My Herb Garden – Fennel

My favorite part of gardening is growing herbs.  I love planting flowers and having nice beds of bushes and perennials.  I love growing vegetables and my love of jalapeño peppers is well documented.  But my favorite thing to grow and learn about is herbs.

Why?  Mostly because they are easy to grow.  Most of them tolerate heat and drought fairly well which came in really handy this past Summer.  They require little maintenance – other than making sure that they don’t flower too soon (you do this by pinching off the buds before they flower), you can just continue to harvest and use them throughout the growing season.  And, once the growing season is coming to a close, you can freeze or dry them to use until the next growing season.

There is nothing quite like using fresh herbs in your cooking – either fresh off the vine or bush or your freshly dried or frozen ones.

Herbs have been used for millennia for medicinal purposes, too.  I love doing research on herbs and herbal remedies.  Each year, I try a new herb in my garden.

This past year I discovered how delicious roasted fennel bulbs were when I made Roasted Fennel and Italian Sausage Pizza with Garlic White Sauce.  After I discovered this little recipe, I decided to try and grow this herb in my garden.

My one little fennel plant this past May.

Well, in order to roast fennel bulbs, I really needed to put in more than one plant.  What I learned is that not only is the bulb good to eat, but the stalks and leaves are useful, too.  Adding fennel seeds to pizza adds an amazing flavor dimension.  Fennel seeds can be found in sausages and are good used in soups, stews, fish, and other meat dishes.

When I buy fennel bulbs in the grocery store, they are often labeled anise and fennel, but as best as I can tell by my research they are really two different plants.  I think the bulbs labeled anise in the grocery store are really a type of fennel and not true anise.

Anise seeds are smaller, but similar in look and taste to fennel seeds.  One of my favorite Christmas cookies, Springerle, are made with anise.

Whatever the truth, I decided that since I had only planted one fennel plant that I would see if I could let it go to seed and harvest some fennel seeds.  My one little plant grew the entire Summer until it was taller than I was.

Fennel plant in flower.  From Wikipedia.  This is what mine looked like.

I kept looking for seed heads and didn’t see any.  Until I went to clean up my beds for Winter, that is.

Fennel seeds on the ends of the stalks.

There at the ends of the stalks were fennel seeds!  I carefully cut off the heads and now I have a giant pile of them sitting on a pan in my kitchen waiting for me to decide which of the various methods of drying and preserving these little gems will work best for me.

Fennel has many medicinal used including for digestive ailments in infants and adults.  It is used to cure flatulence, colic, and bloating.  Fennel is believed to improve eyesight, and there is some evidence that it can treat glaucoma in animals.  It has also been used to cure hypertension, improve the supply of breastmilk in nursing mothers, and cure chronic coughs.  Fennel plants and powdered fennel drives away fleas and is used around dog kennels.

I will be planting fennel again next season, but I will look for some Florence fennel plants rather than the generic type that I bought.  I think I will try to not only use the bulbs and the seeds but also the stalks and leaves.  I’m also on the lookout for recipes that use fennel seeds.  I think I have enough seeds for about 10 years.  I think they would be good in bread, and I will make a batch of my own Herbs de Provence.

If you have any ideas, let me know!

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