Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (Bronze Fennel) is a hardy perennial, tall and stately with attractive deep brown feathery foliage and yellow flower umbels. I have been trialing it in my herb bed as a potential for mass planting in the borders which I plan to develop next year. It has grown well in the clay soil and is flowering beautifully attracting plenty of beneficial insects.
As I’m gardening on a budget I’ll be propagating from seed collected this autumn and sowing them under protection next spring ready for planting out in mid spring.
If any part of this plan fails I can divide the mature plant in mid spring but this obviously won’t give me as many plants as propagating by seed so fingers crossed for a decent harvest. Over time as the plants become established they will self seed if soil conditions are right, in other words light, which mine isn’t at the moment but I’ll be working on that over the coming months.
How is it Used?
Fennel has many culinary, medicinal and economic uses as well as being a good garden plant.
It’s oil is used in the food industry for flavouring, and in liqueurs such as Sambuca and Fenouillette. It’s also used in perfumes, soaps, toothpastes and air fresheners.
The leaves can be eaten in salads and used to make herbal tea and its seeds can be used whole, ground or cracked to flavour tea, biscuits, bread, stuffings and sausages, in particular finocchiona which is an Italian salami. The flower heads can be used to flavour capers and the dried stems add a subtle fragrance to barbequed fish. Every part of this plant has value.
Fennel has been proved to relieve symptoms of indigestion, colic, wind and poor lactation (seeds), and urinary complaints (root). It can be used externally as a mouthwash or gargle for sore throats and gum disease. Its oil is mixed with the oils of Eucalyptus globulus and Thymus vulgaris , diluted with vegetable oil and used as a rub for bronchial congestion. It is also used in laxative preparations to relieve griping and added to “gripe water” for infants. However, it is not given to pregnant women.
Cultivating fennel requires a fertile soil and full sun. Seeds can be sown in autumn or spring 60cm apart where they are to grow. Otherwise, young plants can be planted in mid spring or autumn or clumps divided and planted 60cm apart in mid spring or autumn. During the growing season you can keep the plant trimmed to provide a succession of young leaves but leave some flower heads if you want to harvest its seeds. Established plants should be lifted, divided and replanted every three years.
Harvesting should take place just as the seeds are ripening. Cut near the base of the plant and hang the stems upside down in small bunches in a dry, well ventilated shed. Place a sheet or container beneath the bunches to catch the seeds as they are shed. Allow the seeds to dry out before storing them in a cool dry place ready for sowing the following spring. Sounds easy, I’ll let you know next year!
A few words of warning, fennel shouldn’t be grown near coriander, dill and caraway as these plants will cross-pollinate. Fennel tea shouldn’t be drunk if you have cirrhosis or any other liver disorder. Though not proved conclusively some medical practitioners believe that fennel can aggravate liver disorders.
It’s still a super plant however and I can’t wait to see it gracing my borders next year.