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
the same sweet licorice flavor as Sweet Green 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, Bronze Fennel makes a 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
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.
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.
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.
Milk steeped with Bronze Fennel can be used to make ice cream or
added into baked goods.
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.