Welsh, Ffenigl. - French, Fenouil. - German, Fenchel. - Spanish, Hinojo. - Italian, Finocchio, or Finocchino. - Dutch,Fenekell.
" Mirie it is, in time of June, When fenil hangith abrode in toun;"
Thus says the old English romance, as given by Ellis; and though doubtless the custom of hanging it in the streets was partly observed on account of the fresh and pretty green of the fennel-leaves, yet, as I have already shewn, in speaking of the plant last de-scribed, it possessed a greater charm from the sup-posed power of the plant to keep off evil spirits, and other such "bugges." In the south of France it is usual, in addition to placing it over the doors, to strew it around the bed, and to lay it under the pillow, especially on the eve of St. John.*
The fennel is a British plant, growing plentifully on chalky cliffs near the sea, more especially in the south-east counties of England. It is the true fen-nel of the garden, such as is used as sauce or garnish to fish, and which, as such, is too well known to need description. But there are several other species known under the generic name of Anethum (or dill), taken from the Greek word signifying to burn (from the warm and aromatic qualities of the tribe), while the specific name is said to be derived from the Latin foenum, hay, from some fancied resem-blance to that substance in the smell. Large quan-tities of fennel-seed are imported into this country, where they are employed in the manufacture of gin, and also in medicine as a harmless carminative, very much resembling anise-seed in its qualities, the two plants being nearly allied. The infusion of fennel-seed, in all its species, is generally known as dill-water, and is greatly prized by nurses as a "baby-medicine," though apparently, if there be any truth in expression of countenance, not so fully appreci-ated by the poor little babies themselves.
It is also much given to sickly lambs in rainy and cold sea-sons. Gerarde recommends a decoction of the green leaves, or seed, to nursing mothers; and he attri-butes to the boiled roots an efficacy in dropsy, being, as he says, "equall in virtues with annisse-seede," and good for the liver and lungs. He also recom-mends that the powdered seed be drunk "for cer-taine daies together fasting," in order to preserve the eyesight, quoting the old monkish couplet:
* "It is to be hoped that she has made an ample provision of fennel to lay under her bed's head, and in her oratory, to counteract the evil influence of the Brouches" i. e., the witches or sorcerers of the Beam, says M. Bade, in his tale of "The Cagot," as translated by Lady Chatterton.
"Foenieulum, rosa, verbena, chelidonia, rata, Ex his fit aqua quae lumina reddit acuta:" which he thus translates:
"Of fennell, roses, veruain, rue, and celandine, Is made a water good to cleere the eine".
This was a very prevalent belief of old, when it was even supposed that the knowledge of its efficacy in cases of blindness extended to the serpent tribe, who were said to eat it in order to restore their sight; as is asserted in the following list of the vir-tues of the fennel, extracted from the "Stockholm Manuscript:"-
"As sayth Mayster Macrobius, Fenel is erbe precyows, In somer he growyth hey [high] et grene, And beryth his sed, semly to sene, It is no nede hym to dis-crye [describe] Iche man hy knowyth at eye, Good is his sed, so is his rote And to many thyngys bote; [useful*] Ye sed is good fastende to ete, And ek in drage † after mete Ageyn wyckid huores [? humours] et bolyng [swellings] Ageyn wyckid wynd et many oyer thyng; Water of fenel to a plyth [apply] Is wonder holsu [wholesome] for he syth; [sight] Medeled [mingled] wt. water of roset Half in aporcin [in equal quantities] nothyng bet. [better] Fenel in pottage et in mete Is good to done, whane yu schalt ete All grene, lokeit be corwy [cut, e.g., "cow," Scotch] small In what mete yu usyn schall, In what drynk yu use it sekyrly It is good for ye pose et sucke.
* As in bootless (boteless) useless.
† Dreg, Scotch, very small quantity of liquid, "Archseo-logia".
Whanne the neddere [adder] is hurt in eye,
Ye rede [ready] fenel is hys prey,
And zif he mowe [mouth] it fynde,
Wonderly he doth hys kynde,
He schall it chowe [chew] wonderly,
And leyn [lays] it to hys eye kindlely,
Ye jows [juice] schall sawg [? save] and helyn ye eye,
Yat be forn [before] was sick et feye [feeble],
A medicyne is yet for eyere bote,
To take jows of fenkel rote,
And droppg i ye eyne bothe ewe et morwe [at eve and on the morrow] Ye peyne xal [shall] slake et ye sorwe [sorrow]".
Pomet in his "History of Druggs" assures us that confectioners "take clusters of the green fennel, which, when covered with sugar they sell to make the breath sweet, for the green is reckoned to be of the greatest virtue," while the seed, he adds, is laid between olives, in order to give the oil a fine taste." And the Arabs of the present day employ it as an article of food rather than as a mere condiment, rolling up and stewing minced meat in its leaves, and using the stalks as a vegetable.
Over a great part of Southern Europe the anethum is an object of culture and commercial value, a fact which may be faintly traced in the idiomatic ex-pression of the Italians; "voglio la mia parte fino al finocchio," for "I will have every farthing of the money." Both in Italy and in Spain it is added to various beverages, and is considered agreeable and wholesome; just as the ancients believed that its constant presence in their food not only imparted bodily health, and longevity, but gave strength and courage to those who partook of it; an idea which has been embellished by Longfellow, who deduces from it a moral.
"Filled is life's goblet to the brim, And though my eyes with tears are dim, I see its sparkling bubbles swim, And chant a melancholy hymn,
With solemn voice and slow.
No purple flowers - no garlands green, Conceal the goblet's shade or sheen, Nor maddening draughts of Hyppocrene Like gleams of sunshine, flash between Thick leaves of misletoe.
The goblet wrought with curious art, Is filled with waters that upstart From the deep fountains of the heart By strong convulsions rent apart, And running all to waste.
And as it mantling passes round, With fennel is it wreathed and crowned, Whose seed and foliage sun-embrowned Are in its waters steeped and drowned, And give a bitter taste.
Above the lowly plants it towers, The fennel with its yellow flowers; And in an earlier age than ours Was gifted with the wondrous powers Lost vision to restore.
It gave men strength, and fearless mood, And gladiators fierce and rude Mingled it with their daily food, And he who battled and subdued, A wreath of fennel wore.
Then in life's goblet freely press The leaves that give it bitterness, Nor prize the coloured water less, For in thy darkness and distress.
New light and strength they give.
And he who has not learned to know How false its sparkling bubbles shew, How bitter are the drops of woe "With which its brim may overflow, He has not learned to live.
The prayer of Ajax was for light Through all that dark and desperate fight, The blackness of that noonday night, He asked but the return of sight To see his foeman's face.
Let our increasing, earnest prayer Be too for light - -for strength to bear Our portion of the weight of care That crushes into dumb despair.
One half the human race.
Oh suffering, sad humanity; Oh ye afflicted ones, who lie Steeped to the lips in misery, Longing, and yet afraid to die,
Patient, tho' sorely tried!
I pledge you in this cup of grief Where floats the fennel's bitter leaf, The battle of our life is brief - The alarm - the struggle - the relief, - Then sleep we side by side".
The fennel is widely distributed as a native plant; while its dissemination is increased by its pertinacity in following human migrations. This is remarkably exemplified in Brazil, to which it has been imported from Europe, and in which it now appears, as we are told by Darwin,* as a constant weed in the vicinity of the towns. Mr. Ainsworth mentions a curious fact with regard to its occurrence in Chaldaea, where above Umrah, on the Kuriki mountain, two species occur, each of which is respectively confined to a single side of the mountain. The plant is of immense importance to the Kurdish inhabitants of the dis-trict, growing, as it does, in the utmost abundance almost at the snow time, and constituting, when dried, the principal winter provender of their cattle; while its stems, gathered just as they issue from the ground, form a large proportion of the food of the villagers, or, when chopped and steeped in sour milk, furnish them with a wholesome drink which they highly value for its fine aromatic flavour.
On the borders of the Siberian steppes it occurs very plentifully, attaining (according to Mr. Atkinson) to a height of ten or twelve feet, in favourable localities.
* "Journal of Researches".