Ingredients: Fennel

June 21st, 2008

We all know the pleasant taste of Fennel sauce when eaten with boiled mackerel. This culinary condiment is made with Sweet Fennel, cultivated in our kitchen gardens, and which is a variety of the wild Fennel growing commonly in England as the Finkel, especially in Cornwall and Devon, on chalky cliffs near the sea. It is then an aromatic plant of the umbelliferous order, but differing from the rest of its tribe in producing bright yellow flowers.

Botanically, it is the Anethum foeniculum, or “small fragrant hay” of the Romans, and the Marathron of the Greeks. The whole plant has a warm carminative taste, and the old Greeks esteemed it highly for promoting the secretion of milk in nursing mothers. Macer alleged that the use of Fennel was first taught to man by serpents. His classical lines on the subject when translated run thus:–

“By eating herb of Fennel, for the eyes
A cure for blindness had the serpent wise;
Man tried the plant; and, trusting that his sight
Might thus be healed, rejoiced to find him right.”

“Hac mansâ serpens oculos caligine purgat;
Indeque compertum est humanis posse mederi
Illum hominibus: atque experiendo probatum est.”

Pliny also asserts that the ophidia, when they cast their skins, have recourse to this plant for restoring their sight. Others have averred that serpents wax young again by eating of the herb; “Wherefore the use of it is very meet for aged folk.”

Fennel powder may be employed for making an eyewash: half-a-teaspoonful infused in a wineglassful of cold water, and decanted when clear. A former physician to the Emperor of Germany saw a monk cured by his tutor in nine days of a cataract by only applying the roots of Fennel with the decoction to his eyes.

In the Elizabethan age the herb was quoted as an emblem of flattery; and Lily wrote, “Little things catch light minds; and fancie is a worm that feedeth first upon Fennel.” Again, Milton says, in Paradise Lost, Book XI:–

“The savoury odour blown,
Grateful to appetite, more pleased my sense
Than smell of sweetest Fennel.”

Shakespeare makes the sister of Laertes say to the King, in Hamlet, when wishing to prick the royal conscience, “There’s Fennel for you.” And Falstaff commends Poins thus, in Henry the Fourth, “He plays at quoits well, and eats conger, and Fennel.”

The Italians take blanched stalks of the cultivated Fennel (which they call Cartucci) as a salad; and in Germany its seeds are added to bread as a condiment, much as we put caraways in some of our cakes. The leaves are eaten raw with pickled fish to correct its oily indigestibility. Evelyn says the peeled stalks, soft and white, when “dressed like salery,” exercise a pleasant action conducive to sleep. Roman bakers put the herb under their loaves in the oven to make the bread taste agreeably.

Chemically, the cultivated Fennel plant furnishes a volatile aromatic oil, a fixed fatty principle, sugar, and some in the root; also a bitter resinous extract. It is an admirable corrective of flatulence; and yields an essential oil, of which from two to four drops taken on a lump of sugar will promptly relieve griping of the bowels with distension. Likewise a hot infusion, made by pouring half-a-pint of boiling water on a teaspoonful of the bruised seeds will comfort belly ache in the infant, if given in teaspoonful doses sweetened with sugar, and will prove an active remedy in promoting female monthly regularity, if taken at the periodical times, in doses of a wineglassful three times in the day. Gerard says, “The green leaves of the Fennel eaten, or the seed made into a ptisan, and drunk, do fill women’s brestes with milk; also the seed if drunk asswageath the wambling of the stomacke, and breaketh the winde.” The essential oil corresponds in composition to that of anise, but contains a special camphoraceous body of its own; whilst its vapour will cause the tears and the saliva to flow. A syrup prepared from the expressed juice was formerly given for chronic coughs.

W. Coles teaches in Nature’s Paradise, that “both the leaves, seeds, and roots, are much used in drinks and broths for those that are grown fat, to abate their unwieldinesse, and make them more gaunt and lank.” The ancient Greek name of the herb, Marathron, from maraino, to grow thin, probably embodied the same notion. “In warm climates,” said Matthiolus, “the stems are cut, and there exudes a resinous liquid, which is collected under the name of fennel gum.”

The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia orders “Sweet Fennel seeds, combined with juniper berries and caraway seeds, for making with spirit of wine, the ‘compound spirit of juniper,’ which is noted for promoting a copious flow of urine in dropsy.” The bruised plant, if applied externally, will speedily relieve toothache or earache. This likewise proves of service as a poultice to resolve chronic swellings. Powdered Fennel is an ingredient in the modern laxative “compound liquorice powder” with senna. The flower, surrounded by its four leaves, is called in the South of England, “Devil in a bush.” An old proverb of ours, which is still believed in New England, says, that “Sowing Fennel is sowing sorrow.” A modern distilled water is now obtained from the cultivated plant, and dispensed by the druggist. The whole herb has been supposed to confer longevity, strength and courage. Longfellow wrote a poem about it to this effect.

The fine-leaved Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe Phellandrium), is the Water Fennel.

Source: Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure, William Thomas Fernie

Ingredients: Agrimony

January 15th, 2008

The Agrimony is a Simple well known to all country folk, and abundant throughout England in the fields and woods, as a popular domestic medicinal herb. It belongs to the Rose order of plants, and blossoms from June to September with small yellow flowers, which sit close along slender spikes a foot high, smelling like apricots, and called by the rustics “Church Steeples.” Botanically it bears the names Agrimonia Eupatoria, of which the first is derived from the Greek, and means “shining,” because the herb is thought to cure cataract of the eye; and the second bears reference to the liver, as indicating the use of this plant for curing diseases of that organ. Chemists have determined that the Agrimony possesses a particular volatile oil, and yields nearly five per cent. of tannin, so that its use in the cottage for gargles, and as an astringent application to indolent wounds, is well justified. The herb does not seem really to own any qualities for acting medicinally on the liver. More probably the yellow colour of its flowers, which, with the root, furnish a dye of a bright nankeen hue, has given it a reputation in bilious disorders, according to the doctrine of signatures, because the bile is also yellow. Nevertheless, Gerard says: “A decoction of the leaves is good for them that have naughty livers.” By pouring a pint of boiling water on a handful of the plant — stems, flowers and leaves — an excellent gargle may be made for a relaxed throat; and a teacupful of the same infusion may be taken cold three or four times in the day for simple looseness of the bowels; also for passive losses of blood. In France, Agrimony tea is drank as a beverage at table. This herb formed an ingredient of the genuine arquebusade water, as prepared against wounds inflicted by an arquebus, or hand-gun, and it was mentioned by Philip de Comines in his account of the battle of Morat, 1476. When the Yeomen of the Guard were first formed in England — 1485 — half were armed with bows and arrows, whilst the other half carried arquebuses. In France the eau de arquebusade is still applied for sprains and bruises, being carefully made from many aromatic herbs. Agrimony was at one time included in the London Materia Medica as a vulnerary herb. It bears the title of Cockleburr, or Sticklewort, because its seed vessels cling by the hooked ends of their stiff hairs to any person or animal coming into contact with the plant. A strong decoction of the root and leaves, sweetened with honey, has been taken successfully to cure scrofulous sores, being administered two or three times a day in doses of a wineglassful persistently for several months. Perhaps the special volatile oil of the plant, in common with that contained in other herbs similarly aromatic, is curatively antiseptic. Pliny called it a herb “of princely authoritie.”

The Hemp Agrimony, or St. John’s Herb, belongs to the Composite order of plants, and grows on the margins of brooks, having hemp-like leaves, which are bitter of taste and pungent of smell, as if it were an umbelliferous herb. Because of these hempen leaves it was formerly called “Holy Rope,” being thus named after the rope with which Jesus was bound. They contain a volatile oil, which acts on the kidneys; likewise some tannin, and a bitter chemical principle, which will cut short the chill of intermittent fever, or perhaps prevent it. Provers of the plant have found it produce a “bilious fever,” with severe headache, redness of the face, nausea, soreness over the liver, constipation, and high-coloured urine. Acting on which experience, a tincture, prepared from the whole plant, may be confidently given in frequent small well-diluted doses with water for influenza, or for a similar feverish chill, with break-bone pains, prostration, hot dry skin, and some bilious vomiting. Likewise a tea made with boiling water poured on the dried leaves will give prompt relief if taken hot at the onset of a bilious catarrh, or of influenza. This plant also is named Eupatorium because it refers, as Pliny says, to Eupator, a king of Pontus. In Holland it is used for jaundice, with swollen feet: and in America it belongs to the tribe of bone-sets. The Hemp Agrimony grows with us in moist, shady places, with a tall reddish stem, and with terminal crowded heads of dull lilac flowers. Its distinctive title is Cannabinum, or “Hempen,” whilst by some it is known as “Thoroughwort.”

Source: Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure, William Thomas Fernie