Fennel was used by the ancient Egyptians as a food and medicine, and was considered a snake bite remedy in ancient China. During the Middle Ages it was hung over doorways to drive away evil spirits. Fennel is also associated with the origin of the marathon.
It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb used in cooking and, along with the similar-tasting anise is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe.
The word fennel developed from Middle English fenel or fenyl. This came from Old English fenol or finol, which in turn came from Latin feniculum or foeniculum, the diminutive of fenum or faenum, meaning "hay". The Latin word for the plant was ferula, which is now used as the genus name of a related plant. Fennel was prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans who used it as medicine, food, and insect repellent. A fennel tea was believed to give courage to the warriors prior to battle. According to Greek mythology, Prometheus used a giant stalk of fennel to carry fire from Mount Olympus to Earth. Emperor Charlemagne required the cultivation of fennel on all imperial farms.