Finding Out About Fennel

The fennel planted in the Kitchen Garden is flourishing this season! Did you know that fennel is a member of the carrot family? Every part of the fennel plant is edible, including the bulb, leaves that resemble feathers, and the tiny flowers that occur when it goes to seed.

The light, feathery leaves resemble dill; however, the flavor, when eaten, resembles licorice. The bulb can be sliced and has a crisp, crunchy texture similar to celery. Including fennel in your dishes has many health benefits as the plant is high in nutrients like potassium, folate, vitamin C, and fiber.

Fennel is delicious when eaten raw or added to soups and stews. Home cooks can saute fennel in a bit of oil or butter, and the flavor carmelizes, providing a rich texture and sweeter taste. The plant is considered a spice, herb, and vegetable native to the Mediterranean basin, making it an essential ingredient for many cuisines. The feathery leaves or fronds can be used as an herb to flavor, the seeds can be ground and used to spice dishes, and the bulb can be enjoyed as a vegetable.

Many cooks use fennel and anise interchangeably; however, there is a difference between the two plants. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and Anise (Pimpinella anisum) are part of the same family, Apiaceae, but they are different plants as fennel is a perennial and anise is an annual. The spice tarragon also offers a similar licorice flavor profile.

Anise is the most intense of the three plants and is included in Chinese Five Spice powder. Fennel is less sweet and does not have the intense, spicy licorice flavor. Anise seed comes from a bush grown only for the seed, and no other part of the plant is eaten. The licorice flavor comes from the essential oil called anethole found in fennel and anise seeds.

Delicious when braised, sauteed, roasted, or grilled, Fennel can replace celery in soups and stews and makes a great base for roasting chicken. As the plant is a part of a Mediterranean Diet, it is heart-healthy, a great anti-inflammatory, supports healthy skin and may aid in weight management.

Fennel is a cool-weather crop and does best in full sun. Soil should be kept moist but not soggy. The plant performs well in containers and is an excellent addition to herb gardens.

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Photos by Keith Novosel, Social Media Content Creator, Bok Tower Gardens