PUBLISHED: 14:41 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 14:41 29 October 2013
Easy to grow, packed with flavour and full of health giving properties – what’s not to like about fennel? asks Belinda Gray
With its pale green bulb, fennel is a great superfood packed with anti-oxidants. It helps prevent disease and is a powerful diuretic promoting healthy kidneys, liver and spleen.
Fennel provides a huge boost for the cardiovascular system – not only is it high in potassium, a natural vasodilator, helping to reduce blood pressure, it also contains rutin, a compound that improves circulation by strengthening blood vessels.
Its vitamin quantity is high with some useful B vitamins, E, K and a supposed 20% of our daily C requirement in one bulb.
As we succumb to the first colds of winter adding fennel to our diet helps to break down nasty phlegm due to respiratory disorders with its natural expectorants of cineole and anethole.
Fennel seeds have historically been chewed after a meal as an aid to digestion – and to help suppress hunger during Lent – and with anti-spasmodic properties, high fibre content and laxative qualities it is great for our guts too.
Fennel is a reliable autumn grower, but is prone to bolt earlier in warmer weather.
Sow Florence fennel in June /July for an autumn harvest when the soil is really warm. Direct sowing is preferable to reduce bolting, in drills 1cm deep in rows 45cms apart, thinning young seedlings to 30cms, or sow in modules for transplanting under cover.
Sunny, sheltered positions with a sandy soil and plenty of organic matter added are ideal– keep weed-free and never let crops dry out. When the bulbs swell, earth-up half way around to keep blanched and sweet. Harvest in about 12 weeks after sowing when bulbs are plump and white, and don’t forget to use the fragrant aniseed foliage in salads or with fish and poultry, allowing a few to run to seed for attractive cut flowers or fennel seeds to dry.