FLORENCE FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum)

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FLORENCE FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum)

Leaves, stalks, and seed are all used for a distinct anise- like flavor in cooked foods. The leaves are used to flavor fish and fish sauces, soups, stews, salads, pork, and veal. The stalks can be boiled, steamed, or braised, and served as a vegetable. The seeds are used in breads, cakes, sauerkraut, pudding, omelets, and apple pie. Fennel tea can be made by pouring hot water over crushed fennel seeds.

Fennel is an annual member of the parsley family but more resembles dill. The plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall, with thick, hollow stems and fine, feathery foliage that turns to a blue green shade as the plant matures. Golden yellow flowers in flat-topped clusters appear in late summer to early September.

Fennel is usually grown from seed. It germinates readily, but the seedlings are difficult to transplant because they have taproots. Sow the seeds in a rich, well-drained soil in full sun as soon as frost danger is past. As soon as the seedlings are 3 to 5 inches tall, thin them to 12 inches apart. When the stem bases are the size of an egg, till soil over them to blanch them. Stake the plants to prevent them from bending over.

You can begin harvesting the leaves when the plant is 6 inches high, but only pick the top 2 or 3 inches to allow for more growth. The stems and leaves should be harvested before any flowers open. Seeds ripen in late summer and are harvested before they fall to the ground. If they do fall, the plant will reseed itself liberally.

SOURCE: James C. Schmidt Department of Horticulture Michigan State University

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