Growing and Using Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel BulbFennel is a perennial that grows to five feet high. It has hollow stems and brilliant green, feathery leaves. Because all parts of the plant can be used, it is an almost perfect herb. A native to the Mediterranean, fennel has been an import wherever native Italians have traveled. In many areas of the world, it now grows wild.

Growing Fennel

Fennel is an easy plant to grow. It will thrive in harsh conditions, but needs sun and well-drained soil. To produce the best bulbs for the table, place seedlings 15 inches apart in soft, well-worked soil to which you've added a little lime. Fertilize once or twice during the growing season.

Fennel Variations

There are a number of varieties to try, but keep them separate to avoid cross-pollination. I've had luck with: Sweet, Wild, French and Russian varieties. In areas where it grows wild, you can smell licorice thick in the air on hot afternoons, and a light breeze can make fennel plants look like feathers rippling in the breeze.

Uses for Fennel

Homemade fennel cough syrup is an old time favorite, and a little fennel tea is an effective treatment for flatulence. Fleas hate fennel, so try growing it around doorways and placing dried fennel under rugs and in pet bedding as a deterrent. Add a little fresh fennel as a seasoning for fish, or boil the entire root as a side dish.

A basic herb in the historical fight against witchcraft, fennel was posted near doors toward off evil spirits. It was also probably one of the first herbs used for weight control.

Harvesting Fennel

Remove and store the seed heads as they start to turn brown. If you want to cultivate more leaves, pinch back the heads as they form.

Photo courtesy of Deborah at Flickr