Fennel History

The history of fennel goes back to ancient times as it was easily accessible throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Roman warriors are said to have consumed fennel to make them strong. It was also thought to have the power to help people keep thin. Its Greek name marathon, which means "grow thin", reflects the belief in its ability to suppress appetite. The town of Marathon, site of the famous battle between the Athenians and the Persians, means "place of fennel". After the battle, the Athenians used woven fennel stalks as a symbol of victory.1

The Parts of Fennel

In Greek mythology Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind, concealed it in a stalk of fennel.2 The stalk of fennel, capped with a pine cone, was used as a wand by followers of Dionysus. It was called a Thyrsus3.

Pliny, a Roman writer and philosopher, said of fennel, "Fennel has a wonderful property to mundify our sight and take away the film that overcasts and dims our eyes."4 The Anglo-Saxons held it sacred, and Charlemagne, the great emperor, declared in 812 AD (CE) that fennel was essential in every garden because it had healing properties. He had it grown in the imperial gardens.

In some western cultures, hung over doors or placed in key holes, fennel was thought to ward off evil spirits or ghosts. It was said to be especially effective at the summer solstice.

In England in the 1200s fennel seed was commonly used as an appetite suppressant to help people to get through fasting days. Later, they were commonly used in church during long services to keep stomachs from rumbling. The Puritans even called them "meeting seeds".

In the late 1700s fennel became one of the ingredients (along with anise and wormwood) in a patent medicinal elixir called absinthe. This elixir was soon marketed as a spirit, and became a popular drink among the Bohemian set in post WWI Europe and the United States.

Today fennel (especially the bulb) is most popular in Europe. The seeds are commonly found in spice racks around the world. Fennel, with its interesting flavor and variety of forms, has a place in the modern kitchen, and may even exhibit some distinctive health benefits.

<< Fennel Home Page | The Health Effects of Fennel >>

  1. Worldwide Gourmet
  2. Myths of Prometheus
  3. Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft, by Raven Grimassi (p 410)
  4. The Shakespeare Garden, by Esther Singleton, (pp 234-235) (1922)
  5. Image from Koehler's Medicinal-plants (1887)


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