Fennel is native to the Mediterranean, where wild (a.k.a., “bitter”) fennel still grows. Although exact dates are lost to the sands of time, fennel was likely first cultivated in either Greece or Italy and was used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. The ancient Greeks and Romans had quite a thing for fennel, eating the seeds, blossoms and the fronds. Pliny The Elder, the ancient Roman author famous for his sweeping encyclopedia, Natural History, mentions fennel numerous times as a treatment for stomachache, to care for the “stings of serpents,” for uterus health and as a treatment for a bunch of other weird ancient Roman maladies.
Florence fennel (also called finocchio or “sweet anise”), the variety eaten as a vegetable, wasn’t developed until the 17th century in Italy. Although many recipes make reference to fennel “root,” it is actually the stalk, swollen into a bulb-like shape at the plant’s base, which is consumed (a similarly common misperception applies to kohlrabi)
Fennel bulbs are a good source of vitamin C, manganese and potassium and (like a whole lot of veggies) are really high in fiber. Fennel seeds are high in manganese, iron, calcium and magnesium. In herbal medicine, fennel is used a remedy for menstrual pain, coughs, to strengthen eyesight and for stomach pain. Fennel seed is also used in folk medicine as a carminative (i.e., for flatulence prevention). In addition, the plant’s seed is said to increase the production of breast milk and to help with infant colic, but talk to your pediatrician about that last — there is some evidence that fennel can actually be toxic to babies. Fennel oil can be dangerous in even small doses – in some cases causing seizures and vomiting — and skin contact with the sap can cause photosensitivity.
Sun: Full Sun
Optimum Soil Ph: 5.5-7.0
Days To Maturity: 80
Sowing Method: Outdoors
Florence fennel is a cool-weather perennial grown as an annual. Fennel can be sown in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring. Seeds germinate best at 60°F. Fennel will tolerate heat and cold but does best when it comes to maturity in cool weather. Fennel requires 90 to 115 frost-free days to reach harvest. For an autumn crop sow fennel in mid- to late-summer.