(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.
ems 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
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