Tender fennel flowers are small bright yellow florets that grow in clusters to form a delicate bouquet. With a taste similar to licorice, fennel flowers are used as flavoring in cooking and for medicinal purposes. There are two types of fennel. One is an herb, and the other is a vegetable.
Herb Fennel vs. Vegetable Fennel
Most people think of fennel as a vegetable, not realizing there is also an herb fennel. Each has similar properties and all parts of each are edible. Both are known for their licorice or anise flavor.
- You can plant extra if you wish to harvest flowers and seeds.
- The fennel herb grows between three and five feet tall.
- The feathery fennel foliage looks similar to dill.
Market for Herb Fennel
According to Growing for Market, fennel growers cultivate herb fennel for its leaves and seeds.
- The different uses include soups, fish recipes, salads and teas.
- Fennel seeds are used in baked goods, desserts and even drinks.
- You can also use flowers, seeds and leaves for teas.
The vegetable fennel (Florence fennel or Finocchio - Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) is usually referred to as Florence fennel or anise fennel due to its taste. There are countless recipes for vegetable fennel dishes.
- Florence fennel is of the carrot family and produces a bulb-like vegetable.
- Compared to herb fennel, vegetable fennel is shorter in height.
- The fennel bulb is typically harvested before the plant blooms. You can always wait to harvest a few plants to allow the flowers to emerge and then harvest both at the same time.
- Vegetable fennel seedlings are also grown as microgreens.
Grow Vegetable Fennel
Fennel is easy to grow and can be added to your garden plan. You can typically get two crops out of this bulb-shaped vegetable during most growing season zones. Once in the spring and again in the fall (harvest the second crop before first frost).
- This annual vegetable has a maturation of 80 to 115 days.
- Start seedlings indoors eight weeks before the last frost or direct sow three weeks before the last frost.
- Plant 12 inches apart or one per square for a square foot raised bed garden.
- Fennel requires rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Grow in Containers
You'll probably want to select a smaller bulb fennel variety such as a Romanesco for a container garden.
- Select a deep container, at least 12" deep.
- Use loose soil, such as potting soil or vegetable specific soil for containers.
- Keep the soil moist at all times.
- As the bulb grows, you'll need to add soil to hill up the plant by covering the bottom leaves. You'll need to repeat this as the bulb grows bigger.
Tips for Growing Perennial Herb Fennel
Perennial herb fennel is self-seeding and can be grown in hardiness Zone 4 and up.
- A mature herb plant can yield as many as 100,000 seeds.
- Growing one or two plants is usually sufficient for most families.
- Don't plant near dill to void cross-pollination.
The seeds for both plants are oval in shape and fairly small.
- The herb fennel is used for seed production.
- You can use whole seeds or purchase fennel powder to use in various recipes.
Fennel Medicinal Uses
This ancient herb and plant have been used for centuries in various traditional medicines, such as Ayurveda to treat a wide range of medicinal conditions. Fennel has been used for reproductive, digestive, respiratory and endocrine related illnesses, including cancer, arthritis, colic, conjunctivitis and a long list of other diseases. All parts of the plants are used in these treatments. It has also been used to aid lactating mothers needing to produce more milk. Fennel chemical properties are being studied for the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer's.
How to Use
You can get the benefits of fennel in a variety of ways.
- Powdered fennel is often used in lieu of whole seeds.
- Fennel tea can be used for medicinal or culinary purposes.
- Fennel extract is also used for medicinal purposes.
- In some cultures, fennel seeds are chewed at the end of a meal to aid digestion and prevent bad breath.
Other Health Benefits
Vegetable fennel is a healthy food to consume because it is high in fiber, Vitamin C and potassium. It also has iron, calcium, magnesium and other nutrients. Eating fennel can help bone health, improve skin health, aid in digestion and may be beneficial for eye health and blood pressure. In addition to the above medicinal uses, herb fennel may also be beneficial for menopause symptoms, and the compounds present in fennel may be potentially helpful in treating glaucoma and hypertension.
Herb Fennel Invasive Plant
Unlike Florence fennel, herb fennel can be invasive. Washington State University Extension (WSUE) warns that herb fennel can escape your garden and become invasive.The hardy fennel seeds are still viable even when dormant in the soil, and the taproot can grow 10 feet deep, ensuring the plant survives during droughts. As an invasive plant, it can crowd out native plant life.
Control Methods for Herb Fennel
There are a few things you can do to fight an herb fennel infestation. These include:
- You can manually remove the flowers when they bloom to prevent reseeding.
- WSUE advises to burn the plants for an effective countermeasure.
- Herbicides can be used if hand-pulling, removing blooms and burning aren't effective enough to eradicate the infestation.
An unrelated flower grown for its seeds, Love-In-A-Mist Flower (Nigella damascena) is often called Fennel Flower or wild fennel. This annual herb is native to southern Europe and North Africa. This plant is grown specifically for its seeds.
- The plant foliage is the typical feathery fennel look.
- The blossoms are a bright lacy blue, while some varieties produce pink, white or purples blooms.
- Unlike the other fennel seeds, nigella seeds taste like nutmeg, and are used in wines and desserts.
- This seed has no known medicinal value.
Fennel Flower's Many Uses
The fennel herb and vegetable plants appear to be a treasure trove of possible benefits to humans. Both forms are easy to grow and may provide you with the diversity you seek in your garden.