"There's fennel for you, and columbines; there's rue for you; and here's some for me; we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays"
--William Shakespeare: mad Ophelia's song in Hamlet: IV, 5

"It is eaten like celery. It is not uncommon to come upon peasants carrying their bunch of fennel under the arm and, with some bread, making their lunch or dinner of it"
--Alexander Dumas in his dictionary of cooking

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(Foeniculum vulgare)

Native to the Mediterranean area, fennel (also called anise) is a member of the parsley family and is distinguished by its pleasant taste and aroma of licorice. Its name derives from the Latin foeniculum, a variety of fragrant hay.

In ancient times and in the folklore of many countries, it was considered one of the good "magical" herbs that could counter evil. Legend has it that Prometheus concealed the fire of the sun in a hollow fennel stalk and brought it from heaven to the human race...an act that was to have hard consequences in his own life. Nevertheless, the Greeks went on to call it Marathon, after their victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC.

The Roman Pliny, in the first century AD, believed it enabled the eye to perceive with clarity the beauty of nature. In fact, he recorded that snakes ate it after casting their skins in order to restore their eyesight. Perhaps this is why Nicholas Culpepper, an English doctor in the early 17th century, recommended that a decoction of its leaves and root would cure serpent bites and neutralize vegetable poisons, as those found in certain mushrooms.

Since the beginning of time, writers have described its medical virtues--everything from curing headaches, toothaches, coughs, asthma, and rheumatism--and insisted that its use could cause a substantial weight loss in humans.

It is left to Milton to describe its less practical uses in Book IX of Paradise Lost:

"When from the boughs a savory odor blown,
Grateful to appetite, more pleas'd my sense
Than smell of sweetest fennel...."
And how about Thomas Jefferson in his Garden Book: "The fennel is beyond every other vegetable, delicious. It greatly resembles in appearance the largest size celery, perfectly white, and there is no vegetable equals it in flavour. It is eaten at dessert, crude, and with, or without dry salt, indeed I preferred it to every other vegetable, or to any fruit." High praise from the drafter of our Declaration of Independence, our founding father, and 3rd POTUS.