Fennel - the Plant and Its Uses

Fennel - the Plant and Its Uses
Shortly after we were married, my husband brought home a clump of green woody-textured stems with roots and planted it in the front yard close to the house. Our yard is mostly red clay so plants must be hearty to grow well here. The stems soon produced wispy greenery and in the springtime there were tiny yellow flowers that lay in a single layer across the top of each branch.

The plant had an aroma similar to licorice and as it grew and the foliage filled out it became a very pretty addition to the yard. Each year it has made a larger and thicker circle of canes. We have enjoyed its beauty and the unusual smell that comes from the stem when it is broken off. We wondered for some time what kind of plant it might be but no one we asked seemed to know. Finally we searched the internet for plants matching a sketchy description and after reading several articles and looking at quite a few pictures, we found that our plant matched the description and image of an herb called fennel.

We also did some research on what fennel can be used for and found some interesting facts. The entire fennel plant is edible, even the bulb which is the most nutritious part. Fennel seeds can be gathered after the blooms shed and are good for seasoning fish, sausage, and poultry. The stalks and leaves are used as ingredients for many Italian dishes. For a different and healthy salad idea cut up new, tender fennel stems and leaves and serve Italian style with olive oil, salt and lemon wedges as suggested in "A Pinch Of...." . 

Fennel also has medicinal value and has been successfully used to relieve discomforts in the intestines and stomach such as gas and cramps. Fennel contains potassium and fiber and is beneficial in reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The fennel bulb produces Vitamin C which aids the immune system and is naturally antibacterial. Essential oil of fennel is gleaned from the plant's bulb and can be diluted and used as an ointment for skin irritations. It can be taken as a tea or as an herbal capsule which can be purchased from health food stores.

For a unique addition to your herb garden look for fennel seeds or sprouts at your local garden center or feed and grain store. As it grows and spreads you can share with your friends and family who enjoy gardening.