Fennel is a licorice- or anise-flavored
annual with leaves resembling dill. There are two distinct types. The
first grows tall and stemmy and produces seeds. The other forms a flattened
rosette of thickened petioles (often referred to as a “bulb”)
and is called finocchio or florence fennel. The second type is becoming more
common on vegetable markets, and once in a great while it can be found in
upscale restaurants, where its mild sweet flavor is a real treat steamed.
A red- or bronze-leaved form is also available.
is grown from seed, which germinates easily. Seedlings do not
transplant well because they have a taproot, but they transplant
started in cell packs or peat pellets so that the roots can be
Seeds may be sown outdoors as soon as frost danger
is past. Thin seedlings to
stand 8" — 10" apart as soon as they are well established.
Bulbs of florence
fennel should be covered with soil, when they are as large as a
good-sized egg, to blanch them. Harvest the bulbs, tie the tops,
and hang them in a dry, cool
place. They store acceptably in this manner for a limited time.
When hot summer days come too soon after the last frost, seedlings
ahead of time may be the only way to get good bulbs to form on
finocchio before the plants bolt to seed. Again in late summer,
seedlings may be set out to
mature in cool fall weather. Fennel grown for seed may be seeded
allowed to bolt, flower, and set seed. Plants should be staked,
as they rapidly
become top-heavy. Plants in flower grow 3' — 5' tall, with
thick, hollow stems,
and fine, feathery foliage. Golden yellow flowers appear in flat-topped
(umbels) atop the plants. Harvest seed when it begins to turn brown.
Stems and leaves may be harvested as needed throughout the season, whenever
are green, succulent, and the proper size. If seed is desired,
do not harvest the
entire plant when it is small. Like dill, if seeds are allowed
to shatter from mature plants, they reseed themselves plentifully.
The bulbing type may bolt to
seed in the heat of summer without forming acceptable rosettes.
The anise-like flavor of fennel is used widely with fish. Fennel
the ingredient that gives Italian sausage its characteristic
taste. Fennel seed is
also said to act as an appetite suppressant when chewed, though
on this point.
Ancients believed Fennel Seed was particularly helpful in eyesight. It was also believed
to increase strength. In ancient Greece, it was considered a symbol of success. In more recent
history, the Puritans referred to Fennel as the "meeting seed" as it was a favorite practice to chew the seeds
during meetings. Today, Fennel Seed is widely used in India as an after-dinner breath freshener and
also to help in digestion.