Latin Name: Foeniculum vulgare
Family: Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae)
For us, the best way to get to know an herb is to grow it. We also like to observe it as it goes through its entire lifecycle and spend time trying it in different ways.
Fennel is a plant that I have a particular affinity with. When I studied at The Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine , one of the student assignments was to pick a surprise plant from a bowl of plant names and spend time getting to know it. I chose fennel, which at the time felt rather ordinary, but it turned into a surprising plant relationship full of depth and beauty.
Fennel in the Garden
Fennel’s a gorgeous plant with its feathery fronds and pretty compound umbels that bloom bright yellow flower in the summertime. Fennel plants serve as host to swallowtail butterfly larvae, and we like direct sowing zinnias and cosmos nearby for a pollinator paradise in the spring. It's commonly said that fennel is not a great companion to vegetables because it can inhibit their growth, but we have yet to experience this. We have some in our food garden and tucked around our peach tree guild along with many other plants.
Working with Fennel
A neat thing about fennel is that every part of the plant (bulbs, leafy fronds, stalks, seeds, pollen) is edible. Each part has its own distinct flavor and is used in various cuisines around the world. However, the seeds are the plant part most commonly used medicinally. They’re an excellent digestive aid and can be particularly helpful after rich, heavy meals. Knowing this, it is no surprise that fennel seeds are commonly served at Indian restaurants in place of after-dinner mints. Fennel is also known to stimulate digestive juices before a meal, alleviate nausea, soothe irritated throats, and it makes a lovely carminative tea (carminative herbs help to expel gas and reduce bloating).
We also like using the fronds in salads, cordials, deserts, and vinegars. Did you know that fennel fronds turn infused vinegar hot pink? It makes a pretty pairing with basil-infused oil.
Fennel has a long history of use and is steeped in magic and folklore, which is another fun rabbit hole to go down.
We love growing fennel and often have fennel plants for sale in Central Texas, depending on the season. Here's how to order plants from us.