Fennel Culture

Above the lower plants it towers,
The fennel with its yellow flowers;
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers
Lost vision to restore.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A happy umbellifeae, fennel comes to us from the Mediterranean, spread throughout the world by Charlemagne and Italian colonization. The word foeniculum comes from the Latin foenum, meaning hay, corrupted during the Middle Ages to "fenkel."

By nature it is a very hardy, tall, perennial plant that will grow and thrive in almost any sunny situation. Easily propagated by seed, it should be cast in early April. The flower stalks may be cut to ensure a constant supply of greens, or allowed to make seeds for harvest.

Florence fennel is grown and blanched for its bulbous base of stalks. Bronze fennel is a reddish variety that is quite attractive in the garden and also makes a lovely ruby red vinegar with an excellent flavor for salads. Its flavor is sweet and hot and is used to flavor breads, curries, apple pie, fish, salads, cookies, sausage and many Italian dishes.

From the old herbals: Pliny observed that serpents ate it when casting their old skins and sharpened their sight by rubbing against the plant. William Coles in Natures Paradize (1650) says, "Both the seeds, leaves and root of our Garden Fennel are much used in drinks and broths for those who have grown fat, to abate their unwieldiness and cause them to grow more gaunt and lank."

Culpeper states that this wondrous plant -is distasteful to fleas, the powdered seed driving them away. -relieves flatulence. -aids in the digestion of fish. -boiled in barley water it increaseth the milk in nursing mothers and makes it more wholesome for the infant. -opens obstructions of the liver and lungs and eases swelling of the spleen. It has also been noted as a memory and brain tonic, restorer of the liver. The root is used in deep skin cleansing. And the list goes on . . .

FENNEL SPROUTS: Soak 1/4 cup fennel seeds overnight in a one-quart mason jar. Drain water and rinse daily until seeds have sprouted and just turned green. (A piece of screening held in place by the jar ring makes an excellent drain and strainer.)

FENNEL CONFECTION: In a medium weight frying pan cover the bottom lightly with seed; add sugar to taste. Cook over medium/low heat, stirring constantly until sugar melts, crystallizes and remelts. A tasty treat and digestive.

DIETER'S DELIGHT: One tablespoon fennel seed, one boullion cube, parsley. Pour boiling water over the ingredients and sip as tea.

Article written by our friend in grime, Hildegard of Twin Oaks Community. Click here for information on her annual herb workshop.