Fennel is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean area. It is the most important species in the genus Foeniculum (treated as the sole species by many botanists), and is native to southern Europe (especially by the Mediterranean) and southwestern Asia. It is a member of the Apiaceae (formerly the Umbelliferae). The name fennel originates from the Greek word for "marathon" which is the famous battle at Marathon in 490 B.C. where the Greeks fought against the Persians who fought on a field of Fennel.
It is a highly aromatic perennial herb, erect, glaucous green, and grows to 2 m tall. The leaves grow up to 40 cm long; they are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments filiform, about 0.5 mm wide. The flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels 5–15 cm wide, each umbel section with 20—50 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels. The fruit is a dry seed from 4–9 mm long, half as wide or less, and grooved.
Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Mouse Moth and the Anise Swallowtail.
Fennel is available year round, with a peak season in fall and winter. Select fennel that are firm, have straight stalks, and green leaves. The bulbs should be compact in shape with the stalks fairly close and not too spread out. Avoid fennel that is discolored or show signs of splitting.
Fennel is more delicate than celery and will dry out quickly. Before storing, cut the stalks off, wrap the stalks separately from the bulb in plastic bags, and store in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Fennel should keep for three to four days, but it is best to use it as soon as possible.
Wash fennel stalks thoroughly and use in soups and stews. The feathery leaves can be used as an herb or garnish. The fennel bulb must be washed, trimmed at the base, and then can be sliced as called for in the recipes.
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