Culinary Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel in a garden

By Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The species of the week is Foeniculum vulgare, also commonly called fennel. This herb that may show up in your salad has a long, varied history. It was used as medicine in Egypt and ancient China. During the middle ages, it was found hanging on front doors to ward off evil beings. It is even rumored that Pheidippides, the Athenian who ran two days to Sparta and thereby indirectly invented the marathon carried a stalk of fennel. Today, not only is fennel a fantastic salad topper but can also be found in bread, Italian sausages, stuffings, and even sweet pickles. It can also easily be paired with fish or olives and can be eaten either raw or cooked.  

Not only is fennel a delicious dish for humans but is also a popular host for the Anise Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail butterflies. They live and feed on fennel’s long-limbed leaves during their larval stage but do so without damaging the plant’s health. When the fennel’s small, yellow clustered flowers bloom, they serve as hosts for many pollinators. Moreover, it will also deter pests such as aphids and slugs from destroying your garden. However, it can be an unfriendly neighbor by inhibiting surrounding plants’ growth so make sure to plant fennel at a distance from other plants.  

The easiest way to grow this plant is to sow the fennel seeds in the springtime. It is recommended that plants should be grown indoors for four to six weeks in biodegradable pots. The taproots of fennels are extremely fragile so biodegradable pots that can be planted directly into the ground at 12-inch depth will preserve the root and keep the plants alive. The soil needs to be loose and in a location with full sun. Fennel will grow up to six feet in height if it’s in a well-drained location. While it may be difficult to establish initially, it is a perennial and your hard work will pay off for both the butterflies and for your salad. 

To learn more about fennel as a host for butterflies and identifying swallowtail caterpillars, please read Fennel For the Butterflies or Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies. Visit Fennel-Apple Salad With Walnuts for a simple yet tasty recipe. Lastly, read How to Grow and Care for Fennel to know more about growing fennel.