Fennel is the plant Prometheus is said to have used to steal fire from the gods. The herb, which looks something like dill and tastes something like licorice, has a large white bulb and long, green stems, and edible leaves, seeds and roots. It’s high in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, fiber, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron.
Getting started: Sow fennel seeds directly in the container or ground in which you’ll be growing it. Sow seeds a foot apart (or one per container), about a quarter-inch deep. Spray soil lightly with water until shoots develop. This should take place in about 1-2 weeks, though it takes 3+ months for plants to reach maturity. Container should be fairly deep and wide, as fennel has large roots.
Let there be light: A native of the Mediterranean, fennel does best in full sun and warm conditions (don’t try to grow outside in winter in a lot of places). Six hours per day of direct sun is ideal.
Earth, wind and water: Does best in well-drained soil (that doesn’t have to be particularly well-fertilized). Water only once or twice per week.
• It’s actually recommended that you grow fennel in containers, because in a garden it has a tendency to cross-pollinate with other plants, “the results of which are disappointing.”
• When fennel ‘bolts’ and sprouts flowers, it can get especially strong tasting. To prevent this, use organic nitrogen fertilizers such as blood meal or alfalfa meal, says Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farms.
• Flowers aren’t all bad—they produce fennel seeds. “You can easily remove the seed heads by gently rubbing them between your fingers,” Sandberg writes. “You can use these to sow more fennel, or you can use them in cooking. These freshly dried fennel seeds are a lot more potent than super-market bottled fennel seeds.”
Random Fennel Facts:
• The Romans believed that serpents sucked the juice of the plant to improve their eyesight, leading to fennel being known as the herb for “dimness of human vision.”
• Fennel is a cousin of Queen Anne’s Lace and caraway seeds.
Photo: Love Apple Farms