Feathery green or bronze leaves grow along the succulent stems that sprout from the bulbous root of fennel. Foeniculum vulgare or common fennel is a perennial grown mainly for its flavorful leaves and seeds. Florence fennel (finocchio) is an annual prized for its edible base. Both varieties have leaves, seeds, stems and bulbs that taste like anise and licorice with nutty overtones.
The charming yellow flower umbels provide seeds for cooking and planting. The seeds should be harvested as soon as they turn from yellowish green to brown. Snip the entire seed head over a paper bag because they fall at the slightest touch. Removing the seeds will also encourage plant growth and good health.
The emperor Charlemagne is credited with introducing fennel to central Europe. It was among the many herbs cultivated in his Imperial Gardens. It was eaten along with fish and meat to aid digestion. Our Puritan ancestors nibbled this sweet, tasty seed to stay alert and refreshed during church services so it was given the nickname, “meetin’ seed”.
It is one of the oldest medicinal plants used by the ancient Chinese with the seeds dominating the health applications. They contain an essential oil with active ingredients that are said to relieve congestion, bloating, flatulence, and gastrointestinal spasms when they are used to make a tea (see recipe). A compress soaked in fennel tea is believed by some to reduce puffiness around the eyes.
The whole or ground seeds add a pungent aroma and taste to breads, cookies, cakes, and other desserts (see recipes). The fresh tender leaves and stems are delicious in salads, sauces, soups, cheese spreads, dressings, and marinades. Use two tablespoons of chopped fresh leaves for every four servings adding them to cooked foods at the last moment because heat dissipates the delicate flavor.
The blanched stems and bulbous bases can be steamed or eaten raw and are edible as soon as they begin to fatten on the plant. Unlike the seeds, other parts of the fennel plant lose flavor when dried so they are best chopped and frozen for later use.
Fennel requires six hours of sun each day and a rich, well-drained soil to thrive. More water during the hot weather will guarantee a plump tasty bulb. “Earth up” around the bulb to prevent photosynthesis so the bulb remains white. It grows well in cool conditions so a planting in August will mature in the fall. Fennel is said to be a “nasty neighbor” to bush beans, tomatoes and peppers and coriander is unfriendly to fennel because it prevents seeds from forming. Locate these plants far from each other in the garden!
Feathery fennel leaves and four-foot tall umbrella like yellow flower clusters wave jauntily in the winds of Tehachapi! It is an attractive backdrop for shorter yellow flowering herbs such as santolina and chamomile, as well as colorful flowers. Fennel will surely embellish your garden skyline as well as your menus.
We will venture into the world of SPICES during the cooler months .Contact me at www.herbbasket.net with requests and favorite holiday recipes that include spices.
Medicinal tea (for ADULTS ONLY)
Pour one cup of boiled water over two teaspoons of fresh crushed fennel seeds (ORGANIC ONLY). Steep for five minutes. Drink three cups a day between meals to relieve occasional indigestion. Not for chronic indigestion.
Sprinkle tops with ground fennel seeds before baking.
Add a dozen fennel seeds to the water in which the shellfish is to be cooked.
Add one teaspoon of ground fennel seed to your favorite butter cookie recipe.
Cut off the leafy parts and save them for other recipes. Cut up the stems and bulbous base. Steam as you would any vegetable. Serve with butter and grated cheese.