Bronze Fennel: The Edible Herb that Keeps on Giving

Every bit of the fennel plant is delicious - from seeds to fronds - and can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes

Bronze fennel is a versatile, prolific edible that is easy to grow

Bronze fennel, an incredible edible, is the perfect fix for the seedy side of your garden where nothing else dares to grow

Sometimes as a gardener of edibles I’m a bit of an egomaniac. I want to grow what feeds my family, but secretly I want the garden to look jaw-droppingly gorgeous too. And if it does, even when it’s no thanks to me, I’ll take the credit with no reservations whatsoever.

Each year’s food garden has both its dynamic and dodgy moments, but there is invariably a particular high spot July through September when bronze fennel blazes upward, a mass of ferny garden architecture culminating in mustard-yellow crowns of blossoms followed by star-like webs of green and yellow seeds.

Uninvited, yet entirely welcome, this self-seeding plant has found its way into dusty corners of the yard where previously nothing dared to grow. And despite last year’s record-breaking drought, it didn’t wince despite virtually never being watered.

In fact, bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) is so hardy and prolific that it can be a bit of a problem in some gardens and even considered an invasive down south. And this may be due partly to the fact that in outlying areas even the deer don’t eat it.

With regard to my Pacific Northwest garden, my response to concerns about any over-zealousness is similar to what I say about parsley, kale and other eager edibles: if it’s overrunning the garden, you’re just not eating enough of it.

The Different Ways to Enjoy Fennel

Fennel Seeds and Fronds

The licorice-tasting seeds can be strewn over bread dough while the fronds add flavour to hearty winter soups (Left Image: Flickr / Adam Patterson)

And who knew that this magnesium-rich, digestion-enhancing mega-plant is so healthy and useful in the kitchen? I’ve used it for tea, drenching the foliage with hot water and sipping the licorice-laced liquid that follows. And I love chewing on the breath-freshening green and brown seeds. Once I put my mind to making good use of this plant, I found there was an almost unlimited list of how to savour this gift from the garden:

  • Use seeds in breads and cakes.
  • Add seeds and chopped fronds to salmon cakes.
  • Finely chop the fronds over seafood and summer salads.
  • Infuse oil with the foliage for a gourmet drizzle.
  • Chop fronds over roasting potatoes or vegetables.
  • Add fronds, seeds or stalk to fish stock.
  • Grind the fronds with oil, salt and garlic into a pesto to slather over seafood or vegetables.
  • Saute seeds with free-range turkey sausage to add to a tomato-based pasta sauce.

Other (Super-Easy) Savoury Seeds to Grow in Your Garden

Lovage: I’ve talked before about this garden superstar, edible from root to leaves to seeds. It tastes like celery and is a fabulous befriender of beneficial insects who flock to it. What I haven’t mentioned yet though is that its abundant umbels of seeds taste just like celery seed and are a tasty addition to pickles, nasturtium capers, artisan breads, crackers, fish and roasted free-range chicken.

Coriander: Let your cilantro go to seed and then crush the seeds to add to your Asian and Indian recipes.

Mustard: Allow a few of your mustard greens to go to seed and then gather them up for a spicy addition to pickles or a powdered punch for dressings.

For a less chewy approach, all seeds can be minced in a clean coffee grinder, or ground the old-fashioned way – with a mortar and pestle (and kids love to do this).

And when gathering seeds, simply cut the top end of the stalks and drop them face down into a paper bag. Store in your basement or garage to dry slowly and then shake the bag and pluck off the stubborn remaining seeds a few weeks later.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.