is hardly sufficient. Finocchio is described for American gardens in 1806. It does not seem to have entered general culture except in Italy. The type of this fennel seems to be figured by J. Bauhin, 1651, and by Chabraeus, 1677, under the name Foeniculum rotundum flore albo.