Fennel has promising phytonutrients with potent antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory properties, and the ability to inhibit cancer cell development (according to early research). Most notable is phytonutrient anethole. In animal studies, anethole reduced inflammation and blocked the initiation of cancer cells through the inhibition of one or more biochemical pathways. Fennel is a great way to get vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber. Vitamin C is a versatile antioxidant. It protects cells in water-soluble areas from free radical damage that can lead to arthritis and atherosclerosis. It may also be needed by the immune system for optimum function against harmful invaders. Fiber, folate and potassium together are great for the digestive tract and cardiovascular system. Fiber helps the intestines and lowers elevated levels of cholesterol and blood sugar. Folate prevents the buildup of homocysteine in the blood, a compound known to cause vessel damage in high concentrations. Fennel has potassium as well, which promotes healthy nerve and muscle functions and helps lower blood pressure.
Vitamin and Mineral Content
Vitamins – C, B9 (Folate) and B3 (Niacin)
Minerals – Potassium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron and Copper
Fennel may reduce symptoms or the onset of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and colon cancer. High antioxidant activity (and the phytonutrient anethole) may reduce cell damage that causes many other types of cancer.
How to Grow
You can grow fennel for its swollen base or leaves. It can reach a height of 5-6 feet tall. Varieties grown for stem bases are called Florence fennel. Both types need sunny site with well-drained, living soil holding the right micronutrients and microbes. The pH should be above 6.5. To gain these optimal growing conditions, work in some compost and planting mix. Fennel is a perennial that can be planted in either spring or fall. Sow regular fennel seeds or plant young seedlings roughly 2 feet apart. If planting Florence fennel, sow seeds only in spring in shallow drills 1.5 feet apart. Later thin the seedlings to 8-10 inches apart. Keep plants weed free. Water when soil begins to dry. If Florence fennel dries out, it runs to seed and compromises the crop. Trim regular fennel plants down as they grow to promote continuous growth of fresh young leaves. Let some shoots produce flowers and go to seed for a stock. Make sure not to plant fennel next to other spices like dill, coriander or caraway as they can cross pollinate each other. Every few years, lift fennel and replant somewhere else so the soil can reach its original balance again. Harvest the leaves as needed. To get seeds, hang the flowers upside down in a dry area with a cloth underneath to catch them when they fall.
Most fennel is not affected by pests. Florence fennel can be bothered by slugs and celery fly. To rid the garden of slugs, embed a glass of beer in the soil. The slugs will be attracted, slither into the cup and drown. Celery flies are tough to notice until they cause leaves to turn pale and then brown. Remove these leaves and destroy them away from the garden.
Many plants have trouble growing next to fennel, because its large taproot competes for nutrients. Best solution is to grow it at least 3 feet away from other plants.