Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
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Over the next year, the herb of the month feature will focus on those unusual herbs that a professional grower may occasionally be asked to supply. These profiles are supplied by Herbalpedia
Description: A perennial it will grow up to 4 feet or even more. It is a plant of waste ground, growing best in sandy soil over chalk subsoil and usually close to the sea. It has an erect bright green stem, thickened by rings at the nodes, bearing leaves with swollen sheaths, pale-edged and three or four times pinnatisect, in the form of very fine, thread-like segments. The general appearance of the leaves is of delicate lace. From a distance the plant has a blue-green appearance. The yellow flowers are borne in large terminal umbels during July and August in the second year and are followed by narrow ovoid fruits with blunt ends and with eight longitudinal ribs almost ½ long and slightly curved like caraway. They are pale green but to obtain their maximum fragrance must be harvested fully ripe and then dried. The plant itself gives off a strong anise scent.
Cultivation: It is a perennial to zone 5. In mild areas of the country, sow seed of fennel in early spring in rows 20 inches apart. It will grow in any well drained soil, but prefers rich, moist, well-draining and chalky. Can tolerate some afternoon shade. Temperatures of 65F will produce germination in 2 weeks and needs dark to germinate. Space 12 inches in soil with pH of 4.8-8.2. In colder areas, seed fennel into the garden in July. Plants can be planted anytime in spring after danger of frost is past. Water is needed to encourage germination. Thinning and hoeing operations are also necessary to keep down weeds. Var. dulce is cultivated annually, while in the case of biennial varieties the mericarps should be collected at intervals in late summer, when the leaves start to fade; in order not to lose the seeds, umbels with fruit should be cut as soon as they begin to ripen, and then the fruits must be carefully destalked and thoroughly dried so that nothing goes wrong with the fermentation processes. For herbal use the leaves may be removed several times before flowers appear, while the roots, harvested several times before flowers appear, while the roots, harvested in autumn, require washing and subsequent drying. Fennel is most frequently cultivated for eventual extraction of the essence known as fennel oil. Watch for aphids as it ripens as the anise-flavor will attract the ants which carry aphids for their own use. Treat with insecticidal soap. The Swallow-tail caterpillar also likes to feed on fennel’s sweet leaves and stems. Occasional light applications of manure, fish emulsion or compost.
As an herb, fennel leaves are used in
French and Italian cookery, most commonly in sauces for fish, stuffings,
and in mayonnaises. Its delicate anise flavor is valued for sausages,
salads, breads and pastas. Fennel has a special affinity with fish and
the dried stalks can be used as a bed for grilled fish or the seeds
scattered sparingly on to bass, red mullet or sardines while
barbecuing. It also adds a subtle flavor to creamed fish soup. Fennel
is a popular flavoring with pork in Italy. Stir the chopped leaves into
hot tomato soup to heighten its flavor; add them to meat loaves and
polenta. Sprinkle them over salads or into marinades. Chopped fresh
fennel does wonders for white bean salad. Fresh fennel leaves can be
frozen for up to two months, packed in small bunches in plastic bags.
Use them as you would fresh.
Apple Fennel Crumbly Pie
Shredded Chicken and Fennel with
Orange Rind and Parsley
The comprehensive revised edition of Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs is available from author, most internet booksellers, bookstores, and in libraries. It can be ordered from the distributor, Independent Publishers Group.
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