Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a flowering plant species in the carrot family. It is a hardy, perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean but has become widely naturalized in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on riverbanks. It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb used in cookery and, along with the similar-tasting anise, is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe.

Florence fennel or finocchio is a selection with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable. Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some butterfly species including in its native range the mouse moth and the swallowtail.  


Fennel is an easy vegetable if you keep it for the greens, the flowers and the anise seeds. If you want the bulbs, it takes a little bit more work.

Fennel grows as a hardy 5-ft. perennial here in Southern NM. From the 2nd year on, the plant bolts quickly, forms the flower screens but no bulbs to speak of. In my experience, the bulbs form only on same-year seedlings, which means you have to start over again every year to get decent-sized bulbs.

That does not mean that the multi-year plant is useless. I grow it as a wind barrier, (Pic2) as a pollinator attraction (mostly wasps it seems) and for the fruits (Pic5) which are used as a spice in the kitchen.

I've only ever seen one caterpillar on the fennel plants. (Pic6) They eat all day long, but don't really damage the plant. The swallowtail butterfly (Pic7) is beautiful.

Fennel wilts very quickly when harvested and its flavor will diminish progressively over the next few days. Refrain from harvesting more than you need that same day.


This is what you need:

  • fresh fennel seeds
Pic1: garden-fresh fennel bulbs



Pic2: windbreak fennel
Pic3: fennel bulb
Pic4: fennel flower screen
Pic5: fennel fruits
Pic6: swallowtail caterpillar
Pic7: swallowtail butterfly = internet picture

swallowtail caterpillar at work

The caterpillar 'walks' down the fennel leaf with its 3 pairs of front legs to bend it until it can reach the tip, then chomps up the leaf all the way to the stem.

raw fennel in salads

When using fennel raw, cut the bulb lengthwise and remove the core which is comparatively harder and more fibrous than the leaves. Shave or cut the leaves in thin half-moon pieces.

fennel salads on the internet

Three quick ideas borrowed from the internet FYI.


Pic8: fennel, zucchini, celery
Pic9: fennel, endive, pomegranate seeds, walnuts
Pic10: fennel, oranges, olives