comments (27) January 30th, 2012

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cookinwithherbs susan belsinger, contributor
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Just-harvested small fennel bulbs.Click To Enlarge

Just-harvested small fennel bulbs.

Photo: Susan Belsinger

The herb fennel, sometimes referred to as leaf fennel, (Foeniculum vulgare) is a biennial that behaves as a perennial where growing conditions are favorable. In my zone 7 garden, fennel winters over and faithfully reappears, showing green fronds in early spring. In southern climes and also the Mediterranean region it grows with reckless abandon and some might even consider it to be an invasive. In the fall, in cold, northern climates, the tap roots need to be dug leaving a few inches of stem, wintered over in a coldframe or root cellar, and then put out again in spring. On the average, fennel plants grow to be four to six feet tall, although I have seen them as tall as seven to eight-feet, with large yellow umbels of flowers. These flowers produce fennel seed, which is a popular seed/spice used in many cuisines. Attractive bronze-leaved fennel (F. var. vulgare 'Rubrum') also bears yellow flowers which can be eaten.  Even though these plants are grown for their foliage, their roots are edible.

Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum) is the variety grown chiefly for vegetable consumption. It is a bulb-like vegetable with hollow stalks, crunchy like celery, only with a sweet anise/licorice flavor. I find it is often mislabeled in groceries and called anise. I have grown my own here in Maryland, as well as in Italy, and my bulbs never got quite as large as the big round ones in the grocery and farmers’ markets. I use the bulb and the greens, both fresh and cooked. It is delicious cut into slices or julienne and eaten as a raw vegetable, used as a crudite, and added to salads. When cooked, I find the flavor to become milder, though still distinctly fennel-tasting. It is good simply sautéed, oven roasted, grilled and in soup and ragouts.

Besides being high in fiber, fennel is fairly high in vitamin C, and contains vitamin B3, calcium, folate, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Fennel seed has a reputation for its soothing characteristic for the digestive tract; it is also believed to help relieve indigestion and gas.

Thel seed should be soaked for a few days to speed germination. It can be direct seeded into loamy garden soil in spring through early summer, and again in early fall, depending upon where you live. Make rows about 18-inches apart and thin seedlings to 6-inches apart in the rows. Once the bulb swells, it can be harvested for culinary use; generally about 80 days until harvest. 'Zefa Fino' is a popular bolt-resistant variety.  All fennel plants attract the swallowtail butterfly--particularly the anise swallowtail--so be sure to grow some extra plants for them.

In my recent gather-greens-before-the-freeze foray to Sharp Farm, I had the great fortune to harvest some lovely small fennel bulbs, which I prepared and enjoyed: Braised Fennel. Try this simple and delicious recipe while the fennel bulbs are still available.

posted in: fennel, Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum, braised fennel

Comments (27)

ericlimberlet writes: Its smell and taste very nice
Posted: 12:21 am on November 24th
ElizabethKirk writes: Great
Posted: 6:13 am on November 4th
hectorkim54 writes: Mind Blowing
Posted: 1:34 am on October 22nd
markfreeman87 writes: Great job
Posted: 4:31 am on October 21st
stephenstone15 writes: Superb
Posted: 3:32 am on October 18th
RaisonTardif writes: good job.
Posted: 12:03 am on October 12th
ShawnTrail writes: Fennel is good for health..
Posted: 1:08 am on September 29th
Ednajooper writes: Healthy product
Posted: 4:25 am on September 15th
KimSpellman writes: Nice post..
Posted: 3:33 am on September 15th
stephengreen44 writes: Well Done
Posted: 5:13 am on September 5th
brownwillis writes: Mind Blowing
Posted: 5:20 am on August 17th
javierdiaz writes: Wonderful
Posted: 2:48 am on August 11th
DavidApplebaum11 writes: it is nice..
Posted: 1:12 am on August 10th
yasminspencer10 writes: its good...
Posted: 5:07 am on August 2nd
earlray26 writes: Really this is useful.
Posted: 1:34 am on August 2nd
allanclark writes: it useful to like.
Posted: 1:44 am on July 16th
fredlane10 writes: very nice
Posted: 11:20 pm on June 22nd
SandyRol writes: Great for health and very useful
Posted: 12:23 am on May 20th
johan1 writes: This is very useful.
Posted: 4:17 am on February 9th
berniejharris writes: what is it? i never saw it.
Posted: 5:26 am on November 23rd
SoniaGupt writes: I No matter how hot I wore good socks and hiking shoes, heavy jeans, a cotton t-shirt, and a lightweight longsleeve shirt--because of various prickers and poison ivy. Then I would go swimming afterward
Posted: 1:24 am on April 18th
Mack007 writes: Thanks to contributor
Posted: 4:51 am on March 17th
jamiekrover writes: These flowers produce fennel seed
Posted: 6:49 am on March 12th
johnsonpaul writes: very nice mate
Posted: 1:08 am on March 11th
jamescolison writes: fennel smells and tastes very nice on indian dishes
Posted: 5:54 am on March 4th
ktmusher writes: I live in Northern IL and my Fennel stays in the ground in the butterfly garden all winter. When I transplanted it to my new yard, it had caterpillars on it. I believe I had identified them correctly as Swallowtails.
Posted: 1:40 pm on February 7th
Veeta writes: You may want to mention fennel's allelopathy--it is not a good neighbor for many plants. That said, I find it gorgeous and planted a large stand of it behind my shed, where the butterflies can munch away to their heart's content. Predatory wasps love it, too!
Posted: 12:09 pm on January 31st
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