Once you plant this cousin to carrots, you will have a year-round food source. Fennel looks pretty in a landscape, too!
Large feathery fronds wave in the breeze, with yellow umbel-shaped flowers. The bulbous base looks like a rounded, closely packed celery. This perennial herb can grow quite large, up to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety. In colder climates, fennel is grown as a biennial.
Fennel as food
Milder than anise, all parts of the fennel plant are edible:
Fennel as medicine
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) also has medicinal uses. Fennel seeds contain volatile oils that stimulate mucous production in the digestive tract, providing temporary relief from digestive upset, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Celiac’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. Fennel also reduces nausea and is said to ward off the effects of hangover (though I’m not sure about that one). In Medieval times, fennel was eaten as an appetite suppressant.
Fennel in the garden
Fennel attracts a wide variety of beneficial insects, including hoverflies, ladybugs, lacewings, bees, and syrphid flies. If larger varieties of fennel are selected, they make a nice landscape anchor.
How to grow fennel
Fennel can be started in the Bay Area in spring or fall. It prefers sunny locations and is often seen growing wild alongside freeways. Fennel grows so easily from seed that wild fennel has become invasive in many areas. Seedlings should be placed 8 to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety. Young fennel plants require regular watering in summer, but I generally wait to water mature plants until they start to wilt without any noticeable ill effects. As the bulbs grow, bank a little dirt around them. This keeps them white and helps them to stay tender. When your fennel bulbs reach tennis ball size, use a sharp knife to cut away the roots, leaving them in the soil for beneficial soil microorganisms.
Fennel tends to bolt, or go to seed, when the roots are disturbed. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it will mean more new plants. If the roots are not overly disturbed, they will put out new bulbs. Viola! Perpetual food either way!
Find a sunny spot in your yard or use a large container to add fennel to your edible landscape!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!