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Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a plant species in the genus Foeniculum. Fennel is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalised in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on river-banks. Fennel is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses.
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The word fennel developed from Latin fenum or faenum, meaning hay. The Old English finule it is one of the nine plants invoked in the agan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm recorded in the 10th century.
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare is a perennial herb which grows to heights of up to 2.5 m. The leaves grow up to 40 cm long. The fruit is a dry seed from 4–10 mm long, and half as wide or less. Fennel is widely cultivated, both in its native range and elsewhere, for its edible, strongly-flavoured leaves and fruits, which are often called seeds. Its aniseed flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong.
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. The bulb, foliage, and seeds of the fennel plant are widely used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice, brown or green in colour when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the seed ages. For cooking, green seeds are optimal. The leaves are delicately flavored and similar in shape to those of dill. The bulb is a crisp, hardy root vegetable and may be sauteed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw.
Fennel features prominently in Mediterranean cuisine, where bulbs and fronds are used, both raw and cooked, in side dishes, salads, pastas, vegetable dishes such as artichoke dishes in Greece, and risottos. Fennel seed is a common ingredient in Italian sausages and meatballs and northern European rye breads. Florence fennel is a key ingredient in some Italian and German salads, often tossed with chicory and avocado, or it can be braised and served as a warm side dish.