|Should You Add Fennel To Your Garden This Year?|
The ancient Greeks called it "marathon" because it grew wild around the village of Marathon, which was about 25 miles from Athens. This vegetable, or herb, is also known as finocchio, sweet fennel, fetticus, carosella, Florence fennel and sweet anise. Its history and world-wide popularity (not to mention its wide variety of uses) make me think you might want to grow it in your vegetable garden...or your herb garden this year.
It seems a lot of people grow fennel these days because of its prevalence in Italian and Mediterranean recipes; but the history of this herb/vegetable shows it is much more versatile than that! New England’s Puritans called fennel "meeting seeds" and they used them to help endure their endless church services. Some researchers say fennel seeds help suppress the appetite. Others say many Puritans readied themselves for the marathon services with whiskey and then chewed the aromatic fennel seeds to mask the evidence. I suspect a bit of both methods were used.
Fennel has been used since ancient times as a digestive aid and as a healing herb. Even today many Latin Americans boil its seeds in milk as a "milk promoter" for nursing mothers. Its current medicinal/herbal uses are beyond the scope of my article, but its growth and culture are not beyond your garden!
Fennel, scientifically known as Foeniculum vulgare, is actually a perennial plant; but it is commonly grown as a tall annual (3-6 ft. high) in full sun and good garden soil. It is commonly planted by seed in early spring. Fennel’s stalk looks like celery and can be eaten raw (or boiled) when they reach a diameter of about an inch. The stalk and all other parts of the plant have a distinctive anise-like (licorice) fragrance and taste.
Many varieties of fennel produce a bulbous base which is called the "apple" and is often cooked as a vegetable. Because the plant grows rapidly, many gardeners make successive plantings two weeks apart. That’s always smart in vegetable production, but not a lot of people do it.
I read about one lady who likes to cook fennel outdoors on the grill and bastes it with olive oil. I think I’d like to try that, too. The seeds can be harvested for use in dieting (or other long-meeting needs) by shaking them out and drying in a cool location. The seeds are popular in European rye breads, in Italian sausages and meatballs, and can even be found in Chinese five-spice powders. The apples, or bulbs, can be harvested once they’ve reached the size of a tennis ball or larger. In short, people all over the world use every part of fennel in their cooking.
Here’s one other use for fennel you may not know about. The Anglo-Saxons who settled England around the 5th century used fennel hung over their doors to protect them against witchcraft. That knowledge may help you understand a Harry Potter movie sometime.
Regardless, consider adding fennel to your 2010 garden plans and make this your best gardening year ever! Happy Gardening!
Jerry A. Chenault is with the Urban R.E.A., New & Nontraditional Programs.