Wild fennel has the appearance of celery but is is quite different, even though it is a close relative. Despite also being a member of the carrot family, fennel has none of celery's mildness. Almost no vegetable is equal in flavor to fennel. Fennel's strong spice is found in liquorice and anise flavoring. After a bite into one of these white stalks, you won't ever forget the difference between fennel and bok choy.
The unforgettable taste of fennel comes with healing properties, and it can be found in a variety of ecolandscapes in the wild. People often find that wild fennel is superior in flavor to store-bought varieties. Foragers unite. Your search for flavor ends here.
Why Grow Wild Fennel?
This seemingly unfamiliar vegetable has a surprising variety of uses. It is of the genus Foeniculum and the specific species is calledF. vulgare. Fennel offers many health benefits, but it may take some daring to invest in. Fennel's natural characteristics alone make it a vegetable you should consider bringing into your diet. As a gardener, you can expect growing fennel to be similar to growing other herbs. And as a forager, you will come to recognize it and may consider taking it home to grow.
Use Wild Fennel in Cooking
In cooking, wild fennel leaves can be used as an herb to season pork, fish, or wild game meat. Wild fennel can be used in the same way that many other vegetables are used. Its bulb can be eaten raw, sauteed, roasted or stewed in soups. Chopping it up and adding it to soup is a favorite way to prepare fennel. Even the seeds, which hold the largest share of spice flavor, are commonly used to season pickles and cookies.
Fennel is the main spice in preparing Italian sausage; not surprising since this plant originated in the Mediterranean. It is even the flavoring for the alcohols Absinthe and Akvavit. Teas and salads are also made from it. Once in bloom, the clusters of fennel flowers can be added to pancakes for a sweet spice. Fennel is a good source of potassium, calcium and fiber. One cup of fennel has 20% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C.
Using Wild Fennel
The dried seeds are a natural home remedy for freshening breath and treating indigestion. Fennel is often used for its flavor in products like toothpaste, antacids, and breath mints. Anise drops can still be found in an old fashioned candy store. Using a mortar and pestle to grind the seeds, the powder can be readied for use in an herbal remedy.
Fennel boosts immunity, eases menstruation woes, and treats anemia. It facilitates digestion by coating the digestive system with its essential oil. This acts as a stimulant to induce natural gastric secretion, reducing inflammation and encouraging proper nutrient adsorption. It has a positive influence on the circulatory system by lowering high blood pressure and regulating cholesterol levels.
Additionally, fennel is known not only to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors, but also to ward off the harmful effects of chemotherapy treatment. It can prevent macular degeneration and premature aging. Antioxidants are abundant in fennel, which rejuvenate tissue. The juice of its leaves can be applied to sore eyes to reduce irritation.
How to Plant Wild Fennel
Wild fennel is an annual in the upper Midwest, but in warmer climates can be a biennial or perennial. Find wild fennel in an open undisturbed fields and save the seeds for your garden at home. Fennel can be transplanted as well (it is reportedly abundant naturally in the Western states). Avoid picking roadside fennel that may have been sprayed with chemicals or absorbed harmful compounds through its roots.
Plant in low to medium fertility soil. Do not add fertilizer. An organic compost may be added to the first six inches of soil. Soil pH should be in the range of 6.0 to 7.5. Space seeds several inches apart, and more if planting in a container. It takes about three months to grow fennel to size, and two weeks to germinate. Water the seedlings daily to keep them moist. Once they have stabilized their main stalk and roots, water less than daily. More mature plants may be only watered twice a week during dry spells.
When and Where to Plant
Plant fennel seeds after the last frost of winter in temperatures between 50 and 70 F. It will need plenty of space, so don't forget to add more than you might otherwise. Wild fennel will develop an extensive root system. At its maturity, fennel reaches a height of three feet. It may take a few years to observe the growth patterns and heartiness of the variety you planted.
Care and Maintenance
Fennel is known to cross pollinate, resulting in a mixing of flavors, and thus it should be kept away from other garden vegetables. Reserve a portion of the garden for fennel alone. Alternatively, plant wild fennel in a large pot with spacious tap root room. It has a large network of underground roots, much like mint, which can be a danger to lawns and other plants.
Be aware of the plant's horizontal and vertical toot reach. Pluck out fennel seedlings while they are young or you may need to spend some time digging deeper in the future to uproot the plant.
Keep fennel in full sun and the soil well drained. Stake the fennel plant if their height puts roots stability at risk. Lean or tie the stake to the plant's upper portion for balance. In terms of insects and infestations, slugs and snails may find your fennel plant interesting. Small populations can be removed by hand. Aphids and flies can be controlled by spraying the foliage of the plant with a soapy insecticide spray. Container plants need to be in direct sunlight or in a south-facing window.
After months of watching, you can finally make use of what you have sowed. Fresh wild fennel should be used within three days of harvesting, so take what you need right away and leave the rest for the near future. All three parts of the plant can be used, each with distinct purposes. Seeds are produced after the plant has bolted.
The bulb is the most prized part of the plant and has side dish potential. The bulb of wild fennel will be the most familiar to cooks. Cook the bulb like any other root vegetable. Harvest the fennel bulb when it is three to five inches across. If you want to harvest the bulb and the seeds, you will need to have multiple plants. The bulb should be harvested before the plant goes to seed; otherwise the base flavor will be changed.
Wild fennel's foliage is similar in appearance to the greenery of dill. Cut the plant where the green stalks meet the white stalks or just the most leafy strands with a pair of scissors. Foliage can be removed and regrown throughout the season. These loose, long strands can be chopped up while fresh or dried. For drying, tie together handfuls of stalks and hang them from a ceiling hook in a warm place. You may preserve the herb fresh by placing chopped fennel in an empty ice cube tray and filling each with water to provide a protective medium. Later, transfer the cubes to another container after they have solidified.
Seeds have an aromatic anise flavor, like liquorice. Collect the seeds when they are brown. Place a container under the cluster of seeds and shake to loosen. They should fall easily away from the plant. Leave the seeds to dry in the sun until they have darkened to gray. Consider harvesting fennel seeds to prevent widespread growth even if you are not using the seeds for other purposes. Dried seeds can be ground and saved as a spice.
With an endless list of ways to use fennel, it's a wonder that fennel mostly goes unknown. Once non-native to North America, wild fennel has taken root throughout the lands; so much so that it is often considered a weed. But it has its heart around many a forager or wild plant seeker. Fennel's abundance is a flavor of love. Bring your shears and a sack for the bounty. Collect and try a new recipe. Few plants are as versatile and as easily recognizable. Nature's healing properties will greet you and thank you.