Fennel’s presence in our coastal ecosystem is complicated! It’s honestly pretty invasive, spreading aggressively through its little aromatic seeds, often covering ocean-facing hillsides with its feathery fronds. Its layered bulbs seem to be slug and snail sanctuaries, protecting hordes of these slimy creatures during the day so they can eat my lettuce all night, but as an umbellifer-family plant, it provides shelter, nectar and pollen for many beneficial insects, too. All those levels of its being- seed, fronds, bulb, and (pricey!) pollen are edible and delicious, as well as medicinal, and its abundance means there is plenty to be harvested without worry.
Fennel is native to the shores of the Mediterranean, which has a similar climate to much of the West Coast, and so when some of it landed here decades ago, it took off. It was probably brought by Italian immigrants, and their cuisine is full of delicious uses for it. When I think of eating fennel, in fact, I always remember going to an Italian friend’s house for dinner many years ago and being greeted at the door with a plate of thin sliced fennel bulb and almonds.
This snack is very tasty, but also symbolic, as she told me while I happily munched away. The almonds are bitter and sweet, like life, and the fennel keeps our breath, and so our conversation, sweet and positive. What a lovely way to start an evening, recognizing both the good and bad aspects of life, but determining to keep our conversation on the positive side.
In Indian restaurants, a bowl of candied and plain fennel seeds is offered after the meal to stimulate digestion and sweeten the breath, and in many other cultures, fennel and similar licorice-flavoured herbs are infused into liqueurs and drunk as digestifs after dinner (as opposed to bitter aperitifs which are imbibed before eating). Anisette, ouzo, pastis, Galliano, Pernod and Sambuca are a few; absinthe combines bitters, fennel, and a psychedelic punch into one bright green drink.
That licorice taste is a signature of herbs of Mercury and its energy of movement as applied here to the digestion, or through the air of the lungs, as seen in Fennel and Licorice root, both tonic to the respiratory system. Herbs with this taste, which also includes anise, star anise, tarragon, and Tulsi, tend to be harmonizing herbs, used in formulas to synergize the other ingredients, modulate their actions or side effects, and improve taste.
This somewhat nebulous but flexible intelligence is a very Mercurial quality, and as a Magistery, our Fennel was created to express that planetary archetype at its most refined level. In our Fennel Magistery, the air quality of the herb is especially prominent, and it carries the magickal use of Fennel to keep words powerful and sweet on higher levels, as well.
This use can be applied to spellworking, to make sure that the words being cast act in a purely positive direction without negative unintended consequences. It can also be used to protect oneself from the negative speech of others, working along sympathies to sweeten speech both by and about you.
Our Fennel has also been a supportive ally for public speakers, especially with difficult or controversial subjects as with political activism, helping the speaker communicate in an eloquent and encouraging way, and keeping their message positive even as it is spread by other voices. For this use, it combines well with Calamus, another Mercury Magistery with a licorice note, and which aligns speech with Truth and gives clarity and strength to its expression.