With its umbels of tiny yellow flowers and dark green or bronze wispy leaves, fennel is a decorative addition to the herbaceous border where it makes a good background plant. Be warned, however, that many other plants dislike fennel and grow poorly when forced to share space with this strong herb. Never plant fennel near coriander or dill.
Fennel will grow in most any soil, but the richer the soil, the more tender the foliage. Seeds should be sown directly in the garden in the late spring. Seedlings do not transplant well. The deep taproots are difficult to pull up, so remove unwanted seedlings while young. The plant will self-sow generously. To maintain a continuous supply of fresh leaves throughout the season, sow a few seeds every 10 days. If seeds are not desired, remove flowerheads to promote bushier growth. Fennel can be grown as an annual, although the established roots will overwinter easily. Divide roots in fall after the seeds have been harvested.
Use the leaves with pork, veal and fish. They are also good in fish stock, sauces and stuffings, and in mayonnaise, flavored butters and salad dressings. The dried stalks are placed under grilled or barbecued fish. The seeds are used as a spice, particularly in breads. At the two-leafed stage, the seedlings make a pungent salad, reminiscent of mustard.
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A tea made with a few fresh sprigs of fennel or a level teaspoon of seeds will relieve indigestion. An infusion of the seeds is an excellent carminative, especially for babies. Use 1 teaspoon (5ml) of infusion for colic and gas.
Fennel is an effective treatment for respiratory congestion and is a common ingredient in cough remedies.
A tea made from fennel helps to stimulate the flow of breast milk. It is sometimes added to baby formula to aid digestion.
An infusion makes a soothing eyewash.
Chew the seeds as a breath freshener.
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