Wild fennel is a Mediterranean herbaceous shrub that is often found spontaneously, particularly in central and southern Italy. It is an umbrella plant with the scientific name of Foeniculum vulgare, a poor relative of cultivated fennel, with which it shares various botanical characteristics.
However, fennel does not form the heart and is, therefore, less interesting as a vegetable from a commercial point of view, it is kept as an aromatic plant.
Since it requires little care, it is not difficult to keep a small flower bed of wild fennel, also called bitter or common fennel, in the garden or the vegetable garden, and it is a herb that can embellish many recipes and has interesting medicinal effects.
It is a bush that reaches a good size and can be consumed entirely: the seeds are sought after to spice dishes and make herbal teas, but also the leaves and stems are edible and are used as a flavoring. In theory, the roots would also be so, but they swell a little and remain fibrous, they are not worth the work of uprooting and cleaning them.
The Foeniculum vulgare plant
The fennel plant forms a perennial bush that can easily grow to one meter in width and even one and a half or two in height. It is characterized by the filiform leaves and above all by the very small white or yellow flowers, which are grouped in umbrellas. Numerous seeds can be born from these flowers, which reveal the infesting nature of this shrub: they are easily scattered by the wind and invade all the surrounding soil, spreading the medicinal plant to excess. To limit its spread, it is advisable to eliminate the umbels before they go to seed. A plant very similar to fennel is dill, it is another precious herb in the kitchen.
The fact that it is a perennial crop does not make it necessary to resow it: when winter arrives, it is cut at the root and then expects that in spring the taproot will drive out the new shoots.
Climate and terrain
The most delicate thing on which the cultivation of wild fennel depends is the cold: where the thermometer drops below zero it is advisable to avoid keeping it: winter frosts can kill the plant. Apart from cold and humidity, the shrub has no great problems adapting.
Fennel requires good drainage and fairly loose soil from soil. We find it in nature also on sandy or gravelly soil, but it is more productive if it encounters a good presence of the organic substance. You also need good exposure to the sun and shelter from too much wind, which due to the size of the bush can cause problems.
The sowing of fennel
Prepare the soil. Before planting the fennel, it is advisable to work the soil with deep digging, so that excess water flows away without difficulty. At this stage, mature compost can be incorporated as a natural organic fertilizer. The seedbed must be kept fine and well leveled with a rake, as the plant’s seeds are quite small.
Sowing period. The right time to put the seeds of this aromatic is spring, if you use a protected seedbed you can anticipate February by planting in pots and then transplanting in April. The seeds are placed only one centimeter deep.
A sixth of the plant. Generally in the family garden, it is enough to put a few bushes of wild fennel, there is no need to make rows. If you want to carry out more demanding cultivation, it is advisable to make rows at least 80 centimeters apart and place a seedling every 50 centimeters along the rows.
Multiply the plant. To propagate the plant it is better to let the flower go to seed: a fennel bush produces a multitude of seeds and they are very easy to germinate.
Cultivation of fennel
Irrigation. Fennel requires little water to live, however, since it is often grown in arid areas, it is still necessary to check that the soil does not dry out completely and irrigate if necessary, especially during the summer. If you choose to wet these plants it is important to remember to do it in the evening or early morning, avoiding the hours of sunshine.
Mulching. The mulching of this plant is very useful, both in summer, to keep the earth from drying out, and in winter, to keep the roots warm.
Fertilization. Being a multi-year crop, the organic substance present in the soil must be renewed a little every year, so add fertilizer. It is best to do it with compost or mature manure, in a moderate dose, which is hoed on the ground between autumn and winter. The first basic fertilization is done instead at the time of implantation.
Winter cutting of the plant. When winter arrives, the fennel plant must be cut, but the root remains in the ground that can give life to a new crop the following year, in the cold reaches zero eventually it can be covered with fabric non-woven to keep the roots of this medicinal plant warm.
Parasites and diseases
Aphids. Fennel like fennel can be affected by aphids. If an attack occurs, you must first cut the parts of the plant most affected, you can use nettle or garlic macerate to counter these insects.
Cryptogamic diseases. Several fungal diseases can affect wild fennel. The main ones are those that start from the root or in any case from the soil: for example, root rot and collar rot. To prevent the problem, just pay attention to too much humidity and prevent any water stagnation.
The harvest and use
The fennel plant is entirely edible, consuming the leaves there is no ripening to wait: it can always be harvested, with the obvious exception of the winter period when it is dormant. Before the frosts, the entire aerial part of the shrub is cut and then you have to wait for it to start growing again in spring. Apart from the cold months, this aromatic herb is available for most of the year to be picked when needed.
Collecting the seeds. If you want to collect the seeds instead you have to let the flower dry out, making sure that once the seeds have matured they detach easily and can therefore be lost in the ground. Flowering occurs in summer, it follows ripening and the suitable period for harvesting these seeds is usually August.
Use in the kitchen. Fennel leaves are used as a flavoring and can be added to salads, while the seeds are put on meat and especially on fish. This medicinal plant is said to have antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and digestive properties, as well as being healing for the intestines and colon. With fennel seeds, you can make herbal teas and decoctions, also useful to give to small children against stomach ache from colic.
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