Florence Fennel: A Culinary Virtuoso

Florence fennel, or bulb fennel, is an unsung culinary virtuoso.

Each plant offers succulent “bulbs,” delightful leaves, aromatic seeds and highly valuable pollen. 

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean coastline, where it has been appreciated since ancient times for its medicinal and culinary versatility, yet it remains relatively obscure in American cuisine! 

In Greek mythology, Prometheus is said to have smuggled fire from the gods to humans inside a fennel stalk.

In Medieval times, fennel was used to ward off evil spirits, and Charlemagne ordered it grown in every imperial garden of the Holy Roman Empire. The early Roman botanist Pliny the Elder listed 22 medicinal uses for fennel, including as a remedy for stomach ache and as a treatment for serpent stings. 

Puritans chewed fennel seeds to stave off hunger during church services, calling them “meeting seed.” Thomas Jefferson once called fennel his favorite vegetable, saying “no vegetable equals it in flavor.”

Also known as “finocchio” or “sweet anise,” Florence fennel is especially known for its large, swollen stems that resemble bulbs. The fronds or leaves are instrumental in many Mediterranean meat dishes. Roasted, fennel bulb’s mild licorice flavor turns sweet and sublime. Raw, it adds a nice twist to apple-carrot-beet juice, too! 

Florence fennel is a sun-loving plant that prefers consistently moist soil. Plant mid-June to July to prevent bolting and allow the bulb to grow during the cooler, shorter days of late summer and early fall. It’s low in calories and so delicious, making a perfect addition to the home garden!

Find Florence fennel seeds here.