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Florence Fennel

( Originally Published 1933 )


Umbelliferae Annual

This annual fennel is a low-growing, thick-set plant with a short stem. The stems are bushier, dwarfier, and spread out at the base and overlap each other only at the base, not all the way up the stem as in F. vulgare. The joints set very close together towards the base, which in time forms a bulbous thickening, firm and white. When cooked this makes a pleasant anise-tasting vegetable. It is a darker green than the others and the thread-like divisions of the leaves are shorter. It is very fragrant of anise.

Vilmorin says the plant never grows over two to two and one-half feet high. He describes the leafstalk as of a light green.

Seed. The seeds are oblong, very broad in proportion to their length, flat on one side and convex on the other, with five prominent ribs between which the gray color of the seed shows through.


The Italians use the stem bases to aromatize wine, and eat the stem as a vegetable. The seeds of this variety are said to have the most agreeable taste of all and are used by the English as a condiment. The plant is grown extensively in California and sold as a vegetable in the Eastern markets.


For summer crops the seed is sown in spring and, where winters are not early, towards the end of summer for an autumn crop. It should be thinned to from eight to twelve inches apart and watered fairly frequently. When the head of the enlarged leafstalk is about as big as a hen's egg, says Vilmorin, it may be slightly earthed up so as to cover half of it and about ten days later the most forward plants can be cut. So far I have not succeeded in getting the leaf bases to swell up to a sufficient size, nor did the plant flower for me the first summer, but that may be the fault of insufficient skill and experience, for a neighbor of mine has been successful.


The old writers did not always specify which of the fennels they were describing, so I have selected the history which may have been applied either to F. vulgare, officinails, or dulce, and brought it under one general heading. Fennel is mentioned by Theophrastus, Hippocrates, and Dioscorides, and by Pliny, who said that before serpents cast off their old skins they ate fennel, and that the juice of the plant sharpened the sight, while the roots boiled in wine and applied to the eyes were thought to have cured cataract. It was thought if too many stalks of boiled fennel pickled in brine and honey were eaten they gave one a headache. It is said that female deer purge themselves with fennel before their young are born.

Ibn Baithar mentions it, and it is on Charlemagne's list.

John Josselyn said, "fennel must be taken up and kept in a warm cellar all winter." To-day it is grown commercially in southern France at Nīmes and near-by places, in Italy, Germany, and in California.

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