The classic garden Fennel with "bulb".
Scientific Name: Foeniculum vulgare
Family: Apiaceae (the Carrot or Parsley family) - formerly known as the Umbelliferae family
Fennel is a cold-hardy, perennial herbaceous plant with feathery, bluish-green leaves, hollow stems, and an anise (or black licorice) scent and flavor. It is a very common culinary herb with a long history of medicinal use. With edible leaves, flowers, pollen, seeds, root, and "bulb" (only present in the Florence cultivar), its ability to attract beneficial insects, its ability to grow in a wide range of soils, its drought resistance once established, and its beautiful appearance, Fennel deserves a place in all gardens, traditional garden and Forest Garden alike.
Originally from the Mediterranean, Fennel is now found around the world, often near the ocean.
- The chemical that gives Fennel its characteristic flavor is called anethole. It is found in fennel, anise, licorice, star-anise, and tarragon, and basil (especially thai basil).
- Used as one of three herbs to give flavor to absinthe, along with wormwood and green anise.
- It is commonly mislabeled, and I have see this, as Anise (Pimpinella anisum) which is a very different plant.
The feathery leaves (fronds) of Fennel.
USING THIS PLANT
The primary use is as a cullinary herb to provide an anise (black licorice) flavor to foods. The flavor is strong when fresh or in large amounts, but even if you do not like the flavor of black licorice, a small bit as a base to a sauce imparts a deep, subtle flavor that most people enjoy.
- Leaves - fresh or cooked. Pick young leaves at the base of the plant as older leaves become more tough.
- Flowers - Bright yellow flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. Great addition to salads or desserts.
- Pollen - can be collected by placing a paper bag over a mature flower head and shaking. Added sparingly to meat
- Seeds - Green seed pods (fresh or cooked) or ripe seed (typically dried).
- Stalk - when still a little green can be placed on coals to impart a smoky, anise flavor to meats; when dried the stalks can be used as straws since they are hollow - they will give a faint flavor to whatever liquid passes through.
- Bulb - the "bulb" is really fattened leaf bases and can be used as a vegetable itself or mixed with other dishes
- Root - apparently a bit like parsnip, which makes sense since they are both in the Carrot family
- Tea - both leaves, flowers, and seeds
- Medicinal - many historical uses, especially to aid in digestion
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plant.
- Benificial parasatoid wasps and spiders prefer the foliage.
- Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on Fennel over many other plants.
Harvesting: Year round in mild climates, anytime during the growing season in colder climates, seeds in Autumn
Storage: Fresh parts can be stored for up to a week in a cool environment (bulbs longer than the leaves); Dried seeds and pollen can be stored in an airtight container for a long time
Fennel flowers give little bursts of flavor.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-10 (a lot of variation depending on the souce)
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information available
Plant Type: Large Herbaceous Perennial Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous, but is cold-hardy, so it can be
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available. The common "garden" fennel, Florence Fennel (F. vulgare var. azoricum) has been bred for large, bulb-like lower stems. The wild fennel is identical but for the bulbs.
Flowering: Spring (May-June... depending on the USDA Zone where it is planted)
Life Span: Not really relevant as it reseeds so easily.
Fennel and Parsnip roots... yeah, almost identical in appearance, but not flavor.
Check out this blogger's account:
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and 1-3 feet (0.3-0.9 meters) wide
Roots: Tap root
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast
Fennel seed is commonly seed in stores, but is easy to harvest.
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Medium to Dry, can be fairly drought tolerant
pH: prefers fairly neutral soil (6.1 - 7.0)
Special Considerations for Growing:
- Avoid growing Fennel near Dill as it can cross-pollinate. The offsping of this pairing will be of bland taste.
- It is best to grow Fennel out a bit, by itself. It produces some growth inhibitors that are not kind to annual vegetables.
- Fennel is not a good ground cover, but grows well through many ground covers.
Propagation: Usually by seed. Direct sowing is best. Can be divided in late Winter/early Spring.
Maintenance: Almost none.
Concerns: Can spread annoyingly well by seed. Just snip these little, wayward plants when they are young, and use in the kitchen.
Fennel pollen is easy to obtain and is a "new" trend in cooking.