Fennel





(Foeniculum officinale, All.), a biennial or perennial herb,

generally considered a native of southern Europe, though common on all

Mediterranean shores. The old Latin name Foeniculum is derived from

foenum or hay. It has spread with civilization, especially where

Italians have colonized, and may be found growing wild in many parts of

the world, upon dry soils near the sea coast and upon river banks.



It seems to be partial to limestone soils, such as the chalky lands of

England and the shelly formation of Bermuda. In this latter community I

have seen it thriving upon cliffs where there seemed to be only a pinch

of soil, and where the rock was so dry and porous that it would crumble

to coarse dust when crushed in the hand. The plant was cultivated by the

ancient Romans for its aromatic fruits and succulent, edible shoots.

Whether cultivated in northern Europe at that time is not certain, but

it is frequently mentioned in Anglo-Saxon cookery prior to the Norman

conquest. Charlemagne ordered its culture upon the imperial farms. At

present it is most popular in Italy, and France. In America it is in

most demand among French and Italians. Like many other plants, fennel

has had a highly interesting career from a medical point of view. But it

no longer plays even a "small part" in the drama. Hints as to its

history may be found on page 54.



Description.--Common garden or long, sweet fennel is distinguished

from its wild or better relative (F. vulgare) by having much stouter,

taller (5 to 6 feet) tubular and larger stems, less divided, more

glaucous leaves. But a still more striking difference is seen in the

leaf stalks which form a curved sheath around the stem even as far up as

the base of the leaf above. Then, too, the green flowers are borne on



more sturdy pedicels in the broader umbels, lastly the seeds are double

the size of the wild fennel seeds, 1/4 or 1/2 inch long. They are convex

on one side, flat on the other, and are marked by five yellowish ribs.

Though a French writer says the seed degenerates "promptly," and

recommends the use of fresh seed annually, it will not be wise to throw

away any where it is not wanted to germinate, unless it is over four

years old, as seed as old even as that is said to be satisfactory for

planting.



Cultivation.--In usual garden practice fennel is propagated by seeds,

and is grown as an annual instead of as a biennial or a perennial. The

plants will flourish in almost any well-drained soil, but seem to prefer

light loams of a limy nature. It is not particular as to exposure. The

seed may be sown in nursery beds or where the plants are to remain. In

the beds, the drills may be 6 inches apart, and not more than 1-3 inch

deep, or the seed may be scattered broadcast. An ounce will be enough

for a bed 10 feet square. When the plants are about 3 inches tall they

should be transplanted 15 or 18 inches asunder in rows 2 to 2-1/2 feet

apart. Some growers sow in late summer and in autumn so as to have early

crops the following season; they also make several successional sowings

at intervals of one or two weeks, in order to supply the demands of

their customers for fresh fennel stalks from midsummer to December or

even later. The plants will grow more or less in very cold, that is, not

actually freezing weather.



If sown in place, the rows should be the suggested 2 to 2-1/2 feet

apart, and the plants thinned several times until the required distance

is reached. Thinnings may be used for culinary purposes. For family use

half an ounce of seed, if fairly fresh, will produce an ample supply of

plants, and for several years, either from the established roots or by

reseeding. Unless seed is needed for household or sowing purposes, the

flower stems should be cut as soon as they appear.



Uses.--Fennel is considered indispensable in French and Italian

cookery. The young plants and the tender leaves are often used for

garnishes and to add flavor to salads. They are also minced and added to

sauces usually served with puddings. The tender stems and the leaves are

employed in soups and fish sauces, though more frequently they are eaten

raw as a salad with or without dressing. The famous "Carosella" of

Naples consists of the stems cut when the plant is about to bloom.

These stems are considered a great delicacy served raw with the leaf

stalks still around them. Oil, vinegar and pepper are eaten with them.

By sowing at intervals of a week or 10 days Italian gardeners manage to

have a supply almost all the year.



The seeds are used in cookery, confectionery and for flavoring liquors.

Oil of fennel, a pale yellow liquid, with a sweetish aromatic odor and

flavor, is distilled with water. It is used in perfumery and for

scenting soaps. A pound of oil is the usual yield of 500 pounds of the

plant.





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