About Fennel

June 3, 2007

About Fennel

Fennel is native to southern Europe and southwestern Asia.  It is a highly aromatic herb, erect, grayish or bluish green, and it grows up to 7 ft tall.  The finely dissected leaves grow up to 2 ft long.  Fennel is widely cultivated for its edible, strongly-flavored bulbs, leaves and seeds.  The flavor is similar to that of licorice though usually not so strong.

Fennel is a hardy perennial when grown in favorable climates and soils, and a biennial in less suitable conditions.  It has been used as a vegetable, an herb, and as a medicinal plant since ancient times.  In medieval times fennel was used in conjunction with St. John’s wort to keep away witchcraft and other evil things.  This practice may have originated from fennel’s use as an insect repellent.

Fennel may be used raw or cooked.  However, cook fennel as little as possible in order to preserve its flavor.  With its soft anise flavor, fennel is sweet, refreshing, and delectable.  Because a fennel bulb has a well-defined shape, it can assume a strong role on the plate, especially when cooked in halves.  Fennel bulb is a key ingredient in some Italian and German salads, often tossed with chicory and avocado, or it can be braised and served as a warm side dish.   It is delicious braised, baked, steamed, sautéed, or grilled.

Baby fennel is perfect for salads.  Good partners for baby fennel include olive oil, butter, thyme, bay parsley, fennel seeds, orange, lemon, saffron, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, garlic, Parmesan, Gruyere, and goat cheese.

Many egg, fish, and other dishes employ fresh or dried fennel leaves.  One may also blanch and/or marinate the leaves, or cook them in risotto.  In all cases, the leaves lend their characteristically mild, anise-like flavor.

Fennel is an excellent source of potassium.  It contains vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous.  Fennel is thought to be a diuretic, an antispasmodic, and a stimulant.  It is also said to soothe gastric pain, to aid the digestion of fatty foods, to stimulate the appetite, and to cleanse the body.

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