How to grow fennel?

10 Science-Based Benefits of Fennel and Fennel Seeds

Foeniculum vulgare, commonly known as fennel, is a flavorful culinary herb and medicinal plant.

Fennel plants are green and white, with feathery leaves and yellow flowers.

Both the crunchy bulb and the seeds of the fennel plant have a mild, licorice-like flavor. Yet, the flavor of the seeds is more potent due to their powerful essential oils.

Aside from its many culinary uses, fennel and its seeds offer a wide array of health benefits and may provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects.

Here are 10 benefits of fennel and fennel seeds, all based on science.

1. Highly nutritious

Both fennel and its seeds are packed with nutrients. Here’s the nutrition for 1 cup (87 grams) of raw fennel bulb and 1 tablespoon (6 grams) of dried fennel seeds (1):

Fresh fennel bulb Dried fennel seeds
Calories 27 20
Fiber 3 grams 2 grams
Vitamin C 12% of the RDI 1% of the RDI
Calcium 3% of the RDI 5% of the RDI
Iron 4% of the RDI 6% of the RDI
Magnesium 4% of the RDI 5% of the RDI
Potassium 8% of the RDI 2% of the RDI
Manganese 7% of the RDI 17% of the RDI

As you can see, both fennel and fennel seeds are low in calories but provide many important nutrients.

Fresh fennel bulb is a good source of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin critical for immune health, tissue repair, and collagen synthesis (2).

Vitamin C also acts as a potent antioxidant in your body, protecting against cellular damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals (3).

Both the bulb and seeds contain the mineral manganese, which is important for enzyme activation, metabolism, cellular protection, bone development, blood sugar regulation, and wound healing (4).

Aside from manganese, fennel and its seeds contain other minerals vital to bone health, including potassium, magnesium, and calcium (5).

Summary Fennel and fennel seeds provide important nutrients, such as vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.

2. Contain powerful plant compounds

Perhaps the most impressive benefits of fennel and fennel seeds come from the antioxidants and potent plant compounds they contain.

Essential oil of the plant has been shown to contain more than 87 volatile compounds, including the polyphenol antioxidants rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and apigenin (6).

Polyphenol antioxidants are potent anti-inflammatory agents that have powerful effects on your health.

Studies suggest that people who follow diets rich in these antioxidants have a lower risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, cancer, neurological diseases, and type 2 diabetes (7).

What’s more, over 28 compounds have been identified in fennel seeds, including anethole, fenchone, methyl chavicol, and limonene.

Animal and test-tube studies note that the organic compoundanethole has anticancer, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties (8).

Finally, the plant compound limonene helps combat free radicals and has been shown to protect rat cells from damage caused by certain chronic diseases (9, 10).

Summary All parts of the fennel plant are rich in powerful antioxidants like chlorogenic acid, limonene, and quercetin — all of which may benefit health.

3. Fennel seeds may suppress appetite

Fennel seeds may not only add depth and flavor to your recipes but also help curb appetite.

A study in 9 healthy women demonstrated that those who drank 8.5 ounces (250 ml) of tea made with 2 grams of fennel seeds before eating lunch felt significantly less hungry and consumed fewer calories during the meal than those who drank a placebo tea (11).

Anethole, a major component of fennel essential oil, may be behind the appetite-suppressing qualities of the plant.

That said, another study in 47 women found that those who supplemented with 300 mg of fennel extract daily for 12 weeks gained a small amount of weight, compared to a placebo group. They also did not experience reduced appetite (12).

Research in this area is conflicting, and more studies are needed to fully understand the potential appetite-suppressing properties of fennel.

Summary Fennel seeds may reduce appetite, yet current study results are conflicting. Thus, more research is needed.

4. Can benefit heart health

Eating fennel and its seeds may benefit heart health in a number of ways, as they’re packed with fiber — a nutrient shown to reduce certain heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol.

A 1-cup (87-grams) serving of raw fennel bulb packs 3 grams of fiber — 11% of the Daily Reference Value (DRV).

Diets high in fiber have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. A review of 22 studies associated a greater dietary fiber intake with a lower risk of heart disease. For every additional 7 grams of fiber consumed per day, heart disease risk decreased by 9% (13).

Fennel and its seeds also contain nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium, which play important roles in keeping your heart healthy (14).

For example, including rich sources of potassium in your diet may help reduce high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease (15).

Summary Fennel and its seeds contain fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium — all of which are essential for good heart health.

5. May have cancer-fighting properties

The wide array of powerful plant compounds in fennel may help protect against chronic diseases, including certain cancers.

For example, anethole — one of the main active compounds in fennel seeds — has been found to exhibit cancer-fighting properties.

One test-tube study showed that anethole suppressed cell growth and induced apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in human breast cancer cells (16).

Another test-tube study observed that fennel extract stopped the spread of human breast cancer cells and induced cancer cell death (17).

Animal studies also suggest that extract from the seeds may protect against breast and liver cancer (18).

Although these results are promising, human studies are needed before fennel or its extract can be recommended as an alternative treatment for cancer.

Summary Test-tube and animal studies have shown that fennel may have anticancer properties. However, it’s uncertain whether the same effects would be seen in humans.

6. May benefit breastfeeding women

Fennel has been shown to have galactogenic properties, meaning it helps increase milk secretion. Research suggests that specific substances found in anethole, such as dianethole and photoanethole, are responsible for the galactogenic effects of the plant (6).

Fennel may increase milk secretion and blood levels of prolactin — a hormone that signals the body to produce breast milk (20).

However, other studies found no effect on milk secretion or infant weight gain. Negative side effects, such as poor weight gain and difficulty feeding, have also been reported in infants whose mothers drank lactation teas containing fennel (21, 22, 23).

For these reasons, breastfeeding women should consult their healthcare provider before using fennel to stimulate milk production.

Summary Some studies suggest that fennel may increase milk secretion and weight gain in breastfeeding infants, yet other studies have shown no benefit.

7–10. Other potential benefits

Aside from the benefits mentioned above, fennel and its seeds may improve your health in the following ways:

  1. May have antibacterial properties. Studies show that fennel extract inhibits the growth of potentially harmful bacteria and yeasts, such as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida albicans (24).
  2. May reduce inflammation. The powerful antioxidants in fennel, such as vitamin C and quercetin, can help reduce inflammation and levels of inflammatory markers (25).
  3. May benefit mental health. Animal studies have found that fennel extract may reduce aging-related memory deficits (26).
  4. May relieve menopausal symptoms. A review of 10 studies noted that fennel may improve sexual function and satisfaction in menopausal women, as well as relieve hot flashes, vaginal itching, dryness, pain during sex, and sleep disturbances (27).

It’s important to note that many of these studies used concentrated doses of the plant, and it’s unlikely that eating small amounts of fennel or its seeds would offer the same benefits.

Summary Fennel has antibacterial properties and may improve mental health, relieve menopausal symptoms, and reduce inflammation. Still, it’s unlikely that fennel or its seeds would offer the same effects when eaten in small amounts.


Though fennel and its seeds are likely safe when eaten in moderation, there are some safety concerns over more concentrated sources of fennel, such as extracts and supplements.

For example, fennel has strong estrogenic properties, meaning that it acts similarly to the hormone estrogen. While this may help relieve menopausal symptoms, it may be unsafe for pregnant women.

Due to its estrogen-like activity, there is concern over the plant’s potential teratogenicity — the potential to disturb fetal growth and development.

A study that evaluated the teratogenicity of fennel essential oil showed that high doses may have toxic effects on fetal cells (28).

Although eating fennel and its seeds is likely safe, pregnant women should avoid taking supplements or ingesting the essential oil of this plant.

Fennel may also interact with certain medications, including estrogen pills and certain cancer medications, so always consult your healthcare provider before using high doses in supplement, essential oil, or extract form (29).

Summary Although eating fennel and its seeds is likely safe, consuming higher doses in supplement form may react with certain medications and is unsafe for pregnant women.

The bottom line

Both the flavorful, crunchy bulb and aromatic seeds of the fennel plant are highly nutritious and may offer an abundance of impressive health benefits.

Adding them to your diet may improve heart health, reduce inflammation, suppress appetite, and even provide anticancer effects.

To reap the benefits of fennel and its seeds, try incorporating raw fennel bulb into your salads or using the seeds to flavor soups, broths, baked goods, and fish dishes.

Photo by Hank Shaw

It’s wild fennel seed time here in NorCal. We have wild fennel everywhere here, and now is the time — before the first real rains — to gather the seeds, which have dried nicely. Foraging for fennel seeds isn’t rocket science, but there are a few tips I can offer to make it more productive.

First, know that wild fennel and garden fennel are one and the same plant, Foeniculum vulgare. It’s a European immigrant, believed to have been brought here by Italians. Many states have branded this lovely, anise-scented plant a noxious weed; one of my friends, a biologist named Charlie, was once employed to kill any fennel he saw on Catalina Island. Suffice to say it’s OK to pick as much of this plant as you want.

Wild (really feral) fennel differs from garden fennel in that it rarely sets a bulb and has smaller seeds than the domesticated variety. Both are perennials down to Zone 6 (winter lows down to -10°F) and possibly down into Zone 5, where winter temps drop all the way to -20°F. Tough plants. Fennel is herbaceous, meaning it “dies” every year and regrows in spring; it’s actually not dead, the root is just fine.

According to the USDA, wild fennel grows all over America, except for the Intermountain West, Oklahoma (oddly), Vermont and New Hampshire, Indiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. It also supposedly grows in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, although I’ve never seen it there. Honestly, however, I’ve never seen wild fennel anywhere other than California and the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve written about foraging for fennel before, but not about gathering the seeds. Here’s how I do it:

Wait until at least August, and September is better. The seeds take a long time to ripen, but you want to get them before the birds do. Birds, especially little warblers, love to eat fennel seeds. When the time is right, grab a paper bag and some scissors. Go out and find some fennel.

Fennel likes to live in colonies, so it will be bunched up. At the seed-gathering stage fennel will be taller than most men, typically up to seven feet tall. Keep in mind that it can grow near hemlock, which just happens to be one of the most poisonous plants in North America. Fennel has ferny leaves where hemlock tends to have leaves a bit more like a carrot. Hemlock is to the left, fennel to the right:

Photo by Hank Shaw

But the surefire way to tell fennel from really anything else is the aroma: If it smells like anise or licorice, it’s fennel. Hemlock smells musty, like mice in an attic.

Once you’ve found your fennel, look at each seed head: Many will have been either pillaged by birds, or never set seed at all. Look for the seed heads with the largest seeds and snip off the whole head with scissors and put it into your bag. It shouldn’t take long to fill a grocery bag.

Once you get home, get yourself something to toss the empty seed heads in (compost bag?) and a broad, flat container like a casserole dish or a baking sheet. Take each seed head and remove the seeds from each little cluster with your thumb and forefinger, dropping them into the dish below. The force and motion I use is a lot like wiping something sticky off your fingers. I managed to get 4 ounces of seed in about 25 minutes of doing this.

When all the seed heads are free of seeds, toss them in the compost and turn your attention to the dish of seeds, which will need to be cleaned. I pick through and find all the little clusters that fell in (they look like teeny octopi or spiders) and remove them. It helps to have tweezers. Pick through and remove as many little twigs, bugs and debris as possible.

Finally, put your seed into a jar and freeze it for a week. Why? There might be insect eggs or grown bugs you missed in your seeds, and you don’t want an infestation in your seed. Freezing will kill everything too small to see. Once you’re done with this step, keep your fennel in the spice cabinet. It will last a year or so.

Photo by Hank Shaw

More Foraging Tips and Techniques

Planting Fennel – How To Grow Fennel Herb

The fennel herb (Foeniculum vulgare) has a long and varied history of use. The Egyptians and the Chinese used it strictly for medicinal purposes and their lore was brought back to Europe by early traders. During the Middle Ages, it was believed to hold magical qualities and people hung fennel plants over their doors to drive away evil spirits. Eventually, someone recognized its use as a flavoring for eggs and fish. Today, its crisp anise flavor makes it a favorite of cooks everywhere.

Native to southern Europe, the fennel herb is now naturalized throughout Europe, North America and Australia and grown in gardens all over the world.

Planting Fennel

You’ll find two methods of propagation when researching how to grow fennel. Plants may be divided, but this isn’t as easy as it is with other garden plants and often proves unsatisfactory. Like their aforementioned cousins, the fennel herb has a long tap root that doesn’t like to be divided or moved.

Planting fennel by seed is the much easier option. Seed can be sown as soon

as the soil warms in the spring. Soaking your seeds for a day or two before sowing will ensure better germination. Keep the area moist until the seeds sprout and thin the fennel plants to 12 to 18 inches apart when they are 4 to 6 inches tall. Plants will begin flowering about 90 days after planting.

Growing Fennel

The steps for how to grow fennel are fairly simple since the fennel herb is such an agreeable garden plant. It belongs to the carrot and parsley family and is a cousin to other herbs such as caraway, dill and cumin. Like these other herbs, fennel plants produce aromatic fruits which are commonly, though incorrectly, referred to as seeds.

When growing fennel, choose a sunny location in the back of a well drained bed. The fine textured foliage can grow up to 6 feet tall and makes an excellent backdrop for other flower planting.

Fennel is a short lived perennial that blooms best in the second year. It readily re-seeds and while not considered invasive, it has certainly earned its reputation for aggressive growing. Fennel can be cut back early in the season to encourage bushier growth and should be deadheaded for seed harvest and to prevent over seeding of new plants.

Harvest and dry seeds as the flower heads fade. There’s only one restriction to how to grow fennel: don’t plant it near dill. Cross pollination results in strangely flavored seeds for both plants!

Once established, fennel herb doesn’t need much care. It prefers acid soil, appreciates the occasional dose of mild fertilizer and a little additional water if the weather is hot and dry.

In addition to its kitchen contributions, planting fennel will attract beneficial insects to the garden and its leaves are a favorite with the caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly.

Whether grown for its culinary value or strictly as on ornamental, growing fennel herb will be an easy and attractive addition to your garden.

By Pam Dawling
Many people grow fennel as the herb, for leaves and seeds, for salads, soups, fish dishes and teas. The seeds are also used in desserts, breads, other baked goods and drinks. Or they are chewed after a meal to help the digestion. A newer crop in the U.S. is bulb fennel, with a vaguely licorice-like flavor. The crunchy white “bulb” consists of the swollen stem bases of the leaves. Fennel is also used in the seedling stage as a microgreen or baby salad mix ingredient. And even newer and more “exotic” is fennel pollen. Although this crop is used in so many forms, the basic details are the same for all types, so I’ll start with those.
Crop requirements
Fennel benefits from a rich, well-drained soil, with a pH of 5.5-6.8. Plant in a sunny spot for best results. Bear in mind that fennel is a Mediterranean crop, a cool-weather short-lived perennial normally grown as an annual. Fennel survives light frosts, but will only survive over winter outdoors (assuming you didn’t harvest the bulb) in zones 6-10. In zones 2-5 it grows as a biennial. It tolerates some heat and cold, but does best when it reaches maturity in cool weather. Depending on your climate, seed may be sown in early spring, mid-spring, late summer and early fall. Fennel grown for bulbs will not provide seed too – to get succulent bulbs, grow the plant fast, harvest before flower stems form and provide plenty of water. If water is in short supply, put bulb fennel at the top of your watering list.
There are about 200 seeds per gram, 7,000 seeds per ounce. The average direct seeding rate is 1000 seeds/100′, 700’/ounce, or an average of 4,000 transplants/ounce of seed. Each diner could eat up to five fennel bulbs over a season.
Fennel is not troubled by many insect pests or diseases. You might find aphids or whiteflies on the leaves, but they are rarely a serious problem. Slugs can be trouble. The worst disease is root rot, which can happen if your plants get waterlogged for too long. I’ve been emphasizing the importance of enough irrigation, but don’t over-water!
Be aware that fennel itself could be a problem. In California fennel and anise are invasive plants, causing trouble in natural areas. Before planting in that state, read the California Invasive Plant Council page on fennel:
To germinate fennel successfully, the seeds must be in the dark, with a soil temperature of 60-90°F. (70°F is ideal.) Direct seed at 10 seeds/ft, in rows 18″ apart. Thin the seedlings to 6-12″ apart. Or station sow the seed, dropping three seeds together at 12” intervals along the row, later thinning to leave the strongest seedling at each station. If the soil is dry when you are sowing, soak the furrow first. Cover the seeds with 1/8-1/2” of soil. They will take about 7-10 days to emerge. To improve germination, try soaking and pre-sprouting the seed for several days.
Bulb fennel can be sown outdoors as early as 2-5 weeks before the average last frost date in spring, but when the danger of hard frost (28°F) is over. Beware – early spring sowings are more likely to bolt. Bulb fennel is sensitive not only to day-length, but it may also bolt if there is a sudden chill (a temperature reversal). Here in zone 7, we sow Zefa Fino March 10, for April 10-26 transplanting, along an edge of a bed with parsnips, celery and (later) asparagus beans. The transplanting date is around our last frost date. If your climate and timing give you the choice, direct sow and thin, rather than transplanting, to reduce the likelihood of bolting.
The best time to sow bulb fennel is for an autumn crop. Sow in mid- to late-summer, calculating the sowing date by working back from your hoped-for harvest date. Your last sowing date will be 90-110 days before your first fall frost. In northern latitudes, gardeners wait till the summer solstice to sow any bulb fennel. If you sow around the middle of June, you should be harvesting bulbs in mid-October. The bulbs can survive a frost or two, so there is no rush to harvest when cold weather arrives. We aim to direct sow on July 8, and July 28, in part of a carrot bed. This way we keep the fennel with its umbelliferae cousins, and make our crop rotation easier.
Transplanting is useful in areas with short springs, or short seasons overall. Fennel is said to dislike root disturbance, so if transplanting, use plugs or modules. Sow 3 seeds/cell, 1/4″ deep, in 1.5-2″ deep cells. Thin to 1 plant/cell. Transplant outdoors in mid-spring to late summer when plants are 3-4” tall, and 4-6 weeks old, before they become root-bound, and when they can be removed easily without disturbing the roots. Final spacing should be 6-12” apart, either in single rows, or in rows 18” apart. Do not crowd bulb fennel plants, especially in spring, or you will encourage bolting. The plants will grow 36” tall or more, and the stems and delicate foliage can be eaten or made into teas. Herb fennel may grow to 60”.
Varieties of bulb fennel
For fennel bulbs, also known as finocchio, or Florence Fennel, sowings after mid-summer have a better chance than spring ones of producing fat tender juicy bulbs, partly due to wetter weather as the bulbs mature, and partly as they do not having lengthening daylight to induce bolting.
For earliness, try Montebianco (mid-size round white bulb, solid stalks), Mantovano, (75-85 days, round very white large bulbs), or Parma Sel Prado, (round white smallish bulbs). All from Seeds from Italy,
Some varieties do much better in the fall: try Mantovano, Bianco Perfezione Sel Fano (80-85 days, good size, half-hollow stem) from Seeds from Italy, or Victorio (75 days) from Territorial Seeds,
For spring as well as fall, try Romanesco, (85 days, a large classic variety with thick tightly wrapped stems), generic Florence Fennel (90 days), Zefa Fino (80 days) or Trieste (90 days), a bolt-resistant hybrid from Renee’s Garden
Zefa Fino is more tolerant of stress than some of the traditional Italian varieties, so if your climate or timing is borderline, try this one.
Orion (80 days) an F1 hybrid from Johnny’s, has a higher yield potential than open pollinated fennels. (All the others I have mentioned, except Trieste, are OPs)
For cooler climates, try Victorio.
The two seasons for planting bulb fennel in zone 7 are March-April and July-August – the same dates that work for broccoli, beets and other cool weather crops. Bulb fennel is a seasonal treat that can be harvested for several weeks, but it is not a year-round vegetable in most climates. It is hardy to 15°F. If bulb fennel is new crop for you, experiment with several varieties and with sowing dates that match your other cool weather crops. The fall crop is likely to be more successful than a spring one. If your spring crop bolts before forming a good bulb, the feedback is that your weather is too hot for spring planting, so stick to fall crops in future, unless you can safely start earlier in the spring.
Rich, well-drained soil, regularly irrigated, and cool temperatures produce top quality bulbs. Plants grow best and the flavors are superior when daytime air temperatures are 60-70°F. Start to blanch the lower stems when the bulb is the size of an egg by hilling up soil around the bulb. Mulching (with organic materials such as straw or hay) can be a good strategy to trap soil moisture and cooler temperatures in spring – the bulbs will be sweeter and more tender. Clip off any seed stalks that start to grow. The bulbs will be ready about three weeks after reaching egg size.
Harvest and postharvest
The bulbs are harvested when they get to small tennis ball size. If you leave them to grow larger, the plants will probably bolt and the flavor of the bulbs will quickly become bitter. Use a sharp knife or pruners to cut the bulb free just above taproot, right at the soil line. Trim the leaf stems about 1-2″ above the bulb to prepare it for sale or storage. Bulb fennel requires 80-115 frost-free days to reach harvest.
Bulb fennel will keep in the refrigerator up to 1 week or in a cold moist place for 2 to 3 months. Best storage conditions are 32°F with 95% relative humidity. Stalks can be dried or frozen; leaves can be frozen or dried as herbs. Dried leaves should be stored in an airtight container.
Nutrition and cooking
Bulb fennel is high in vitamin C, and is also a good source of calcium, fiber and potassium. According to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, medicinally, fennel stimulates digestion while reducing the likelihood of flatulence. It is anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory. It can be used to soothe bronchial coughs in the same way that dill can. It has estrogenic properties to stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers.
Because it is an uncommon crop in this country, it is probably wise to offer your customers some guidelines on how to prepare and eat it. Fennel bulbs can be eaten raw, sliced thin, in salads or with dips. They are good grilled, sautéed, or steamed whole or sliced. They are delicious boiled and served with cheese sauce or butter. Try roasting with olive oil.
Herb fennel
Fennel plants are attractive to butterflies, ladybugs, lacewings and pollinators. They can grow to 5’ tall, so plan accordingly. Herb fennels will not produce bulbs. Seeds may be direct sown or transplanted, as for bulb fennel. The color of the small seedlings of bronze fennel renders them almost invisible, so take care when weeding. Bronze fennel has thin stems and beautiful bronze feathery foliage, good for flower arrangements as well as salads and plate décor. It takes about 65 days from sowing to harvestable size. The green leaf type is even easier and up to ten days quicker to grow. Johnny’s sells a green and bronze mix. Fennel can be overwintered in mild areas (Zones 7-10) to provide seed the second summer.
The feathery foliage has a sweet anise flavor and is a tasty addition to salads, cole slaw, and dressings. To dry the leaves, bunch them and hang in a dry well-ventilated area – good air circulation is essential for success. Check the leaves for dryness once a week, for two to four weeks, until they are brittle, then crumble and store in a cool dark place.
Fennel seed
Fennel seeds are used in teas and tinctures as a digestive aid, expectorant, and a tonic for the spleen, kidneys, and reproductive system. For seeds, try Finocchio Selvatico — Wild Fennel (75 days) from Seeds from Italy, The seeds are superior to those of cultivated varieties, and the flowers are beautiful too. Johnny’s warns that too much moisture at bloom time can prevent the formation of a good crop of seeds. The seeds shed very easily, and you may not want a zillion fennel plants next year, so consider tying paper or cloth bags over the heads, before they shed.
To dry fennel seeds, wait for the flowers to turn brown. Spread the freshly gathered seeds (plump and grey-green) in a single layer on a horizontal window screen. Keep mice away. The seeds should be fully dry (and brown-green in color) in about two weeks. Store in a cool dry place.
Fennel does not cross with anything except other fennel. It is widely said (even by some seed companies!) that dill and fennel cross, and some even describe the terrible flavor of the resulting crosses.
Microgreens and flowers
The feathery seedlings make an attractive ingredient for microgreen mixes and plate garnishes. Johnny’s sells a special variety Grosfruchtiger, although any kind can be used.
Fennel pollen
Fennel pollen has recently been rediscovered as a flavor enhancer. Only a sprinkling is needed. It sells for $15/ounce, and is sometimes sold combined with salt. If you have the market, or can create it, why not try growing and collecting your own? The Atlantic magazine has an article by Hank Shaw: “Want to Try Fennel Pollen? Pick Your Own”. The article includes links to more information, including recipes. It can be added to sauces, pasta dough, and many other dishes. Good information is also available on You-Tube: How to Harvest Fennel Pollen and on the eHow site: How to Harvest Wild Fennel Pollen This article is mostly written for Californians with too much invasive feral fennel, but is useful everywhere.
Cut the fennel flower stems at 6-8”, bundle and tie 15-20 together. Cover the heads with paper bags leaving about 1” of stem sticking out of the bags. Tie the bags closed and hang them in a cool, dark and dry area with the stems pointing up. Use fans if needed. Tap the sides of the bags every couple of days for two weeks as the flowers dry. When the flowers seem dry, shake the bag vigorously. Carefully open the bags and untie the bundles. Tap each individual flower head on the side of the bag as you remove it. Tip the fennel pollen and other plant matter from the bag into a fine mesh strainer resting over a bowl or bucket. Sift the pollen through the sieve, to remove the other plant matter and the larger tiny wildlife. If you need to kill any teeny tiny wildlife, you can microwave the pollen for 10 seconds.
Each flower head will produce about 1/4 tsp. of pollen. Collecting one ounce can take an hour, so a selling price of $15 suddenly doesn’t seem outrageous. Store the pollen in an air-tight container in a cool dark place. For maximum flavor, use within a year of collection.
Pam Dawling is the garden manager at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available via Paypal at, or by mail order from Sustainable Market Farming, 138 Twin Oaks Road, Louisa, Virginia 23093. Enclose a check (made payable to Twin Oaks) for $40.45 including shipping. Pam’s blog is also on

Learn how to grow fennel in minutes. Fennel can be grown for its leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds. Common fennel is grown as an herb. Its leaves and seeds are used in cooking and baking. Florence fennel—which has a bulbous stem and is a variety of common fennel– is grown for its stem which is eaten as a vegetable. The leaves of common fennel are feathery with a licorice-like flavor. They can be added raw to salads and vegetables. The seeds of common fennel are often added to stuffing and apple pie.

Get to Know Fennel

  • Botanical name and family: Foeniculum vulgare (common fennel); Florence fennel is a cultivar of common fennel; it forms a bulb at the base of the stem; the botanical name of Florence fennel is Foeniculum vulgare azoricum.
  • Mediterranean
  • Type of plant: Fennel is an herbaceous perennial commonly grown as an annual.
  • Growing season: Summer
  • Growing zones: Zone 6 to 10
  • Hardiness: Fennel is heat tolerant but just slightly cold-tolerant; it will survive a frost but will die to the ground when freezing weather arrives.
  • Plant form and size: Fennel grows in clumps with numerous vertical stems from 5 to 7 feet tall; each stem branches near the top and each branch ends with a flat-topped cluster of small yellow flowers; fennel looks very much like dill but is taller and more coarse. Florence fennel is lower growing; it has a large thick stem or leaf base which is bulb-like. The bulb can be eaten as a vegetable and is often called finochio.
  • Flowers: Fennel has flat clusters of yellow flowers that grow in clusters or umbles at the ends of the stems above the foliage.
  • Bloom time: Fennel blooms from mid-summer to frost.
  • Leaves: Fennel has bright yellow-green leaves that are intricately divided, almost threadlike; they resemble dill leaves. Fennel leaves grow on upright, hollow, fleshy stems to about 5 feet tall.

How to Plant Fennel

  • Best location: Plant fennel in full sun.
  • Soil preparation: Plant fennel in well-drained compost-rich soil, however, fennel will grow in all types of soil. Fennel prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7.
  • Seed starting indoors: Fennel grows a taproot and is best sown in place. If started indoors, plant in individual peat pots so that taproots are not disturbed at transplanting. Sow seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost.
  • Transplanting to the garden: Set fennel in the garden after the last frost in spring.
  • Outdoor planting time: Sow common fennel seed in spring as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date. You can also sow fennel in late summer or early fall for harvest before the first frost. Fennel is half-hardy and will tolerate a light frost. Make succession plantings through late summer for harvest into autumn
  • Planting depth: Sow fennel seed ⅛ to ½ inch deep. Seeds must be covered completely to germinate.
  • Spacing: Space fennel plants 10 to 12 inches apart. Space rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Fennel re-seeds itself readily; plant it where it can grow for several seasons.
  • How much to plant: Grow 1 to 2 fennel plants for cooking; grow 4 to 5 plants for preserving.
  • Companion planting: Grow fennel with sunflowers, calendulas, and nasturtiums to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and beneficial insects to the garden. Fennel is said to interfere with the growth of beans, tomatoes, and kohlrabi. Do not plant fennel near dill or cilantro; they may cross-pollinate.

How to Grow Fennel

  • Watering: Give fennel regular, even watering until it is established. Once established, fennel can be kept on the dry side. Do not overwater fennel.
  • Feeding: Side dress fennel with aged compost at midseason.
  • Mulching: Mulch around fennel in summer to keep roots cool. To make bulb fennel tastier, mulch around the base of the plant to blanch the bulb and make it tender.
  • Care: Common fennel can grow 4 to 5 feet tall and may require staking or supports, especially if it is growing in a windy spot. Mound soil up around the base of Florence fennel to blanch the bulb and make it tender.
  • Container growing: Common fennel will grow easily in a container. Choose a container at least 12 inches deep; fennel forms a taproot so the container must be deep enough for the root.
  • Winter growing: Fennel can be grown outdoors in mild winter regions.

Troubleshooting Fennel

  • Pests: Fennel is a member of the parsley family. Parsley caterpillars may attack fennel. Remove caterpillars by hand.
  • Diseases: Root rot can be a problem if fennel is overwatered or planted in soil that is not well-drained.

How to Harvest Fennel

  • When to harvest: Fennel leaves can be snipped for fresh use once plants are 6 inches tall or more and established. Snip leaves before flowering. Common fennel will reach maturity in 60 to 70 days. Harvest the seeds of common fennel after flowering when they turn brown. The thick bulbs at the base of Florence fennel can be eaten like a vegetable as soon as it is large enough to eat; peak flavor of the bulb comes after flower buds have formed but before blossoms begin to open. Harvest seeds when they turn from yellowish-green to brown. If you do not want seeds, snip away flowers as they form.
  • How to harvest: Use snips or scissors to harvest leaves. Cut only the top 2 or 3 inches to ensure regrow.

Fennel in the Kitchen

  • Flavor and aroma: Fennel leaves and seeds have a pleasant licorice-like flavor.
  • Leaves: Use fresh leaves in salads and with vegetables, fish, pork, eggs, and rice. Young leaves are milder and sweeter than older fronds.
  • Stems: Fresh stalks can be eaten like celery. Use stems in salads or soups. They have a nutty
  • Bulbs: Harvest the bulb of Florence fennel while still tender, just before flowering. Eat it raw or cooked as a vegetable. Use bulb fennel in soups and pasta dishes. Slice the bulb thinly and add to salads. The bulb can be cooked in gratins, sautés, and casseroles.
  • Flowers: Fennel flowers are edible and can be added to salads.
  • Seeds: Use fennel seeds in home-baked bread, cakes, cookies, sausage, and beverages. Use seeds with cheese spreads, salad dressings.

Preserving and Storing Fennel

  • Refrigeration: Keep fresh fennel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper; use fennel within three days.
  • Drying: To collect fennel seeds, cut the seed head and put it in a paper bag in a warm dry place; seeds will drop into the bag as they ripen and dry.
  • Freezing: Chop and freeze the leaves in a zippered bag for later use.
  • Storing: Dried leaves and seeds can be stored in an airtight jar.
  • Seed: Grow fennel from seed that has been stratified (chilled or frozen) for at least 2 weeks. Direct sow seed in the garden any time of the growing season. Seeds sprout in 14 days.

Fennel Varieties to Grow

  • Florence fennel(Foeniculum vulgare azoricum), also called, finocchio, is grown primarily for its stems and bulbous base which can be used as a vegetable.
  • Bronze fennel( F. v. rubrum) has bronzy purple new growth that lightens to bronze in midsummer. Bronze fennel is grown as an herb and ornamental plant.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Florence Fennel

How to Grow Mint

How to Grow Thyme

How to Grow Oregano

How to Grow Parsley

How to Start a Herb Garden

Growing Herbs for Cooking

How to Cut Fennel 3 Different Ways

People new to fennel bulbs may think this vegetable looks like it came from another planet. Don’t worry, fennel is easier to deal with than it looks—as long as you’ve got a sharp chef’s knife handy. Here’s how to cut fennel (including removing the stems, chopping the fennel bulb, and coring a fennel bulb) so you can tackle prepping this veggie with confidence the next time you make a fennel salad or a side dish starring fennel.

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How to Choose and Store Fennel

With its wispy fronds and bulbous base, fennel looks like a feather-topped, potbellied cousin to celery. But its flavor is remarkably different. The white bulb and bright green fronds have a gentle, slightly sweet anise flavor. The stalks are tough so usually not eaten.

  • In many regions, fennel is available year-round; however, its peak season is October through April.
  • Look for crisp, clean bulbs without brown spots or blemishes. The wispy fronds on top should be bright green and fresh-looking.
  • Once home, refrigerate fennel, tightly wrapped, for up to 5 days.

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How to Remove the Stalks from Fennel

Chopping a fennel bulb is simple once you know where to make the first cut. Follow these steps.

  • Place the fennel horizontally on a cutting surface. Using a sharp chef’s knife, like the Farberware 8-Inch Chef Knife ($12.99, Walmart), carefully cut about 1 inch above the fennel bulb to remove the stalks.
  • Cut a few of the bright green fronds from the stalks to save as a garnish for your recipe. To keep the fronds fresh while the dish cooks, rinse them in cool tap water. Pat them dry, then wrap in plastic wrap or place in a resealable plastic storage bag until ready to use.

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How to Cut the Root End from Fennel

Before you get started slicing and dicing the fennel bulb, remove the root end. Make sure you have a sturdy cutting board to work on (Architec 2-pack Specialty Kitchen Non-Slip Wood Cutting Boards, $16.99, Target), then get started:

  • Remove and discard any wilted outer layers.
  • Holding the top of the fennel bulb to steady it and using a sharp knife, cut a thin slice off the root end of the fennel bulb. Discard the root.

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How to Cut Fennel Bulb

Once you’ve removed the root end and any wilted layers, it’s time to start chopping your fennel.

  • Wash the fennel under cool tap water. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • Stand the fennel bulb upright on its root end. Steadying the bulb with one hand, cut the bulb in half from the stalk through to the root end.

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How to Chop or Wedge Fennel

Follow the instructions given in your recipe about whether to chop or slice the fennel. If no specific instructions are given and the recipe calls for fennel chopped, sliced, or cut into wedges, follow these instructions.

How to Chop Fennel:

Cut each fennel half in half again to get quarters. Cut away and discard the tough core portion from each quarter. Then cut the fennel quarters into irregular pieces as follows:

  • For finely chopped fennel, cut 1/8-inch pieces or smaller.
  • For medium-size chopped fennel, cut 1/4-inch pieces or smaller.
  • For coarsely chopped fennel, cut 1/4-inch pieces or larger.

How to Cut Fennel into Wedges:

  • Cut each fennel half in half again to get quarters.
  • Cut away and discard the tough core portion from each quarter.
  • Slice the fennel lengthwise into wedges.

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How to Slice Fennel

While some recipes will call for fennel wedges, others use thiner slices of fennel so you can scoop up a piece with each bite. Here’s the best way to slice a bulb.

  • Remove the tough core from the fennel half by cutting a wedge-shape piece from the top of the core through the bottom. Discard the core.
  • Place the bulb half, cut side down, on a cutting surface.
  • Using a chef’s knife, slice the bulb lengthwise into thin strips.

How to Use Fennel

When you want to bring an aniselike flavor and crisp crunch to a recipe, use fennel much like you would celery.

  • Chopped or sliced for soups, stir-fries, and cooked vegetable medleys. Try it in our Garlicky Potato Apple Soup.
  • Thinly sliced and served raw in salads. Use it in this Spring Salad with Grapefruit & Feta.
  • Cut into wedges and cooked alongside pot roasts. Get the recipe for our Fennel Pot Roast.

Now that you have all the info you need for chopping fennel, it’s time to put it to use. Add it to salads, stir it into soups, and even transform fennel into a delicious, cheesy appetizer. If your dinner needs a nutrition boost, try adding fennel as a new way to get everyone at your table to eat their veggies. If you do add fennel to a recipe, save a few of the fronds to sprinkle on top for a garnish.

Quick Guide to Growing Fennel

  • Plant fennel in spring after the last frost. It’s a great option for growing in raised garden beds, containers, and in-ground gardens.
  • Space fennel plants 4 to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety. Grow them in an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun and has fertile, well-drained soil.
  • For best results, improve your native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
  • Promote excellent leaf production by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
  • Keep soil consistently moist and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
  • Harvest fennel leaves anytime, but avoid trimming more than one-third of the plant at once.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Fennel prefers soil that is fertile and drains well. Before planting, enrich your existing soil by mixing in compost or Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil. If growing in pots, fill them with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix. Both Miracle-Gro products are enriched with aged compost and provide just the right organic nutrition to get plants off to a strong start. Fennel is a sun-loving plant, so plant it where it will receive at least 6 hours of direct sun.

Plant fennel after the last spring frost. This plant can tolerate light frosts, but needs protection when young. Use a frost cloth to cover. When planting, space fennel seedlings from 4 to 12 inches apart, depending on variety. (Check the plant tag for more information.)

Be sure to keep soil consistently moist. Water regularly, giving plants at least an inch of water per week (more in hot weather). Stick your finger into the soil to check moisture; if the top inch is dry, it’s time to water.

For best results and super-strong growth, you’ll want to build on the nutritional foundation provided by starting with great soil. Regularly throughout the growing season, give your fennel and other plants (as well as the beneficial microbes in the soil) a boost of nutrition with a water soluble plant food like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition. Continue to feed every 1 to 2 weeks, following label directions.

Once blooms begin to appear, you can either pinch them to prevent the plant from going to seed, or just go ahead and let it flower, to attract beneficial insects

Photo: Penny Woodward

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a perennial that grows to 2 metres or more, and at least 50cm across. The leaf has a strong anise scent and flavour, and the buttery yellow flowers appear in summer and autumn. The more common green fennel is a noxious weed in some regions so it should not be planted. It’s better to grow bronze fennel (F. vulgare ‘Purpureum’), which is similar to green fennel, but has purple/bronze leaves, does not spread as easily and is not a noxious weed. Alternatively, grow Florence fennel (F. vulgare subsp. vulgare var. azoricum) for its delicious aniseedy stem bases. Fennel seed is sown in spring or autumn and plants will self-sow easily, but Florence fennel does best if seed is sown from August to December in warm temperate regions, and September to February in cold temperate climates.

Did you know that early Romans believed eating fennel seed could make blind people see again? That the Chinese used it to cure people who had been stung by snakes and scorpions and ancient Greeks who were training for the Olympics ate fennel seed to give them strength, while in English houses fennel seed would be put into keyholes to stop ghosts from coming inside?

Fennel grows well in both sunny and shaded positions and is not fussy about soil so plant it in the most difficult part of the garden, but don’t forget that it grows very tall. This herb will survive for a long time without water but does best if it is watered from time to time. Florence fennel needs better soil and more water to produce tender, delicious stems. Cut off all the dead flower heads in autumn. Fennel flowers are very attractive to bees and other beneficial insects.

You can pick fresh fennel leaves all year round so it doesn’t need to be dried. Harvest the seed by cutting the seed heads in autumn, just after the seeds turn from green to brown. Place them in a paper bag to dry.

Fennel has many different uses, from cooking to medicine to repelling pests. Try chewing a few fennel leaves or seeds to stop hunger and aid weight loss. At the same time they will make your breath smell sweet. Grow fennel near your dog’s kennel to keep fleas away or use the leaves in a sachet to put in your pet’s bed. Drink warm fennel tea to ease indigestion and stomachache.

Use leaves and seeds in cooking, the flavour combines well with fish and chicken. Fennel flowers are a delicious gourmet treat, and you can pick and deep-fry the flower heads once the seeds start to form for a yummy addition to salads. Add fennel leaves to butter to use with fish or poultry.

Fennel butter


small handful of fresh fennel leaves

½ cup of butter

pepper to taste

sprig of fennel to garnish


1. Wash the fennel leaves and chop finely.

2. Put the butter into a small bowl and cream with a wooden spoon until soft.

3. Add the fennel leaves and mix well. Season with a little pepper.

4. Push the mixture firmly into a small dish and refrigerate until it is firm.

5. Before serving drain off any brown juice which may have run from the leaves and place the fresh fennel sprig on top.

6. Serve with fish or chicken, or simply butter on toast, bread or biscuits.

Other herbs that can be used to make flavoured butter are basil, chives, coriander, garlic, lemon balm, marigold petals, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, salad burnet, and tree onion.

By: Penny Woodward

First published: August 2017

Tender fennel flowers are small bright yellow florets that grow in clusters to form a delicate bouquet. With a taste similar to licorice, fennel flowers are used as flavoring in cooking and for medicinal purposes. There are two types of fennel. One is an herb, and the other is a vegetable.

Herb Fennel vs. Vegetable Fennel

Most people think of fennel as a vegetable, not realizing there is also an herb fennel. Each has similar properties and all parts of each are edible. Both are known for their licorice or anise flavor.

Herb Fennel

According to the University of Illinois Extension, herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is cultivated for seeds.

  • You can plant extra if you wish to harvest flowers and seeds.
  • The fennel herb grows between three and five feet tall.
  • The feathery fennel foliage looks similar to dill.

Market for Herb Fennel

According to Growing for Market, fennel growers cultivate herb fennel for its leaves and seeds.

  • The different uses include soups, fish recipes, salads and teas.
  • Fennel seeds are used in baked goods, desserts and even drinks.
  • You can also use flowers, seeds and leaves for teas.

Vegetable Fennel

The vegetable fennel (Florence fennel or Finocchio – Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) is usually referred to as Florence fennel or anise fennel due to its taste. There are countless recipes for vegetable fennel dishes.

  • Florence fennel is of the carrot family and produces a bulb-like vegetable.
  • Compared to herb fennel, vegetable fennel is shorter in height.
  • The fennel bulb is typically harvested before the plant blooms. You can always wait to harvest a few plants to allow the flowers to emerge and then harvest both at the same time.
  • Vegetable fennel seedlings are also grown as microgreens.

Grow Vegetable Fennel

Fennel is easy to grow and can be added to your garden plan. You can typically get two crops out of this bulb-shaped vegetable during most growing season zones. Once in the spring and again in the fall (harvest the second crop before first frost).

  • This annual vegetable has a maturation of 80 to 115 days.
  • Start seedlings indoors eight weeks before the last frost or direct sow three weeks before the last frost.
  • Plant 12 inches apart or one per square for a square foot raised bed garden.
  • Fennel requires rich, moist, well-drained soil.

Grow in Containers

You’ll probably want to select a smaller bulb fennel variety such as a Romanesco for a container garden.

  • Select a deep container, at least 12″ deep.
  • Use loose soil, such as potting soil or vegetable specific soil for containers.
  • Keep the soil moist at all times.
  • As the bulb grows, you’ll need to add soil to hill up the plant by covering the bottom leaves. You’ll need to repeat this as the bulb grows bigger.

Tips for Growing Perennial Herb Fennel

Perennial herb fennel is self-seeding and can be grown in hardiness Zone 4 and up.

  • A mature herb plant can yield as many as 100,000 seeds.
  • Growing one or two plants is usually sufficient for most families.
  • Don’t plant near dill to void cross-pollination.

Fennel Seeds

The seeds for both plants are oval in shape and fairly small.

  • The herb fennel is used for seed production.
  • You can use whole seeds or purchase fennel powder to use in various recipes.

Fennel Medicinal Uses

This ancient herb and plant have been used for centuries in various traditional medicines, such as Ayurveda to treat a wide range of medicinal conditions. Fennel has been used for reproductive, digestive, respiratory and endocrine related illnesses, including cancer, arthritis, colic, conjunctivitis and a long list of other diseases. All parts of the plants are used in these treatments. It has also been used to aid lactating mothers needing to produce more milk. Fennel chemical properties are being studied for the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

How to Use

You can get the benefits of fennel in a variety of ways.

  • Powdered fennel is often used in lieu of whole seeds.
  • Fennel tea can be used for medicinal or culinary purposes.
  • Fennel extract is also used for medicinal purposes.
  • In some cultures, fennel seeds are chewed at the end of a meal to aid digestion and prevent bad breath.

Other Health Benefits

Vegetable fennel is a healthy food to consume because it is high in fiber, Vitamin C and potassium. It also has iron, calcium, magnesium and other nutrients. Eating fennel can help bone health, improve skin health, aid in digestion and may be beneficial for eye health and blood pressure. In addition to the above medicinal uses, herb fennel may also be beneficial for menopause symptoms, and the compounds present in fennel may be potentially helpful in treating glaucoma and hypertension.

Herb Fennel Invasive Plant

Unlike Florence fennel, herb fennel can be invasive. Washington State University Extension (WSUE) warns that herb fennel can escape your garden and become invasive.The hardy fennel seeds are still viable even when dormant in the soil, and the taproot can grow 10 feet deep, ensuring the plant survives during droughts. As an invasive plant, it can crowd out native plant life.

Control Methods for Herb Fennel

There are a few things you can do to fight an herb fennel infestation. These include:

  • You can manually remove the flowers when they bloom to prevent reseeding.
  • WSUE advises to burn the plants for an effective countermeasure.
  • Herbicides can be used if hand-pulling, removing blooms and burning aren’t effective enough to eradicate the infestation.


An unrelated flower grown for its seeds, Love-In-A-Mist Flower (Nigella damascena) is often called Fennel Flower or wild fennel. This annual herb is native to southern Europe and North Africa. This plant is grown specifically for its seeds.

  • The plant foliage is the typical feathery fennel look.
  • The blossoms are a bright lacy blue, while some varieties produce pink, white or purples blooms.
  • Unlike the other fennel seeds, nigella seeds taste like nutmeg, and are used in wines and desserts.
  • This seed has no known medicinal value.

Fennel Flower’s Many Uses

The fennel herb and vegetable plants appear to be a treasure trove of possible benefits to humans. Both forms are easy to grow and may provide you with the diversity you seek in your garden.

To be filed under, “Am I really that thick”.

It’s not ground breaking but when a bunch of decorative fennel that I had hung upside down on the front door began dropping seeds, I was in awe. The fennel had been there since November replete with flowering heads and had provided a lovely smell of anise whenever the door was opened. January had rolled around and I had meant to take it down. That was when I noticed the fennel seeds – it was like discovering gold. Here’s how to harvest them properly.

Above: Stalks of fennel with dried out flowers. For optimum freshness the seeds should be harvested just as the flowers are beginning to dry out and turn brown..

Above: Clip the top of the stalks with the flower heads and place them on a tray in a dark place to dry. This usually takes one or two weeks.

Above: The seeds will dry and drop off the flowers. For those remaining, rub the flower heads over a bowl until the seeds fall out. Remove any stalks from the bowl and transfer the seeds into small jars leaving any powder and dust in the bottom of the bowl.

Above: I stripped the stalks of any branches and flowers and left them to dry out. Once fully hardened I plan to use them as sticks in the garden for supporting plants.

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