Posted by: Rabideye | October 29, 2009

Fennel flies solo.

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Fennel from below.

Tasty and medicinally-valuable bronze fennel grows incredibly well here in the Powell River region. The carminative overwinters and self-propagates. If grown for seed (as opposed to the crunchy bulb), it is also really easy to grow. In fact, it can be seen as an invasive weed in some areas, and — companion planting-wise —  it really doesn’t “play well” with others. I have tested the theory and it seems to hold true: plants grown around a fennel plant will not do too well at all, so keep it separate from your veggies, as Louise Riotte (Carrots Love Tomatoes) writes: “Most plants dislike fennel […] plant well away from […] bush beans, caraway, kohlrabi and tomatoes”. Curiously, “fennel is inhibited by the presence of coriander and will not form seed.” It also dislikes wormwood, for all you Absinthe fans.

On the plus side, the stuff tastes great, and has so many culinary and medicinal uses. As a flavour, fennel features prominently in Mediterranean cuisine (in Ancient Greek, the plant was called “marathon” since it grew wild in Marathon, Greece– and no, it does nothing for your running skills). It can also be found in many cultures in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East . It’s also becoming more common in North America as a flavour of toothpaste and of course, enjoyed as a tea (helps digestion), and licorice (d’uh). Also, pigs love to eat the stuff, as do birds also love the seeds (in fact, I can see them now — in the rain — picking off the seeds).

I just picked and dried about 2 lbs of the seeds, by selecting only the fully-formed, and partially dried, brown umbrella-like seed heads. Every week or two, I collect a bagful as they ripen. I just snipped them off on a dry day, put them in a paper bag and popped them onto my warm fridgetop. You can also use a dehydrator on a low setting, or your oven with the pilot light on. Some of this will be used for replanting next year.

As for eating the seeds, a little goes a long way, and you can toast them or use them dried in curries and in breads and cookies (Italian Taralli and sausages are nothing without fennel, and the store-bought stuff is just weak in comparison). Toasting definitely brings out the sweeter side of the seeds. Here are some fennel-based recipes!

Other ideas are to use the seeds whole in soaps to add a fragrant, refreshing and exfoliating aspect, or crushed (using a mortar and pestle or coffeebean grinder) to make a toothpaste (mix with very little water and baking soda). How about soaking 1/3 cu. in a small bottle of vodka and sugar syrup to make … Fennelette? And, then there’s the tea mixtures you can make with dried mint and fennel seeds.

Fennel, from Koehler's Medicinal-plants (1887)

Other facts:

• Fennel tea is gentle enough to give to infants and is especially beneficial in treating colic. Fennel tea relaxes smooth muscles and relieves spasms in the gastrointestinal tract which makes it an effective herbal remedy for treating gas and bloating. It also helps treat constipation, soothe an upset stomach, and relieve abdominal cramps. People suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find much relief from fennel tea.

• Fennel tea stimulates the effects of estrogen and has traditionally been used to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS), low milk production, menopausal symptoms, and low libido. Fennel tea also relaxes smooth muscles in the uterus, thus relieving menstrual cramps.

• Fennel tea can help relieve conjunctivitis and sore eyes. After the tea cools, soak a cotton pad in it and place it over the eyelids for ten minutes.

Other benefits of fennel tea include:

  • boosting metabolism resulting in weight loss
  • flushing toxins and excess water from the body
  • soothing a sore throat
  • loosening and expelling phlegm from the bronchial passages
  • reducing a fever.

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