This week we are looking at another edible plant, which is great for wildlife too! Foeniculum vulgare, commonly known as fennel. This lovely evergreen perennial can be enjoyed all year round with its delicate, fern-like foliage. The umbels of small, yellow flowers bloom in late summer to early autumn with the seeds ripening throughout autumn.
With it’s tolerance of most soils, fennel is a fairly easy plant to grow. It favours a sunny, dry position, growing particularly well in sandy soils. Once established it will tolerate drought very well and depending on what part of the UK you live in, they will often continue to do well throughout the winter months, so long as the soil is well-drained and the weather isn’t persistently cold and wet. Fennel isn’t the best companion plant as it can inhibit the growth of nearby plants, particularly kohlrabi, beans and tomatoes. In a similar fashion, wormwood and coriander inhibit the growth of fennel.
With a delicious aniseed flavour, fennel can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. The foliage can be enjoyed young and mature, however maturer foliage will often be tougher. You can also eat the flowers and leaf stalks. The stem and leaf stalks form a sort of bulb which you can also eat raw in salads, roasted, braised, the list goes on. The root can be enjoyed cooked and has a parsnip-like flavour. The seeds are also used as a spice or can be made into a herbal tea. For some delicious recipes featuring fennel check out this post by One Green Planet.
Foeniculum vulgare is a great plant for attracting wildlife. It attracts all manner of insects into the garden, both pollinator and pest predator. The presence of fennel in the garden helps to maintain a natural balance of insects in your garden which can prevent infestations of insects such as aphids. Even birds will enjoy fennel as the seeds provide a great source of nutrition during the autumn months.