Tenerife herbs: Canary Island Giant Fennel looks like Fennel but is much bigger

Like the ordinary herb Fennel but much bigger

The Canary Island Giant Fennel (Ferula linkii) is similar to the commonly known herb Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), as might well be expected from its name, but also very different. For a start it is much bigger.

Unlike ordinary Fennel, Canary Island Giant Fennel is not useful in the kitchen but the plant does have medicinal uses like its relative - both types of Fennel are in the Apiaceae/Umbelliferae or Parsley family.

Canary Island Giant Fennel in bloom

Canary Island Giant Fennel (Ferula linkii). Photo by Steve Andrews
Canary Island Giant Fennel (Ferula linkii). Photo by Steve Andrews

Canary Island Giant Fennel described

Canary Island Giant Fennel is a very spectacular plant that grows to as much as 3 metres in height with its stems terminating in umbels of yellow flowers. Around the base of the plant and below the flowering stalks are its leaves which are finely divided and feathery, which is a characteristic it shares with the smaller Fennel.

Canary Island Giant Fennel arises from a massive underground tuberous rootstock. It is seen growing in winter and flowers in spring and can be found mainly in the damper and more mountainous areas of Tenerife, especially in the north of the island.

Canary Island Giant Fennel often rises above the other plants where it is growing and is easy enough to spot because of its yellow flowers and its height. It grows on all the other Canary Islands too apart from Lanzarote where a local related species is found, known to botanists as Ferula lancerottensis.

It is also closely related to the Asafoetida (Ferula asa-foetida), a medicinal and culinary herb from Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Asafoetida is grown for its resinous gum that exudes from the roots and cut stems. This gum is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat several complaints including digestive and respiratory disorders. In India the Asafoetida gum is used as a spice in curries and the leaves are also cooked as greens.

Properties of the Canary Island Giant Fennel

Canary Island Giant Fennel has only occasionally been used for its own medicinal properties. Goats and sheep are encouraged to forage on the plant because doing so is thought to increase milk production.

A herbal tea made from the leaves of Canary Island Giant Fennel is a remedy for stomach and digestive problems, as well as being used to combat bronchitis and other respiratory disorders. The herb can also be used as a vermifuge to expel intestinal parasitic worms.

A tea or a tincture prepared from the plants roots is said to have antispasmodic and analgesic properties too. Canary Islands Giant Fennel contains a number of coumarins, phenylpropanoids and sesquiterpenes and it is these substances that give the herb its uses in herbal medicine.

Because Canary Island Giant Fennel is such an attractive plant to look at it is certainly a tonic for the mind and vision of anyone who sees it.

© 2011 Steve Andrews

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