Foeniculum vulgare Bronze Sweet Fennel and Florence Fennel

Mature Bronze Fennel


Spanish explorers of the 1600's knew they would need to bring herb seeds with them to plant in the new world if they wanted to feel truly at home. This is how Sweet Fennel became distributed along El Camino Real or The Kings Highway which connects the 21 missions that span from San Diego to San Francisco, California. Today, tall wispy spires of green Sweet Fennel can still be seen along Interstate 101 which traces that legendary route. In fact, the plant has became so abundant that today many consider it a native Californian plant; some consider it a weed. 

With the same sweet licorice flavor as Sweet Fennel, Bronze Fennel (pictured at top) can be used in place of Green Fennel in any recipe, and the soft wispy leaves with their unique bronze color add a lot of visual interest in the flower or herb garden. With a height of four feet and a breadth almost as great, its wide spreading grace also makes it the perfect back of the border plant for cottage gardens. By the end of the summer it will put up tall spikes that will be endowed with little yellow button flowers. If left on the plant, these will turn brown and make fennel seeds. If these spikes are cut back to the ground the plant will stay looking better longer. 

The leaves are great with fish and can be used to stuff the cavity of a whole fish or to wrap fillets. Jim Long, herbal chef and cookbook author, makes this tasty fennel stuffing for trout. Start by cutting up 1 cup of fennel leaves. Sauté some celery and onion in butter or olive oil until tender, then mix in 2 cups of bread crumbs, 1 cup of chicken broth and the fennel and stuff it into the trout. Then lay slices of lemons over the trout and broil for about 20 minutes. He also makes a tasty quick salad dressing by adding  a couple fennel leave into a blender with some oil, vinegar, parsley, and garlic chives. Please visit this page for more information on Jim's herbal cookbooks. Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz in her book The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices and Flavorings not only stuffs and bakes her fish with Fennel leaves but also flambe's the fish with an anise flavored liqueur.

Also, try combining the leaves of Bronze Fennel with French Tarragon for an extra kick. French Tarragon has a spicy bite that the Fennel does not, and yet both have the anise or licorice flavor. Very tasty Fennel tea can be made from the leaves of both fennels and the seeds of Bronze Fennel. Bronze Fennel is one of the six plants chosen to be in our Zone 5 Tea Herb Garden. Milk steeped with Bronze Fennel can be used to make ice cream or added into baked goods.

If you want to collect the seeds (a prize ingredient in Italian sausage), just leave that flowering stalk.  You can still harvest the outer leaves, just don't cut the center stalk, which will bear the flowers. Watch as the seeds start to turn from green to brown, and then cut the whole head and allow it to finish the ripening process in a brown paper bag. When the seeds are ripe, they will easily shake loose from the main head. Store in a dry airtight jar out of light.

Bronze Fennel is hardy from Zone 5 and is easily grown as an annual in lower zones. Plant as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Full sun and well drained soil are better for producing rich oils and seeds. Cut back to the ground at the end of the season after seeds have formed. Fennel has a long tap root which should not be disturbed after planting.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly

A very important host plant for the Anise Swallowtail and the Eastern Black Swallowtail (pictured at left), Bronze Fennel makes a great addition to our Wildlife Herb Garden Six Pack and is sometimes included in our Butterfly Attractor 36 Pack Assortment.

A host plant is one that the butterfly lays eggs on and the baby caterpillars (the larvae) munch on until they get ready to pupate (or spin a cocoon to become a butterfly in). Butterflies also need nectar plants (like Butterfly bushes) that they derive food and water from.


Sometimes the herb Fennel is confused with the vegetable Fennel (pictured below). The vegetable Fennel is sometimes called Finocchio or Florence Fennel. Unfortunately, it has the same genus and specie name as the herb Fennel with only a varietal name to separate it botanically (Foeniculm vulgare azoricum). There are two main differences. The herb Fennel is a perennial while the veggie Fennel is an annual. The herb makes no root to eat and the veggie fennel is most famous for its bulbous root. Or, put another way, the herb Fennel doesn't make an edible root and the vegetable Fennel doesn't make seeds, well at least not the kind of seeds the herb Fennel does, which are the ones we want to use! Whew...

Florence Fennel starts should be planted as soon as the last frost date has passed. Their roots are fragile so be gentle when transplanting. But, make sure to firm plants in well so that they make good contact with the earth. Plant in full sun in well drained soil and fertilize with an organic fertilizer throughout the summer. Bulbs can be harvested as soon as they are the size you want by cutting the base of the plant at ground level. Occasionally roots will produce smaller size side heads after the main bulb is cut away. Fennel can take a light frost but should be harvested before it gets too cold. If you happen to leave the plants in too long and they start flowering that means they are past their prime for your use, but leave them and the beneficial insects will thank you.

Florence Fennel freshly harvested.

To use the Fennel bulb, slice the white part down the middle and remove the core and any really tough outer leaves. Wash carefully because sometimes dirt sifts down between the layers. The Fennel leaves, though not as powerful tasting as the herb Fennel, make a welcome addition to vegetable or chicken stock.

The delicate flavor of the Fennel bulb works well with all kinds of veggies.

To order veggie Fennel, please visit our Vegetable Plant Order form page.

  Rich Summer Fennel Soup
From Farmer John's Cookbook

Bouquet Garni
1 sprig parsley, stem only
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium or large fennel bulb, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (optional)
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons Pernod (licorice-flavored liqueur) (optional)
1/4 heavy cream or silken tofu
white pepper
chopped parsley



1. To prepare the bouquet garni, tie together the parsley stem, bay leaf and thyme spring in a piece of cheesecloth.

2. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.

3. Stir in the fennel, carrot and potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock, and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook  over low heat until the fennel is very soft, about 30 minutes.

4. Discard the bouquet garni. Let the mixture cool slightly, and then purée it in batches in a food processor or blender. (If you are using tofu instead of cream, add it now and purée with the rest of the ingredients.)

4. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the Pernod and cream. Heat over medium-low heat to allow the soup to heat through, but do not boil. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley.

Bronze Fennel is included in our Zone 5 Tea Herb Garden and our Wildlife Herb Garden Six Pack.

Cultural Information

Height: 4 Feet

Hardiness: Perennial
in Zones 5-11

Flower Color: Yellow

Characteristics: Full Sun/
Part Shade,
Water Conserving

Uses: Butterfly Plant,
Edible Flowers,

Organic Bronze Fennel Plant

$4.95 per 3 inch pot



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