Fabled Fennel - A gift from the Roman Empire

By Josh Butt on 08/07/2022

Fennel has been used in food, drink and medicine for centuries; from Roman soldiers that drank its tea for courage to Prometheus using a giant stalk of fennel to carry fire from Mount Olympus to Earth (according to Greek Myth). It’s a plant that has many uses and is overlooked by many but people don’t know what they’re missing out on!

Fennel, Food & Drink

It’s a brilliant plant to cook with due to being able to use so much of it. Its seeds are 1 of the famed five spices in Chinese Five-Spice powder and it’s even one of the most important and frequently used ingredients in the spice capital of the world; India (Kashmir and Gujarat). Its stems are also used in cooking a lot, they offer a lot of flavour to a broth or a soup or they go beautifully with a grilled fillet of white fish. The bulbs can be eaten raw which is the ultimate foraging must do as nothing makes you feel more at one with nature than eating something fresh from the ground (preferably wash it first though!).

As well as cooking with it, fennel has other uses, some of which are heavily ingrained within many different cultures. In India they add it to Paan which is a mixture of ingredients, which a lot of the time contains tobacco and it’s used as a breath freshener for after meals. In the late 19th century it was used in Europe as one of the three ingredients in absinthe (the other two being green anise and grande wormwood). In Scandinavian countries it’s used in brännvin which is a type of distilled spirit.


Scientifically speaking, fennel is very beneficial to good health. It’s highly nutritious with the bulb and seeds being high in fibre, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese. Not only that the whole plant is very low in calories so it’s perfect for anyone that wants to limit their caloric intake and still get a healthy and nutritious diet.

That’s not the only dieting related benefit of fennel, multiple studies show that it can suppress appetite too! It also contains many antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory properties and lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and neurological diseases. And as well as all of that, they have also been used for years to help with digestion after a meal. It’s also said that they can help with flatulence too so that’s something worth being gassed about.

Fennel bulb

Foraging Fennel

The Roman Empire conquered Britain over 2000 years ago and not only did they introduce their brilliant ideas such as plumbing, roads, currency and even the basis for our calendar (as well as much, much more), they also brought over many varieties of foods and plants. One of those was of course fennel! So it’s thanks to them that you are able to go for a wander and come home with handfuls of the stuff. 

Fennel is in some cases considered as a pest due to how quickly it can grow and how invasive it can be but now you know about its great properties and hopefully have a few ideas of what you can do with it, I’m sure you won’t consider it a pest.

  • It prefers drier conditions but ironically grows closer to the coast (although it can also grow quite far inland)
  • Fennel flowers grow in umbrella like formations and when picking them, pick from the stem where this starts
  • Fennel has very small and yellow leaves and with that it’ll have a very aniseed-y smell, so it shouldn’t be hard to identify!
  • There are two types of fennel, garden and wild. Wild fennel differs in that it rarely has a bulb whereas garden fennel does. If you happen to come across some with a bulb then it’s definitely worth taking home!
  • Avoid washing fennel if you can because you may be washing the flavour away! Generally we’d recommend you wash everything you forage but this isn’t always the case, so forage it from places that will have minimal amounts of pollutants and other bad stuff

Fennel facts

  • Fennel is part of the same family as parsley, carrots and dill
  • It is called marathon in Greece, a name derived from the word maraino, meaning to grow thin
  • In Chinese and Hindu cultures fennel was ingested to speed the elimination of poisons from the system, particularly after snake bite and scorpion stings
  • It was considered as a magical herb in the Middle Ages. It would be draped over doorways on Midsummer’s Eve to protect the household from evil spirits


Wild Fennel Pesto

A fresh, delicous and easy to make pesto recipe
Prep Time 9 mins
Course Sauce


  • Food Processor


  • 1 large handful Fennel Fronds
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 6 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Juice of a Lemon
  • 40 g Pine Nuts
  • 90 g Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


  • Add the fennel fronds and pine nuts to the bowl of the food processor and pulse several times
  • Add the garlic, lemon juice and cheese and pulse again, using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the processor down
  • Slowly add the olive oil while the food processor is running (this will help to ensure that the olive oil doesn't separate)
  • Season the pesto to taste
Keyword fennel, pesto
Article written by Josh Butt

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