What is fennel, and is it a spice? Hi there, fellow budding herbalists! Bertie here with more of our "Beginning an Herb Garden" series.

So what is fennel? Is it a spice? Is it an herb? Well, actually it's both! This herb, often found in herb gardens, is recognizable by its feathery leaves and aromatic seeds. (This is what I have in my herb garden- bronze or common fennel.) See the picture below, notice how it is taking on a bronze color:

Bertie's herb fennel in a container

It's important to distinguish between common fennel (herb fennel) and Florence fennel (bulb fennel), as they are used differently in the kitchen. We will explore Florence (or bulb) fennel in a separate article. It's the kind you usually see in the grocery store.

If you’re curious about the culinary uses or nutritional benefits of common fennel, you’re in the right place. It is certainly an herb, and it's also a spice to flavor up all kinds of our culinary delights.

Our guide will uncover everything about herb fennel (or common/bronze fennel) – from selecting and preparing it to the best cooking techniques.

Key Takeaways

  • Common fennel, also known as herb or bronze fennel, has a distinctive anise flavor, and every part of the plant can be used in cooking—from the aromatic fronds to the flavorful seeds.
  • Cooking common fennel enhances its licorice-like flavor, making it a versatile spice to add to various dishes.
  • Beyond its culinary versatility, common fennel offers nutritional benefits, such as being low in calories but high in dietary fiber and vitamin C, supporting digestion, and potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

Herb or Common Fennel vs. Florence Fennel

Common Fennel vs. Florence Fennel

While both types of fennel share a similar anise flavor, they are used differently in the kitchen:

  • Common Fennel (Herb Fennel): This variety is known for its feathery leaves and aromatic seeds. The fronds and seeds are primarily used in cooking for their flavor.
  • Florence Fennel (Bulb Fennel): This type is recognizable by its bulbous base, which is used as a vegetable. It has a milder flavor and is often used in salads, roasted dishes, and as a side vegetable.

Exploring the Anise-Flavored Herb Fennel

My fennel plant is common or herb fennel
Missy in background checking out our fennel plant!

Common fennel, with its unmistakable anise flavor, is a perennial herb that’s popular in herb gardens. This fennel taste comes from its volatile oils, particularly trans-anethole and estragole, which evoke memories of licorice and add a unique twist to dishes.

Whether you’re using the fresh, aromatic fronds or the seeds, you’re in for a delightful sensory experience as you spice up your favorite dishes.

(I was in for a delightful treat from my fennel plant - one gardener told me to pinch of a tip of a frond, ball it up, and chew it sorta like chewing gum. I did and I was amazed at the refreshing minty taste with just a hint of licorice flavor, but not too strong. I venture to say that even if you don't like licorice, you would love this light flavorful herb right in the garden!)

Native to the Mediterranean, where it loves to grow in dry, sunny spots, common fennel has been a go-to in kitchens for generations. Its feathery leaves might look delicate, but don't be fooled—they pack a punch of flavor.

Whether you're using the fronds in salads or the seeds in your spice mixes, fennel is a versatile herb that brings a bit of old-world charm to your cooking.

The Anatomy of Common Fennel: Fronds, Stalks, and Seeds

Every part of the common fennel plant, from the fronds to the seeds, plays a starring role in the kitchen.

When choosing the perfect fennel fronds, look for ones that are vibrant green and free from any wilting. The seeds are harvested from the flowers and are usually dried for later use as a delightful spice for many dishes.

The fronds, with their feathery leaves and robust aroma, make an excellent garnish for dishes like salads, soups, and pastas. The seeds are often used in spice blends and add a distinct flavor to breads, sauces, and even sausages.

Preparing Your Common Fennel: A Step-by-Step Guide

Before you can transform common fennel into a culinary masterpiece, you’ll need to know how to prepare it. Here’s how:

From Wellness Made Simple

  1. Fronds: Trim the fronds from the stalks and wash them thoroughly. They can be chopped finely or used whole as a garnish.
  2. Seeds: Harvest the seeds from the flowers and dry them. Once dried, store them in an airtight container for future use.

How to Use Common Fennel in Cooking

Common fennel’s versatility extends to the cooking methods that highlight its distinct textures and flavors. Here are some popular ways to use common fennel:

  • Garnish: Use the fronds as a fresh, aromatic garnish for salads, soups, and pastas.
  • Spice: Incorporate the seeds into spice blends for breads, sausages, and sauces.
  • Flavor Infusion: Use the fronds and seeds to infuse broths, oils, and vinegars with a subtle anise flavor.

Crisp and Refreshing: Fennel Frond Salad

Fresh fennel salad with lemon and sage

For a lighter take, a fennel frond salad is a great option. The key to this crisp and tangy dish lies in the combination of fresh fennel fronds, lemon, and olive oil. Simply chop the fronds and toss them with lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt for a refreshing side dish.

Other Ideas for Using Up the Fennel Fronds

Fennel fronds can be used like an herb to impart fennel’s licorice notes in both raw and cooked dishes. When wrapped well and refrigerated, they stay fresh for up to a week, allowing you to add their unique flavor to dishes for several days.

Fennel Butter
Create a compound butter that serves as a delightful topper for chicken (roasting or grilled, all kinds of pastas, or even rice dishes.

To make the compound, simply blend a stick of room temperature butter with fennel fronds that are very finely minced, a little salt and pepper, and add a little onion or shallot.

You can easily store it in an airtight container in your fridge or freezer.

Salads and Benefits
Fennel fronds are a versatile ingredient that can boost your other salads with their unique flavor.

Add them into herb salads, where they perfectly complement other tender herbs like tarragon. Additionally, you can mix fennel fronds into simple green salads to add a subtle herbal lift.

  • Enhances Flavor: Fennel fronds add a delicate, anise-like flavor that enhances the overall taste of your salad.
  • Nutritional Boost: Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, fennel fronds contribute to a healthier meal.
  • Versatility: They pair well with a variety of herbs and greens, making them a flexible addition to many salad recipes.

By incorporating fennel fronds into your salads, you can enjoy a fresh, flavorful, and nutritious dish that stands out.

Garnish - Discover the versatile use of fennel fronds as a garnish for your culinary creations. Perfect for adding a sprinkle of green and a hint of flavor, fennel fronds can be used on a variety of dishes. Just be creative with these beautiful, wispy fronds.

Fennel Pesto - Pesto is a fantastic way to utilize fennel fronds. Adding them to a traditional basil-based pesto introduces another layer of herbal goodness.

Fennel pesto on left and as garnish for fish dish on right

Tips for Using Fennel Fronds

  1. Mince Finely: Chop the fronds finely to ensure they blend well with other salad ingredients.
  2. Pair with Tender Herbs: Combine with herbs like tarragon for a delightful and harmonious flavor profile.
  3. Experiment: Don't be afraid to experiment with different salad combinations to find your perfect mix.

Pairing Common Fennel: Complementing Flavors and Dishes

When it comes to pairing common fennel, the possibilities are as diverse as they are delicious.

This herb’s unique flavor profile makes it an excellent companion to meats like pork, chicken, and sausage. Seafood enthusiasts will find that fennel pairs well with fish and shellfish dishes.

Common fennel isn’t just for carnivores; it’s a gem in vegetarian cuisine as well.

It pairs beautifully with a variety of vegetables, grains, and fruits, especially when matched with citrus, tomatoes, and root vegetables.

And for the cheese lovers out there, fennel’s licorice-like flavor harmonizes wonderfully with the likes of parmesan, feta, and goat cheese.

The Healthful Side of Common Fennel: Nutritional Benefits

Woman preparing fresh fennel and vegetables

Not only is common fennel a culinary delight, but it’s also a powerhouse of nutrition. Here are some of the health benefits of fennel:

  • Low in calories yet packed with dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamin C
  • Aids in digestion
  • Helps relieve gassiness
  • Can reduce inflammation in the bowels

Beyond digestion, fennel’s antioxidants, like chlorogenic acid, play a role in reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

By incorporating fennel into your diet, you’re not only indulging in its flavors but also supporting your heart health.

So, have a cup of delightful fennel tea! It's so good! (You can find Amazon's best seller fennel tea here: FullChea Fennel Tea bags)

But always clear any change in your diet or additions of herbs with your health care provider to be sure you are on the right track!

Preserving the Flavor: Storing and Freezing Tips

To enjoy common fennel’s full flavor, proper storage is crucial. Here are some tips:

  • Fronds: Store fresh fronds in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp paper towel, for up to a week.
    One recommendation that I found has you preparing them as you would for immediate use, then putting the chopped fronds in water in ice cube trays.
    (I think I like that idea. I'm already putting oregano leaves in olive oil and freezing those cubes.)
  • Seeds: Keep dried seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to six months. This is assuming you let your fennel bloom so you can harvest your seeds.
Overturned jar of fennel seeds

Flaevor recommends roasting your seeds in a dry pan before using them. The roasting brings out the flavor more. You can either grind them into a powder or use them whole. (There are a lot a cool spice grinders on Amazon.)

In order to get the seeds, cut the flower heads off after they turn brown and put them somewhere to completely dry out. Then you can shake the seeds loose from the stem.

Summary with background of fennel in bloom

As we wrap up our exploration of common fennel, let’s savor the key flavors and facts we’ve harvested.

From its anise-laced taste and multi-faceted anatomy to the many ways it can be prepared, cooked, and paired, common fennel truly is a versatile herb...that is a spice!

I'm so happy I have a fennel plant in my little herb garden. I've learned so much about fennel in researching it for this article!

So if you haven't tried common fennel in your herb garden, embrace the opportunity to experiment with its unique taste and textures in your kitchen. It will be an amazing herbal journey! 👩‍🌾

Spoonful of fennel seed with Frequently Asked Questions above

What part of the common fennel plant is used in cooking?

You can use all parts of the common fennel plant in cooking - the fronds for garnishing, the seeds for spices, and the stalks for infusing broths.

How do you store common fennel to keep it fresh?

Store fresh fennel fronds in the fridge wrapped in a damp paper towel for up to a week. Dried seeds should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to six months.

Can you eat common fennel raw, and if so, how does it taste?

Yes, you can use common fennel fronds raw. They have a fresh, aromatic flavor with a hint of anise.

What are some health benefits of eating common fennel?

Eating common fennel can be beneficial for your health because it aids digestion, reduces inflammation in the bowels, and contains antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Plus, it's low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.

Thanks for stopping by our beehive and reading about common fennel. And yes, it is both a spice and an herb!

Our next article will feature the amazing Florence fennel which is quite different from our common fennel, but they do have a very similar taste!

We've been running a series of herb articles you might want to check out if you haven't been following along. Some of them include chamomile, sage, lemon balm, ashwagandha, and others as well as how to plan and grow herb gardens!


About the Author: Hi, I'm Jacki, and I write under the persona of Bertie, my beloved maternal grandmother. Bertie, born in 1891, was the wife of a farmer and an incredible gardener. Although she wasn't formally educated, her intelligence and deep understanding of gardening and farming were unmatched. She passed away in 1974, leaving me with a rich heritage of grassroots living and a wealth of practical gardening knowledge. Through her memory, I reach back into this rich history to share timeless gardening wisdom with you.

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