Crunchy and slightly sweet fennel is typical of the Mediterranean and its temperate climate – in fact Italy produces 85% of world’s fennel (“finocchio” in Italian). First records go back 3500 years to Egypt, with Greeks and Romans using it to ornate their hair, their swords, even their horses as it symbolised longevity and repelled spirits.
Fennel is jammed with nutrients and minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, vitamins A, B and C. It’s a digestive and diuretic and is good for breastfeeding as it increases milk and gives it a sweet flavour. The male is more substantial, is round and has less fibre so is good to eat raw, while the female is long and should be cooked (who knew?). The seeds are actually the fruits and when toasted are added in combination with sesame and anise seeds to make Indian and Pakistan “mukhwas”, a colourful digestive which also helps keep the breath fresh.
Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. We grow the Fino variety, sowing the first crop in late May, with waves of sowing enabling harvesting from August until the end of September.