Fennel is a culinary herb that has been used throughout history in fish and meat dishes. The addition of fennel supposedly aided digestion. Easily grown, it is dramatic in the herb garden, with tall green stalks and heads that flower, looking all the world like dill. It has a taste akin to anise, and just about every part of the plant has a use in the kitchen. Here, we will discuss fennel - the types, how it is used in the kitchen, how it is grown, and we add a recipe for your enjoyment.
The History of Fennel
Fennel has a history going back to the early Greeks and Romans. The Greeks called it marathron, while the Romans called it foeniculum, which means "hay." It has come from these languages down to today, where it is called fennel.
The Uses Of Fennel
Fennel is used not only for cooking, but for medicinal aids as a stimulant, carminative and a weak diuretic. Fennel tea is said to be soothing to the stomach. All parts of the plant are fit for human consumption. Fennel can be used both as a spice and as a vegetable. One precaution noted is that the oil of the seeds can be very irritating or even dangerous to people with allergies or skin sensitivities.
During the medieval era, fennel was thought to be one of nine sacred herbs, with each herb having the ability to cure the nine most serious medieval diseases. The herbalist Culpeper believed fennel could break up kidney stones, quiet hiccups, and was a cure for gout. It also is said it served as an antidote to poisonous mushrooms.
Identifying the Plant
Fennel is known by three distinct types - sweet fennel, Florence fennel, which has a distinctly large bulb and is used in cooking, and common fennel, which has little culinary use. Fennel grows to heights of 4 to 5 feet. It is a perennial, and grows large green stalks topped with small yellow flowers that appear in umbrels. The botanical name for fennel is Foeniculum vulgare, and is also called finocchio. Its leaves are feathery and fine. Every part of the fennel plant is edible, including seeds and roots. It has a distinct sweet licorice taste, making it very good in salads. The plant is native to the Mediterranean area, but can be grown throughout the temperate zones of the world.
Fennel generally takes about 100 days to reach maturity. Fennel is self seeding, but you can begin your plot by buying seed or small cultivars at just about any nursery. If shopping online, Amazon has seeds from India available for sale.
Fennel does not require rich loam to grow properly. The only stipulation it requires is that it be planted in well drained soil. Planting fennel in rich, well fertilized soil is not recommended, because the plant will lose a lot of its aromatic oils and taste if well fed. Be careful to plant fennel away from other plants in the garden, because it will cross-pollinate, and the results of this is disappointing. Grow instead in pots away from the garden plot, or at the very least at the back of the garden. Be aware that fennel grows a very long taproot.
If growing for seed, fennel will mature about late August. Watch the seeds closely to ensure they turn brown but don't start popping off the umbrel. A good method to use when harvesting is to wrap cheesecloth around the umbrel and then cut the stalk. Hang to dry, and when thoroughly dry, thresh out the seeds by slapping the stalk on a hard surface. Be absolutely sure that the seeds are completely dry before storing in an airtight container.
A Great Fennel Recipe
This is a simple recipe using fennel, but its taste is beyond comparison. Easy to make, it uses fresh green beans from the garden or produce section.
Green Beans With Fennel and Feta Cheese
- 1 pound fresh green beans
- 1 fennel bulb, cut into thin slices
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- Bring water to boil in a saucepan half full of water. Add green beans and fennel slices; cook about 4 minutes until almost tender. Drain and run under cold water.
- Over medium heat, put olive oil in the saucepan. Allow it to heat. Transfer green beans and fennel to pan. Add basil, salt and pepper. Cook until beans and fennel are tender and seasonings coat beans and fennel. Transfer to a serving dish and toss with feta cheese
Fennel is a welcome addition to any herb garden. It is easy to care for and its unique taste brightens up any salad or dish. Try fennel today.
Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects and excels in research