If you put a picture of fennel and dill next to each other, you would be hard pressed to know the difference ~ but fennel is the one that smells strongly of aniseed, whereas dill’s aroma has a subtler tone.
A native to southern Europe, it now grows just about anywhere and in some places is regarded as a weed due to its prolific growth.
It was widely used by the Romans and Greeks and at least twenty ailments were regularly treated with fennel. In medieval times people chewed the seeds to stop their tummies rumbling as well as freshening the breath.
Fennel is a fast growing perennial that can reach a height of nearly 2m.
The whole plant is edible, from its thread like leaves to its fleshy bulb and hollow stalks, and the little yellow flowers borne on flat heads in decorative umbels.
It grows just about anywhere but will do best in cool to warm climates where there is little or no frost.
Fennel grows best in well-drained, crumbly, sandy soil with added organic matter.
Sow the seed in spring and also autumn in frost-free areas.
Keep well watered. It needs consistent moisture around the roots for sweet, succulent growth. Where winters are dry, be sure to water regularly.
Fennel seldom needs fertilising, but you can give it plant food once in early spring.
Not popular with many other herbs, it is necessary to plant the aromatic fennel far away from other members of the herb family – especially dill, caraway, coriander and wormwood.
Fennel’s feathery fronds are great for garnishes, while the bulbs (especially Florence fennel) are wonderful chopped and braised slowly in a pan with butter. Simply delicious.
Finely chop the fennel bulb into salads for a different taste. The chopped leaves go well with fish (especially oily fish, because of its excellent digestive properties), green beans and in cream cheese dips.
Breads and cakes take on a different character
when fennel seeds are added to the baking mixture.
Fennel seeds are also used in pickles, soups and sauces.
Try sprinkling some seeds on cheese savouries and in sauerkraut.
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Fennel seeds ground fine and mixed with powdered nutmeg and cinnamon can be used as a fixative for potpourri.
Drink the tea after meals to aid digestion, to relieve flatulence and colic. Fennel is a natural diuretic and will help rid the body of excess water.
As a slimming aid, soak some seeds and leaves in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes and add the water to soups and stews.
You can also make a drink from a cup of chopped stalks and leaves boiled in three cups of water for about 10 minutes. Let it cool and drink throughout the day, but no more than two cups a day and for no longer than one week.
Tea made from seeds is an antiseptic and can help clear poisons from the body after an insect or dog bite. It is said to be helpful after snakebite,
but other treatment must also be given. A cooled infusion made from the seeds is a useful eyebath
Pick the fresh leaves for daily use and gather the flower heads to use in salads and to collect the seeds. Put flowers upside down in a paper bag and shake the seeds into the bag when they are ripe and ready.
Store them in airtight jars.