Plant Type: Hardy Perennial often grown as Hardy Annual. Fennel has feathery leaves and produces clusters of tiny yellow flowers that grow atop stalks that reach 3 to 5 feet.
Fennel prefers cool climates and flowers in late summer to mid-autumn.
Sowing fennel seed indoors should be done 4-6 weeks before the last frost. Germination takes 10-14 days, requiring darkness and 65 degree temperature.
Fennel should be started in peat pots because it may not survive transplanting.
Outdoors, plant in early spring or fall when the soil is cool and a light frost is still possible.
To stimulate leaf production, remove flower heads from the fennel plants after they bloom; trim back stems in autumn.
NOTE: Do not grow fennel near dill in your herb garden as they will cross-pollinate.
In autumn, ripe seeds should be harvested and died thoroughly then stored out of direct sunlight, in an airtight container.
Harvest fennel leaves as needed throughout the growing season. Use the leaf as a fresh herb as the fennel leaf may lose much of its flavor when dried. The leaves may be successfully frozen for later use.
Harvest the ripe fennel seeds in autumn as the color fades and the seed-bearing clusters turn to a light brown. Cut the brown seed cluster from the stalk and place it in a paper bag to dry. When dry shake the seeds from the seed cluster while in the bag and store them out of direct sunlight in tightly sealed, glass containers.
Fennel is believed to soothe the stomach when used in herbal tea. However, the oil can be irritating or even dangerous to those with allergies or skin sensitivities.
Fennel can be used with other medicinal herbs as eyewash for tired, sore eyes.
Fennel has a softer taste of anise when used as a culinary herb or spice. Fresh leaves can be used in salads, sauces, soups and stews or to garnish fish. The seeds are often used in cookies, breads, cakes, desserts and beverages.
Here’s a tasty recipe using fennel in a special bread stuffing, courtesy of www.cooksillustrated.comBread Stuffing with Ham, Pine Nuts and Fennel
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter (one stick), plus extra for baking dish
1 large onion, chopped medium (about 1.5 cups)
1 large bulb of fennel, cored and sliced thin
2 tsp. dried basil or 2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil
½ cup minced fresh parsley
½ tsp. ground black pepper
12 cups dried ½-inch cubes from one 1-pound loaf French bread or potato, or challah bread
1 cup pine nuts toasted
½ pound smoked ham cut into thin strips
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
3 large eggs, beaten lightly
½ tsp. table salt
Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 400 degrees (350 degrees if using challah). Heat butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until fully melted; pour off 2 Tbsp. butter and reserve. Return skillet to heat; add onion and fennel and sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in basil, parsley, and black pepper and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Turn onion mixture into large mixing bowl. Add bread cubes, toasted pine nuts, smoked ham, Parmesan cheese, stock, eggs, and salt and toss gently to distribute dry and wet ingredients evenly. Turn mixture into buttered 13x9-inch baking dish, drizzle with reserved melted butter, cover tightly with foil and bake until fragrant, about 25 minutes (30 minutes for challah). Remove foil and bake until golden brown crust forms on top, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Serve warm.