Fruit and Vegetables

Fennel - Foeniculum vulgaris

Fennel - Foeniculum vulgaris

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Fennel, whose botanical name is Foeniculum vulgaris, is a vegetable widely used in Italian cuisine, both cooked and raw. It is characterized by a strong and unique taste, with a particular note of anise. The leaves and seeds are also consumed, which are equally fragrant.
It is native to the Mediterranean basin: it needs consequently rather high temperatures and sunny exposures to grow and give its best.
What is generally called fennel is Foeniculum vulgaris, cultivated for the stem formed by fleshy scales and for the seed that is used as spices to give flavor to the most varied dishes.
The plant can reach 70-80 centimeters in height. Usually the plants are arranged in rows; it is advisable to leave a distance of about 20 cm between one plant and another.
The distance between the rows must be instead of 50-60 cm in order to be able to tuck the plants in later.
Fennel plants can be grown as annuals or biennials, depending on the type of cultivation chosen. Usually the plants transplanted in spring produce seeds before winter.
The most used varieties are:
White Perfection - It is sown from mid-March to the end of April; it is a fairly early variety harvested in the months of July August. Presents a lump of good size, compact, sweet and crunchy. It does not produce seeds.
Di Parma - Medium late winter variety; it is sown from June to the end of August and is harvested from September to November-December ... The heart is large and crunchy. The seed canes are full.

Fennel cultivation

For the cultivation of Foeniculum vulgaris, the ideal is to have a medium-textured soil, with a good presence of organic substance; the ideal climate is the temperate one even if the fennel plant adapts to live even in areas with a more rigid climate.
Before sowing it is advisable to make a deep digging of the soil and administer complex fertilizer (with microelements) at a rate of 80 g per square meter; sowing is carried out by spreading the seedlings with subsequent planting. Watering must be fairly frequent; it is also recommended to often combine calcium nitrate fertilizers with water. The soil must always be kept clean by weeds and must be tucked up a month before harvesting to maintain the white and crispy stem. This plant is sown in January February in southern Italy for subsequent harvesting in June / July. In the colder regions, because the harvest can take place in late summer, it is necessary to postpone sowing for one or two months; the plant can also be purchased already at a height of 7-8 cm.
Harvesting occurs when the grumuli have reached a size proportionate to the variety planted; these must be removed with the taproot and then cut together with the leaves at a height of 14-16cm. It is good practice to eliminate the outer scales before consumption.
The pests that mostly affect the fennel plants are the snails, which eat the leaves, and the grillitalpas that eat the plants at the collar, especially when the seedlings are young.


Sow in the South

January February
Sowing in the Center-North From March to September
Collected in the South summer
Collection in the Center-North Autumn-early winter

Characteristics of fennel

Fennel (foeniculum vulgare var. Dulce) is a biennial herbaceous plant, cultivated mostly as an annual, belonging to the Apiaceae family. The flower stems develop only from the second year and can reach 80 cm in height. The radical leaves over time become fleshy and thick, wrapping one another and forming a base about 20 cm in diameter, tender but compact, greenish-white in color.
The stems bloom with umbrella formations, as is typical of this family, from July to September. The corollas are of a beautiful yellow color. By maturing, flat and oblong seeds develop.
The major European producers of fennel are Italy and Spain. In both countries, in fact, it is possible to grow this vegetable at any time of the year, since it requires rather high temperatures. It becomes a huge crop during the winter months.

History of fennel

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean basin and Asia Minor, where, still today, there are several varieties in the spontaneous state. It is known and used since ancient times: it was commonly cultivated as a vegetable by the Greeks and Romans. It was also used for the preparation of medicinal potions.
In the Middle Ages, especially in the conventual context, the search to improve the available varieties began. Through the centuries, we have arrived at the vegetable we know today, with the basal leaves very enlarged, tender but crunchy.

Gastronomic uses and nutritional information of fennel

Fennel can be eaten either raw or cooked. It becomes a very popular ingredient in salads (which gives aroma and crunchiness), in pinzimoni or in combination, as a typical winter dish, with citrus fruits (the fennel and orange salad is very well known). It is however also possible to boil or cook it in the oven: there are so many possibilities and combinations.
From a nutritional point of view, fennel is very interesting for people trying to lose weight. It contains only 31 kcal per 100 g. It is very rich in fibers and minerals, calcium potassium and phosphorus. It also has a good content of vitamin A, B and C.
It is also a source of phytoestrogens and this makes it valuable for women. This vegetable and seed-based infusions are recommended for women during breastfeeding (it seems to favor digestion by removing colic from the youngest), in conjunction with menstruation or in menopause.

Sowing of fennel

For the family vegetable garden there are two possibilities: to buy seedlings or to dedicate oneself to sowing.
How and when to sow
Depending on the area and the time of year, sowing can be carried out in the seedbed or outdoors. Sowing at home is not recommended in the North, while in the South it is common practice. In the southern regions, on the coasts and on the islands it is possible to start sowing already in January-February in order to be able to harvest in early summer. For the rest of our peninsula it is absolutely advisable to start sowing in the middle of summer (from July to September) and then harvest from the end of autumn. In any case, the sowing can be scalar so as to always have a fresh product available and at the right degree of crunchiness.
In seedbed you can start already from December, continuing until March, on a warm bed. Starting from May, however, you can sow freely without heating.
Keep in mind that for a good germination it takes at least 12 days and a minimum temperature of 10 ° C. 2-3 seeds are placed for each jar (or alveolus), covering it slightly and always maintaining a good degree of humidity. Once the seedlings are checked, we select and maintain, for each jar, only the most vigorous one.
For 100 square meters of cultivation 60-100 g of seed are required.


After about 40 days (ie reached 15 cm in height) they will be ready for transplantation in the open field. Summer varieties are planted in March, winter ones starting in August.
The plants should be kept at a distance of 60-70 cm between the rows and 20 cm on the row.


Fennel needs loose and rather light soils, but with a good organic substance content. On the other hand, those that are too clayey and compact, which could cause rot and the onset of cryptogams, should be avoided.


For optimal growth this vegetable needs a lot of sun, especially during the autumn and winter months. We can say that in the Center-North it is always imperative to place it where it is reached by light for almost the whole day. In the South, however, it can, especially in the central months of the year, also be placed in slight shade.


To get good results the soil must be rich in organic substance. It is therefore good to incorporate a good amount of mature manure (3-4 q per 100 square meters), distributing it, if possible, in conjunction with the previous crop.

Crop care

On reaching a height of 10 cm (in the case of sowing in the open field), thinning should be carried out keeping the distance of 20 cm between each plant. Immediately afterwards we must carefully weed the surrounding area to eliminate all the weeds. We also proceed to a tamping of the specimens, so that they are more stable.
We will return to topping up when the grumuli have reached the size of a small punch. This is particularly important in the North, where plants ripen in the winter months. The tamping, in fact, is very useful to protect the plants from the cold.
In the other months, instead, it is an interesting practice because it favors the bleaching of the edible part, making it tender, but at the same time crunchy.


To get good results we must abound in irrigation, especially during the summer months and in the Center-South.
To prevent the plant from being stimulated to go to seed, it is necessary, in the early stages of development, to carry out short and very close irrigations. As the size of the seedlings increases, however, it will have to be delayed more, but by distributing more water for each intervention.

Approaches and partnerships

Fennel lends itself well to being associated with leek, peas, lettuce, sliced ​​salad, cucumber, chicory and endive.
Instead, the proximity of beans, tomatoes, crucifers and turnips should be avoided.

Pests and diseases

It is necessary, at all stages of cultivation, to pay particular attention to slugs and snails. We protect our crops by arranging beer traps or sand, ash or broken egg shells. Alternatively, in the most serious cases, we use special baits, paying the utmost attention if there are children or pets.
The most serious adversities are those linked to cryptogams or bacterioses: in particular sclerotinia and rotovara erwinia. Interest must be given to the quality of the land and, if these conditions are frequent, use products for prevention and treatment.

Collection and storage

The collection must be scalar. It starts when the clump has reached the right size for its specific variety. Generally it begins three months after sowing. The vegetable must be extracted using a pitchfork.


It should be kept in a cool and shaded place. The ideal is a fresh and dry cellar or the appropriate compartment of the refrigerator: in this way they maintain the taste and the crunchiness for at least 10 days. If we want to preserve them for a longer period we can put them in a cellar, using boxes filled with sand.
If instead we want to freeze them we will have to cut them into large pieces (at least in quarters), blanch them quickly (about 3 min.) In boiling water, cool them in ice and place them in special bags for this use.

Fennel - Foeniculum vulgaris: Variety

The most popular traditional varieties are: the Grosso di Sicilia, the Romanesco, the Dolce di Firenze, the Bianco Perfezione, the Gigante di Napoli and the Finocchio di Parma. The Pontino, Trevi and Riace are also very well known.
From some retailers a difference is made between winter and summer varieties. Particularly different is the resistance to cold and the speed in going to seed.
Research has created interesting hybrids in this respect. Some seeds can guarantee a long shelf life and a good rusticity. Efforts have also been made to minimize the impact of cryptogams.


Type of plant

Biennial herbaceous grown as an annual
Height at maturity From 60 cm to 1 m
Width at maturity Up to 80 cm
Culture easy
Growth From slow to normal depending on the period
Multiplication seed
Resistance to the cold Not very resistant
Exposure Light sun-shadow (in the South)
Ground Light, well-drained, rich
Need water average
Germination / temperature times 12/10 ° C