What the heck am I growing? Fennel or Anise?
Fennel and Anise are easy to get mixed up.
Both being cousins to licorice they have a similar flavor. The name anise is often mistakenly used for fennel. So how do you tell them apart?
First let’s take a look at some of the plants called anise or fennel.
You’ll remember why those Latin names are important in a minute!
There is Star Anise, or Chinese Anise. Sometimes this plant is also known as Illicium verum. It comes from a tree and its beautiful star shaped pods are ground and used in baking and cooking. This plant is not one you would generally grow in your garden. Unless you live in southern China.
Next we have Anise Hyssop, sometimes called Licorice Mint because of it’s licorice like flavor.
Anise Hyssop’s botanical name is Agastache foeniculum. This is a mint family member and is very easy to grow. It also not the anise or fennel we are looking for.
Next we have Anise, or aniseed.
Now we’re getting somewhere!
The real anise, Pimpenella anisum is also commonly known as Sweet Fennel or Sweet Cumin. See where the confusion comes in?
This herb is an annual plant that grows 18″- 24″ tall. The leaves look different on the bottom of the plant than they do on the upper portion. The top leaves resemble dill, sort of fern-like and feathery while you might confuse the bottom leaves with parsley or cilantro.
Anise is grown for it’s seeds and the leaves can be used for cooking and in teas. This ‘real’ Anise another one you can grow in your cool weather garden because like Cilantro it can look awful and bolt quickly in hot weather.
Now on to the Fennels…
There is fennel and there is fennel. There is Sweet Fennel, Wild Fennel, Bronze Fennel and Bulb or Florence Fennel-also known as Finnochio. Confused? Don’t be!
Wild fennel we just won’t worry about, it usually isn’t cultivated in the garden. Sweet fennel can be grown in the garden just like Bulb fennel.
What’s the difference between the fennels ?
All fennels develop a somewhat bulbous root, but the Florence or Finocchio are grown for their big, sweet roots. Both the green and Bronze fennel don’t develop much in the root department, but their bountiful leaves are prized by cooks. Bronze Fennel leaves can be used in any recipes where Sweet Fennel is. It is often grown just as an ornamental in the garden because of it’s pretty coloring!
Sweet fennel is frequently cut back for its mildly flavored foliage. If you let it flower and go to seed you will have a crop of fennel seeds, wonderful for both cooking and your digestion!
When growing any of the fennels remember:
- They get quite large
- They do not play with well with other plants so plant them apart from your other herbs.
Hope that helps clear up any confusion!