Also known as finocchio, common fennel, sweet fennel, wild fennel and sweet cumin. Store in cool, dry, dark place away from heat, light and moisture. Seeds will stay fresh for 2 years. Ground Fennel will keep for 6 months to 1 year if stored properly.
Fennel yields an herb and a spice. The stems and leaves are all edible. The spice comes from the dried seeds, the herb comes from the leaves and the stalk and root are the vegetable.
Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and is one of our oldest cultivated plants. Roman warriors took fennel to keep in good health while their ladies ate it to prevent obesity.
The seed is similar to anise seed, but sweeter and milder. It pairs well with fish, but Italians also like to add it to sauces, meats & sausages. If you are familiar with the taste, it is probably from having it in commercially prepared sausages. Add the seeds to sauces, breads, savory crackers and water for poaching fish.
Stuff the leaves into oily fish like mackerel and sprinkle finely chopped stems and leaves on salads and cooked vegetables and can also be added to soups and stuffings.
Cultivation of Fennel
Site: Fennel needs moist, fertile, well-drained soil and full sun.
Propagation: Sow seeds on 6" spacing in the spring after danger of frost has past or purchase pre-started plants from your local garden center. Keep soil moist until seeds have sprouted. Plant fennel in successive crops to ensure a steady supply. Planting just one plant then letting it go to seed will give you plenty of plants to contend with the following years - perhaps too prolific.
Growing: It will make remarkable growth the first year, providing plenty of foliage to harvest. The second year plants will reach full height and continue to be prolific in the garden.
Harvesting: Harvest leaves any time after plant becomes established. These leaves can be used fresh or frozen. Stems can be harvested in late summer. To collect seed cut flower heads just as the seeds turn brown and dry them in a paper bag. Once dried separate the seed and store in an air tight container.
Culinary Uses: This tall, graceful Mediterranean herb (do not confuse it with Florence fennel - a vegetable grown for its swollen stem base) has a delicious sweet licorice scent and is often interchangeable with dill in recipes. Use the chopped foliage for fish, salads, vegetables and soups. The seeds are highly recommended for cooking with oily fish such as mackerel.