Plant Feature: Florence Fennel

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Fennel is an easy, abundant plant to grow and Florence fennel is an extra special variety.

Florence fennel is the bulb variety of fennel that can be eaten as a vegetable as compared to common varieties; wild, bronze or sweet that are grown for their leaves, pollen and seeds only. Not only can the Florence variety bulb, stems, leaves, pollen and seeds be eaten but this plant also brings wonderful benefits to your garden eco-system. Read on to find out why everyone should be growing Florence fennel this Spring!

Harvested fennel in a basket
Image from here

 

Awesome Features of Florence Fennel

  • Fennel can be grown in almost any climate. In some climates it's an annual plant. Here in Perth, fennel often acts as a hardy perennial that can be grown almost any time of year.
  • Fennel will re-sprout from the base after harvesting to give you a continuous crop!
  • You can eat every part of the Florence Fennel plant, including seeds, flowers, leaves, stems, bulbs, roots and microgreens.
  • Fennel is wonderful for the garden - read on to find out how.
  • Fennel has a long list of amazing health benefits, some of which we have also provided later in this article.

 

What are the Benefits of Florence Fennel for the Garden?

  • Florence fennel is exceptional for attracting a diverse variety of pollinators and beneficial insects. It's large umbelliferae flowers (similar to carrot, celery, dill and parsnip) provide nectar for food and make great bee and other insect landing pads.
  • Florence fennel is a fabulous integrated pest management tool in the garden. It attracts predator insects such as ladybirds, hoverflies, lacewings and native wasps that can help protect your garden from pests such as cabbage moths and aphids. 
  • Flowering fennel is beautiful and adds a delicate pop of yellow colour to the garden.

Florence Fennel Umbel Flowers

Image from here

 

What are the Benefits of Florence Fennel for People?

  • Fennel seeds have a high concentration of minerals, including copper, potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, selenium and magnesium. They are also high in vitamin C.
  • Fennel tea (see below) has many benefits. One is that it helps flush out toxins and reduces risk of urinary tract infections.
  • Chewing on raw fennel seeds makes a great breath freshener as well as relieving gum disease and toothache. 
  • Fennel promotes a happy digestive tract. Fennel tea or chewing on seeds stimulates digestion and the production of gastric enzymes; it helps digestion and prevents the formation of gas. Fennel can offer some relief to those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, bloating and constipation. It is commonplace in India to have a few fennel seeds at the end of each meal.
  • Fennel tea and seeds can reduce asthma symptoms as well as bronchitis, congestion and coughs. Is also said to clear mucus in the lungs.
  • Fennel tea and seeds act as a natural appetite suppressant and was said to be used to assist with weight loss since pre-Roman times.
  • Fennel is great for women's health: it has been used for thousands of years to stimulate breast milk flow and reduce period pain.

 

How To Grow Florence Fennel

As the whole plant can be eaten you grow some for the bulb and allow others to bolt and produce flowers for pollen and seed.

  • When growing for integrated pest management, pollen and seeds, grow in Spring after the last frost of Winter, or in Autumn at least 6-8 weeks before the first frost. However, in a climate like Perth's you can grow fennel virtually any time of the year.
  • The best time to plant Florence fennel when growing for the bulb is early autumn due to the bulbs reaching maturity in cooler temperatures and that they need to be well watered. When growing in Spring be mindful to keep the soil moist during hot days.
  • Position in a well-drained soil and sunny location.
  • Fennel likes soil rich in organic matter. Prepare soil with aged compost and add more compost or organic fertiliser mid-season. Mulch to retail moisture and cover the soil.
  • Fennel requires an acidic to neutral soil of pH 5.5 to 7.0. 
  • Sow seeds directly in the garden 3-6 mm deep or in seedling flats/pots with good soil depth. Thin seedlings to a distance of 20 cm apart.
  • The seedlings take 7 - 10 days to emerge.
  • Florence fennel grows particularly well with mint as a companion plant.
  • For more tender and sweet bulbs, blanch the lower stems when the bulbous base grows to the size of an egg by mulching up around the bulb to cover it (at least 10 days before harvest is best).
  • The bulb should be ready to harvest 90-110 days after sowing.

 Florence fennel growing in soil

 

How to Harvest Florence Fennel

  • You don't have to wait the 90 days for the mature fennel bulb - harvest small amounts of the leaves as it grows.
  • If you have excess seeds germinating or love to sprout, fennel microgreens are a delicious addition to salads!
  • Begin harvesting fennel stalks when they are nearly ready to flower and use them like celery.
  • Harvest the bulbs when a tennis ball size and before the plant flowers, but leave the main root system; it will keep producing. Do this by slicing the plant off below the bulb at ground level and leaving the roots in the ground.
  • If you have multiple plants, leave some to go to seed so that you can either harvest some seeds for cooking, sprouting microgreens, collect pollen or let it self-seed.
  • Each flower can supply about a ¼ tsp of pollen.  Shake the heads and store in an air tight container as a flavour enhancer to meals.
  • If you are harvesting fennel seeds, wait until the end of summer when the seed heads have dried out. Cut off the heads and shake seeds into a container.
  • Harvested fennel bulbs will last several days in the fridge but tends to lose some of their flavour the longer they're stored. Keep them in a moist Swag Produce Storage Bag to stay fresher for longer.

 

How to Cook and Use Florence Fennel

As previously mentioned, you can eat every part of the Florence fennel plant, including the seeds, flowers, leaves, stems, bulbs, roots and microgreens.

  • Use the leaves, bulb, flowers and seeds raw in salads.  They will add a subtle liquorice flavour and the bulb adds a crisp crunch.
  • Use collected pollen as a flavour enhancer to cooked meals.  Only a small sprinkle is needed.  
  • Use fennel leaves as a herb garnish on warm meals and they can be chopped and used as a dill and parsley replacement in soups and sauces.
  • The bulb can be cooked and eaten like a vegetable. When cooked the liquorice flavour is even more subtle and delicious. Roast, boil, grill, sauté, braise, bake or use in soups and other recipes. See our seasonal fennel recipe here: Roasted Fennel with Garlic and Herbs
  • You may like to remove the outer layer of the bulb leaves before preparing as they can be tougher.
  • Dry or preserve fennel in olive oil to extend the harvest.
  • Fennel tea made from the seeds or leaves is good for suppressing appetite and soothing coughs. It is said to help clear mucus in the lungs. Steep 1 Tbs of leaves or seeds (for every 1 cup water) in hot water for 5 minutes, strain and enjoy.
Roasted fennel

 

 References and Further Reading

  • https://ourpermaculturelife.com/fifteen-reasons-to-grow-fabulously-flavoursome-gourmet-florence-fennel/
  • https://www.easy-french-food.com/fennel-recipes.html
  • https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/fennel-vegetables/growing-florence-fennel.htm
  • https://harvesttotable.com/how_to_grow_florence_fennel/
  • https://www.growingformarket.com/articles/Growing-fennel-bulb-herb-pollen

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