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Fennel Flower

( Originally Published 1933 )



NIGELLA SATIVA, L.

Black Caraway, Black Cumin, Nutmeg Flower, Mille or Toute-Úpice

Ranunculaceae Annual

This little annual grows wild from Gibraltar to India, but probably came originally from the Mediterranean regions. It is a small, dainty plant with much cut leaves and subtly colored flowers.

Root. It has a long slender, single root, branching a little at the base.

Stem. The stem is about fifteen inches high and ridged, roughly hairy, erect and branching.

Leaf. The leaves are alternate, yellow-green, very like some of the buttercups, much cut into fine, slender divisions, and are woolly and hairy above, and a little below.

Flower. The flowers are well over an inch across of a soft whitish-green with dull blue markings and are not conspicuous from afar, but if we look down in the flower's face we first see the five petal-like bracts, then eight odd-shaped small blue, white, green, and gold bracts. Between each of these the stamens spread out in twos or threes like the spokes of a wheel. They have bluish anthers and light gold filaments. More stamens curve up and out around the ovary which sends out five pistils to form a pattern something like a swirling swastika.

Seed. The seed pod is quite large, a green, bulging, somewhat spherical affair except that it is flat on top. It is roughly five-sided, the green arms forming the stigma, and project like antlers from each of the angles on top. The fruit turns brown when ripe.

The seeds ripen in August, and are black, triangular, having two flat and one convex surface and a rough skin. Their germinating power lasts three years. They taste aromatic, spicy, and sharp.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

It is said to be the Gith of Charlemagne, and the word comes from the Hebrew Gesah, which is mentioned in the Bible. It is mentioned by Calumella and by Pliny.

USES

The seed is an ingredient in snuff tobacco.

Medicine. The seeds were formerly held in the mouth for toothache.

Perfume. The oil expressed from the seeds is fragrant, is said to taste of camphor, and is used for perfume.

Food. The seeds were strewn on bread, like poppy seeds, and are used as a spice in Europe, Africa, and the Orient. In Germany they are put into bread instead of cumin, as they are in Turkey and Egypt. They are used in cakes like anise and sesame and also to flavor wine. In Upper Egypt, mixed with ambergris, cinnamon bark, ginger, sugar, and other ingredients, they are made into a conserve which is said to be popular with the Arab and Turkish women because it is fattening, but even in Asia Minor it does not seem likely that any woman still wishes to be fat. Miss Shapleigh pounded the seeds, steeped them in vinegar, and found they gave a relish to sauces for fish.

CULTURE

The plants come readily from seed and seem to like a well-drained, sunny situation.



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