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Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
Growing & Selling  
                Fresh-Cut Herbs
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Growing and Selling
Fresh-Cut Herbs

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Herb of the Month

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


Foeniculum vulgare

Family: Umbelliferae

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.

Culinary Use:

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.
           Treat the hollow stalks as you would celery in cooking.  Eat them raw or simmer the stalks in water or chicken stock as a vegetable to be served with butter.  They can also be sautéed in garlic and olive oil.  Add them to soups or stews.  Let children use a fresh fennel stalk as a straw for sipping orange juice.
           The seed is not so widely used, but like many other seeds, it flavors breads and cakes, puddings, pastries and confectionery.  It is an ingredient of Chinese Five Spice, sweet pickling spice and of certain curry powders, especially those of Sri Lanka.  In India it is an ingredient of mukhwas, a ‘chew’ to aid digestion and sweeten the breath.  Spicy Italian sausages, both sweet and sharp, contain the seed.  It can be used in meat loves, in pickled shrimps and with mushrooms.  It Italy it is used to impart a special flavor to dried figs.  Several alcoholic drinks are flavored with fennel such as gin, aquavit and formerly, absinthe.  A fennel tea – one teaspoon seeds to half pint of water infused—is a warming and refreshing drink.
             The root can be thinly sliced and simmered in chicken stock until tender for a simple fennel soup, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.  The clusters of lovely yellow flowers in late summer and early fall are beautiful as a garnish.

Apple Fennel Crumbly Pie
1 cup walnuts
4 cups soft bread crumbs
¼ lb butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
56 cups apples, thinly sliced, peeled and cored
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup Calvados or brandy
1 pint heavy cream, whipped with 2 Tbsp granulated sugar and 1 Tbsp Calvados or brandy
            Preheat the oven to 350F.  Place the walnuts in a baking pan and toast for 8-10 minutes.  When they are cool enough to handle, chop them coarsely.  In a large bowl, toss the bread crumbs with the butter until they are well mixed.  Add the cinnamon, coriander and fennel seeds, apples and lemon juice and toss again to mix well.  In a 13 by 9 by 2-9 inch baking pan, spread half of the bread crumbs over the bottom.  Top with the apples and sprinkle with the brown sugar.  Beat together the eggs and the Calvados and mix with the remaining bread crumbs.  Distribute the egg mixture evenly over the apples.  Sprinkle the walnuts over the top.  Bake on the center rack of a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the apples are cooked.  Serve warm with a dollop of homemade whipped cream on the top.  (Bread Baking with Herbs.)

Shredded Chicken and Fennel with Orange Rind and Parsley
 Large or 2 small bulbs fennel plus feathery leaves
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
½  cup minced scallions
½  tsp finely minced garlic
¼  tsp black pepper
1½  tsp aniseeds
2 cups chicken stock
3 Tbsp lemon juice
½  lb chicken breasts, poached and shredded
1 Tbsp shredded orange rind
1 Tbsp finely minced fresh parsley
            Rinse fennel bulbs.  Cut away tough parts of stems, and discard.  Mince and reserve 1 tablespoon of the leaves. Cut bulb in half lengthwise and then into 4 lengthwise sections.  In a large, nonstick skillet, heat oil and butter together over medium heat.  Add scallions and garlic, and sauté, stirring, for 3-4 minutes.  Add pepper and aniseeds, and cook for a few seconds.  Stir in fennel, and sauté over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add chicken stock, cover, and cook over low heat until tender, 10-12 minutes.
            Remove fennel with a slotted spoon to a shallow serving dish, and set aside.  Boil liquid in pan until it is reduced to 1/ 2 cup, cool slight, and then add lemon juice to reduced sauce.  Pour over fennel.  Stir in shredded chicken, orange rind, parsley, and chopped fennel leaves.  Refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.  (The Herb & Spice Cookbook—A Seasoning Celebration)

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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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