Fennel (Foeniculm vulgare)
Foeniculm vulgare is a hardy herbaceous perennial. This decorative plant and grows to around six feet, when in flower. The feathery foliage and umbels of soft yellow flowers earn it a place in many mixed borders. There are two foliage colours available. Foeniculm vulgare , or green fennel, has bright green foliage. Foeniculm vulgare ‘Purpureum’ is known as bronze fennel. The foliage of this one are a deep purple brown when young and fade to dark bronze. Occasionally leaves will turn vivid red in autumn. In both cases the plants may be cut to the ground in summer and will produce a fresh display of their feathery foliage. This will delay, or even prevent flowering depending on timing. If done too frequently it will weaken the plants.
Both types will come true from seed. The seed heads can be left on the plant over winter; they look attractive and are enjoyed by birds. Self sown plants will appear, any that aren’t wanted or are badly placed are best moved or removed when young. The plants soon develop a deep root system and are difficult to remove once established. As soon as the flowered stems are cut down, fresh new fern-like foliage is produced. Some people prefer to cut out the stems before flowering, in order to keep the plants small and neat.
The herb is reputed to be an aid to slimming. A cup of tea fennel tea before each meal is the suggested dose. To make the tea, lightly crush a teaspoon of seeds (a rolling pin is useful for this) place the seeds in a cup or pot, pour on half a pint of boiling water and allow to infuse for five minutes. Strain and serve with a slice of orange. Fennel tea also soothes the digestive system and relieves sore throats.
The seeds are sometimes used as a spice, added to cakes or sweets. Both the leaves and seeds can be added, sparingly, to many cooked dishes. Fennel leaves go well with fish. Chopped leaves make a tasty addition to salads. The flavour is similar to aniseed.
Fennel is easy to grow from seed. Sow in modules as it dislikes root disturbance. Young plants can often be bought at garden centres. Small plants bought in spring will flower the same year and provide plenty of seed to stock even the largest garden. It prefers a sunny, well drained position.