Spiced fennel was already used as a medicinal and culinary herb in ancient times. The large yellow flower umbels of the vigorous perennial are real eye-catchers.
The filigree leaves of the spiced fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare var. Dulce ) give many dishes an aromatic taste. The seeds have also long been valued for their healing powers. This article will tell you everything you need to know about growing, caring for, and using the medicinal herb.
Spiced fennel: origin and properties
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The spice fennel or sweet fennel belongs to the Umbelliferae family (Apiaceae). The natural range extends from Central Europe to North Africa to West Asia, but nowadays the plant can be found in many parts of the world. It is a biennial plant that forms large double umbels with many yellow individual flowers in the second year from July. Between October and November, the seeds ripen, which are elongated and crescent-shaped. The leaves are also elongated, thin, and pinnate several times.
Since the individual spice fennel leaves are not particularly large, the plants produce many of them. Depending on the nutrients, water, and space available, spice fennel plants are between 50 and 150 cm tall. In contrast to tuberous fennel, the spiced fennel does not form a thickened tuber at the bottom.
Spiced fennel has been used as a remedy by Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks for over 4000 years. For this purpose, the seeds were boiled as tea. The filigree leaves can be used as a spice in the kitchen and are reminiscent of aniseed in taste.
The real fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare ) is divided into three varieties, which differ mainly in the appearance and the use of the plant:
- Spiced fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare var . Dulce ): The seeds of the spiced fennel are used as a spice or are prepared as tea. The leaves can be used as culinary herbs. A special fennel variety is Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce ‘Rubrum’, which is also called bronze fennel. The pinnate leaves are bronze-colored and an eye-catcher in every garden.
- Tuber fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare var. Azoricum ): This variety is also known as vegetable or onion fennel. This is where the thickened tuber is eaten.
- Wild fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare var. Vulgare ): Wild fennel is also called bitter fennel. This is the wild form that was used as a medicinal plant by the Romans in ancient times.
Growing spiced fennel: location and procedure
Spiced fennel is a sun-loving perennial that prefers nutrient-rich and humus-rich soil. If you want to harvest the seeds, you will have to wait until late autumn of the second year. The soil should be rich in lime and have a neutral to slightly basic pH value. Since the young plants are still sensitive and are eaten by snails, it is advisable to move them forward on the windowsill from April. From mid-May, the seeds can also be sown directly outdoors.
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Tip: To maintain healthy plants, make sure that the crop rotation in the garden changes and do not plant spiced fennel after umbelliferous plants. These include, for example, dill, carrots, caraway seeds, parsnips, or ground grass.
Sowing and growing of spiced fennel:
- Sow in pots from April; to do this, fill plant pots with cultivation soil; our Gardender organic herb & seed-soil is ideal with its pH value of 6.1 to 6.9 for growing young plants; Press the earth firmly into the pots.
- Place 1 – 2 seeds per pot at a depth of 5 mm and cover with soil.
- Water the seeds well; then set up in a bright place at around 20 – 25 ° C; Germination after about a week.
- After germination: move to a place with 15 – 18 ° C for healthy plant development; to harden on warm days, place them in the shade at first by the hour, then longer outdoors.
- From mid-May: plant out in the open ground at a distance of 50 cm.
- Water well and provide enough water for the next few days as soon as wilt occurs.
Tip: Spiced fennel is also suitable for growing in a bucket. Use loose soil that has a high water storage capacity. Our Gardender organic tomato & vegetable soil, for example, is nutrient-rich, peat-free, and can hold water well thanks to the coconut pulp it contains. Put the pot in a sunny spot. The plants need to be watered regularly, especially on hot days.
Spiced fennel in mixed culture: Fennel goes well with peas, cucumber, celery, leek, or lamb’s lettuce in the bed. Avoid tomatoes as direct neighbors.
Care of sweet fennel
The plants require relatively little care. Spiced fennel should be sufficiently watered during prolonged drought. Weeds should be removed regularly from young plants so that the fennel plants are not in sharp competition for water, light, and nutrients. Dried shoots can be removed in the spring of the second year. In the case of nutrient-poor soils, fertilization when planting and one in early summer makes sense. A long-term fertilizer, which can be used for many other vegetable crops in addition to fennel, is suitable for this. The nutrients in the organic fertilizer are released over a period of over three months and ensure good growth.
Is Spiced Fennel hardy? Young fennel plants and fennel in pots should be protected from frost. On the other hand, vigorous plants in the open do not need special protection. Most of the shoots die over the winter, but this is normal. The plant then sprouts again the following year.
Harvesting and using spiced fennel
During the summer, the tender leaves can be used as a spice in the kitchen. The taste of the leaves is reminiscent of anise and they are suitable for use in dips, sauces, and salads. The seeds are used in naturopathy for digestive complaints, respiratory diseases, and as tea during pregnancy. The seeds are also used in the kitchen as a condiment or in bread. The seeds fully ripen in the second year between October and November. To harvest the fennel seeds, cut off the entire flower umbels when the first seeds fall on their own. You can tie the umbels into a bouquet and place them over a vessel. This is how you collect all the seeds in the container.
Tip: If you only want to process the leaves, you can regularly remove the flower umbels before they bloom. As a result, fennel plants stay in the same place for four to five years.