Growing Herbs: Fennel


Fennel | Pixabay

The ancient Greek word for fennel is “marathon”, based on the Greek victory over the Persians in 470 BC at Marathon, a battle that was fought in a field of fennel. Fennel is mentioned as early as 3500 years ago in the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical manuscript for the treatment of flatulence.

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean, where it was highly sought after by ancient Romans for its succulent leaves and liquorice-like aroma and is one of the oldest cultivated plant.

Fennel is a hardy, perennial, (meaning that it grows year-round) umbelliferous herb, with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It grows wild in most parts of temperate Europe, but is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, where it spread eastwards to India. In the course of time, fennel’s usage spread both to the East and to the North, which is why fennel is now part of northern European cookery as well as of East Asian cooking.

Fennel is not the most potent of the umbelliferaes, but with its sweetish tasting essential oil, is certainly the most pleasant and is well-liked by most children and adults.

The plant is composed of three parts — the bulb, the stalks and the leaves, all of which are edible.

Fennel grows wild in well-drained loam to a height of about six to seven feet in full sun and is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which closely superimposed stalks are arranged.

The Common Garden Fennel is distinguished from its wild relative by having much stouter, taller, tubular and larger stems and less divided leaves, but the chief distinction is that the leaf-stalks form a curved sheath around the stem, often even as far as the base of the leaf above.

Transplantation of fennel can be a difficult proposition. Therefore, it’s advisable the seeds of the plant be sown in the place where you want the plants to grow to avoid transplanting and possible failure. Sow outdoors in autumn for a crop the following summer. Fennel is at its prime from late fall through winter and into early spring.

Fennel plants may also need to be watered on a regular basis during dry spells in the summer time. Keep heavily mulched to reduce soil evaporation and competition from weeds. Fennel is known to bolt if the temperature increases all of a sudden.

Aphids and other insect pests such as the white fly can cause serious damage to fennel plants and the herb is susceptible to such pests. It’s also susceptible to being affected by root rot especially if the soil is too moist or water logged. Due to its vulnerability to frost, fennel is usually grown as an annual in short season gardens before the approach of winter.

Fennel is allelopathic to most garden plants, inhibiting growth or actually killing many plants.


Raw fennel is crisp and crunchy like celery and smells like liquorice. It has a refreshing, clean flavour and makes a terrific addition to salads. Popular since ancient times for its flavour and its medicinal properties, fennel is a staple of the Mediterranean diet

Fennel is best known as a culinary herb; all parts of the plant are edible and best when consumed as soon as possible after picking.

Fennel can be eaten raw in salads or boiled, baked, steamed, stir-fried or micro waved until tender.

The fennel bulb must be washed, trimmed at the base and can then be sliced as called for in the recipe you are using. Fennel is much used in recipes from Iran, Arabia and the Levant; it is also well established in Central Europe, chiefly to flavour rye breads, where the combination of sweet fennel and earthy bread is particularly delightful. Additionally, fennel is often used for pickled vegetables and herbed vinegar.

It’s more delicate than celery and will dry out quickly. The pleasant liquorice flavour of fennel is given more savoury overtones when cooked with onion. Fish dishes are particularly conducive to being flavoured using fennel; the use of fennel is especially apt for oily fish and many strong smelling fishes, like the mackerel and other oil fishes.

It’s also used as a condiment and as culinary spice for meat dishes, fish and seafood, pickles and bread giving it a special flavour. It’s easy to prepare; it’s delicious raw or cooked, and its singular flavour goes with everything.

Cooking oils used domestically can also be flavoured using the fennel simply by adding the fresh fennel leaves to some extra virgin olive oil or to any other cooking oil used in the home.

The essential oil and the oleoresin of fennel are used in condiments, soaps, creams, perfumes, liqueurs and in alternative medicines.

Health Benefits

Fennel has been attributed with many health benefits which I have listed below:

· A remedy for digestive complaints such as flatulence, constipation, colic, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, dyspepsia and hiccups.

· Thought to possess diuretic (increase in urine production), choleretic (increase in production of bile), pain-reducing, fever-reducing and anti-microbial actions.

· Is a cleansing and medicating herb and can be used for a steam facial for opening pores and rejuvenating facial skin.

· Fennel is also a traditional digestive aid for colic, heartburn, indigestion, and stomach aches.

· Used externally to treat conjunctivitis and skin problems.

· Commonly used to treat amenhorrea, angina, asthma, heartburn, high blood pressure and to boost sexual desire.

· Fennel is a mild appetite suppressant and is used to improve the kidneys, spleen, liver and lungs and is said to restore damaged liver cells.

· Fennel is one of the plants that repel fleas and the anise like taste may be a more acceptable choice for indigestion and gas in finicky dogs and cats.

· One of the oldest known herbs that are traditionally rubbed over painful joints to relieve pain.

· High in antioxidants, vitamin C, fibre, niacin (vitamin B3), potassium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, folate (which is especially important for women who are or are planning to become pregnant) and is extremely low in calories, cholesterol and fat.

· Studies have shown that fennel is effective in relieving infant colic.

· Fennel seeds and oil are used as an oestrogen source to regulate menstruation, and relieve discomforts of menopause.


To make the tea put a teaspoon of the seeds in a tea pot and leave to ‘stoop’ for five mins, strain and pour into a cup. Do not add any milk unless you like to drink something that tastes awful. Alternatively, add a half teaspoon of crushed seeds to one cup of boiling water and then allow the mixture to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.

Hi Felicity here. I’ve been a keen gardener for as long as I can remember and love to cook with different herbs. After experimenting for many years growing herbs I have finally written down what I’ve learnt, which I hope will help others.

Source: Felicity Newsham

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: