A member of the Umbelliferae family, fennel is a cooler season vegetable crop related to carrots, dill, parsley, and cilantro. It has a mild, sweet licorice (or anise) flavor with broad appeal, even among black licorice avoiders.
In the Garden:
Fennel, a native to Mediterranean climates, prefers full sun and well drained soil for growing. To avoid bolting, directly seed it into your garden mid spring to early summer. It will be ready for harvest when days begin to shorten and temperatures cool (Aug/September). Your fennel is ready to harvest when the bulb is thick and fun. Harvest by cutting just above the taproot with sharp pruners.
Store your freshly harvested fennel in the warmest part of your refrigerator inside an open plastic bag. Store fronds in a damp paper towel and use within two days.
In Your Medicine Cabinet:
Historically, fennel was a common remedy for digestive ailments among ancient Greek and Roman healers. It also has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine and is still used in this healing tradition to calm nausea, reduce gas, aid in digestion and clear congested lungs.
From a nutritional standpoint, fennel also has many benefits. The fresh bulb is a good source of vitamin C (immune health, tissue repair, and collagen synthesis, antioxidant), the mineral manganese (metabolism, bone health, blood sugar regulation, and wound healing) and fiber. The entire plant also contains powerful antioxidants (compounds that protect cells from damage) that have been tied to lower inflammation and lower rates of chronic disease.
In the Kitchen:
Fennel is a CSA box addition most folks scratch their head at. Most of us are familiar with eating fennel seeds (think Italian sausage or marinara, chai tea, or spice blends like Chinese five spice), but the bulb and fronds are a different story. Once you become familiar with this vegetable, however, you’ll excitingly anticipate its appearance at the farmers market. Here are some ideas for using the full fennel plant:
Bulb: shave thinly for a salad, cut into wedges to roast or grill
Fronds: garnish eggs/soups/fish, mix into salads for an extra flavor pop, puree for fresh sauce, for compound butter
Stems: add to vegetable or fish stocks (use sparingly!), grill or steam with seafood, use in place of cooked celery (young, tender stems)
Seeds: bake into breads, stuff into sausages, add to pickles or sauerkraut, make chai
For additional cooking tips visit the resources found here and here.
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Photo Credit: Healthline