Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare; Umbelliferae)

Description

A tall, stout hardy perennial 5—8 ft (150—200 cm) tall by about 2 ft (60 cm) with a long white carrot-like root, rather short lived. Very finely cut, fern-like leaves, branching stems, and flat-headed clusters of yellow flowers in late summer. The variety dulce or azoricum is Florence fennel or finocchio, with a bulbous rootstock. A native of southern Europe, naturalised in Britain for many centuries, particularly near southern coasts and estuaries.

Uses

The leaves have a strong and unusual flavour, and are used in cooking, mostly with fish. The basal stems of Florence fennel are eaten as a vegetable. Medicinally it was thought to have weight reducing properties; the liquid is used to make a solution for bathing the eyes. It can also be used as part of a face pack.

History

Another herb dating back to Pliny’s day, 2,000 years ago, and beyond to the Egyptian civilisations. It is mentioned

in the Anglo-Saxon poem Piers Plowman, the reference there obviously being to its property of preventing the feeling of hunger. Florence fennel was first grown here in 1623.

Cultivation

Sow seed outdoors in April in sun or slight shade and a moist, chalky soil, in rows 1 ½ ft (45 cm) apart, thinning to (45—60 cm) and stake the plant as it grows. Finnoccio needs a good warm summer, plenty of moisture and a rich soil; the base of the stem should be

earthed up as it begins to swell so as to blanch it. For winter use, transplant into pots and keep indoors or under glass.

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