FENNEL,(Foeniculum - Vulgare/family Umbelliferae), has been used as a culinary herb in ancient civilizations for centuries. China, Egypt, India and Spain to name a few. It was grown by the Spanish commercially in the tenth century. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
Above the lower plants it towers, The Fennel with its yellow flowers; And in an earlier age than ours Was gifted with the wondrous powers Lost vision to restore. Longfellow
In ancient times, sprigs of Fennel hung over the entrance door of homes to prevent evil spirits from entering the home all year long. Additionally, the herb was strewn about on bare floors to keep the home fresh smelling and free of fleas and infection.
Fennel tea is an excellent stomach and intestinal remedy which relieves gas and colic, while stimulating digestion. It has a calming effect on bronchitis and coughs. Externally used in oil form to ease rheumatic pain. An infusion made with only the leaves, once cooled, can be used to bathe tired and watery eyes.
Fennel is among the licorice-sweet herbs and is biennial with tendencies to become a perennial in favorable climates. It is a beautiful herb, growing up to five feet tall with a spread of two feet. It sports thread fine feathery dark green leaves with umbels of yellow florets. The florets attract bees and swallow-tailed butterflies. Note: If you see an impressive caterpillar that is tiger stripped green, cream and black with some orange spots on your fennel, please don't destroy it. It is the larval stage of the swallow-tail butterfly that
is becoming scarce.
COMMON VARIETIES: Common Sweet Fennel.
Florence Fennel- (Finocchio) Vegetable type with bulbous base. A cool season annual. Bronze Fennel- dark shades of red and green leaves. Leaves are used for flavoring and the plant makes a nice addition to a border garden.
Fennel is commonly grown from seed. Sow seed, 12" apart in a sunny location, sheltered from wind, in well drained calcium rich soil. Does well in sandy soil and grows easily among rocks. Plant away from vegetable garden, most plants dislike it. Additionally, do not plant next to dill for they may cross- pollinate.
Harvest common fennel seeds when they turn brown. Cut plant at base and hang inverted over a paper bag to catch seed while plant is drying. Store dry seed in glass container until ready for use. Crush seed slightly prior to including in a recipe. This releases the flavor. Leaves can be dried, however, the leaves are better used fresh or to flavor vinegar's.
Fish, potatoes, carrots, baked goods, soups, egg dishes, and is one of the main ingredients in sausages. It is used in pasta dishes with tomato sauce in Italy.