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Fall Gardening Tips

Last month you explained how to use dill weed and seed and shared your dill pickle recipe. What can you tell me about fennel? It looks a lot like dill. Do I use the different parts in the same way as you suggested for dill? I know the flavors are very different. Any suggestions for culinary use?

Fennel does indeed look a lot like dill, but the mild anise flavor of the fresh leaves will inform you which plant you are dealing with. There are several different kinds. Florence fennel or finocchio, Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum, is the one with the swollen base that some call a bulb. Bronze fennel, F. vulgare var. rubrum, has a deep maroon-brown color, very attractive in the garden. F. vulgare is garden fennel or sweet fennel, the one most commonly grown.

Fennel has a long and interesting history, with much suspicion and lore associated with the plants. In ancient Rome, Pliny listed 22 medicinal and therapeutic uses for it, noting it increased strength and courage. He observed snakes rubbing themselves on the plant after shedding their skin and deduced that it helped improve their eyesight. When the Romans finally left Britain, the people there believe that the fennel left growing helped to dispel evil. In the Middle Ages, it was stuffed into keyholes and draped over doors to keep witches away. Culpepper and Gerard's herbals also mention fennel as an herb to improve sight and eye health.

In the way of culinary uses, I have to admit, that anise flavor has never been one of my favorites so I have been reluctant to make use of the fennel growing in my garden. Last year, however, it was so fresh and abundant that I cut a fistful of leaves and stems and lay them over the salmon I was going to bake as an experiment. The resulting flavor was so delightful, I am now a huge fan of fennel. I chop it up in salads, dips and cold creamy soups and continue to lay it over chicken, fish and pork that I wrap in foil to bake.

Medicinally, fennel seed is well known as a digestive aid to reduce flatulence and sooth the tract. Nursing moms use it to increase the flow of milk. A compress of fennel tea placed on the eyes will soothe them, reducing redness and inflammation.

Now that my lavender has finished flowering, the shrub is not very attractive. All the pretty flowering spikes have turned brown. What should I do? As soon as the flowers spikes begin to turn brown, it is best to cut them off just where they extend above the leaves of the plant. The result is that the shrub looks like it has had a haircut and appears well groomed. The silvery color of the foliage will keep the plant looking good in the garden, and providing it does not suffer too much winter damage, it will keep that look until it blooms again in the spring.

My purple coneflower, Echinacea, finally bloomed this year. I'd like to use the plant in winter to help boost my immunity. What do I need to do?

Now is the time to cut the blooming flowers which can be dried to crumble or grind later for use in capsules, tincture or infusion. If you keep cutting the flowers off, the plant will bloom until frost. To use the root, dig up the plant in its third year life. You can tincture it fresh or dry it. The root has a reputation of being strongest but I was told by my teacher, Michael Moore, that the leaves and flowers act similarly. Personally, I prefer to use the whole plant tincture in my herbal pharmacy which includes fresh leaf, flower and root.

I have lots of calendula flowering in my garden, all volunteers from the ones I planted last year. I have heard the herb is useful as a medicinal. How so, and what should I do to harvest it? Calendula does have a tendency to take off in some gardens when the seeds are allowed to drop. Calendula will bloom from June until frost. It is a wonderful herb used to heal skin, reduce the roughness and inflammation of eczema and relieve diaper rash. Pick off the flowers every couple of days and dry them out of direct light. I like to make an infused oil of them that can be blended with beeswax for a healing salve. You can drink calendula tea to help heal and soothe irritated mucus membranes and ulcerations.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
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Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

Other articles for the garden...

Grow Your Own Herbs  •   Growing herbs From Seed  •   Acquiring Medicinal/Culinary Herbs  •   The Garden You Didn't Plant
Unusual Culinary Herbs  •   Exotic Garden Herbs  •   Harvesting Your Herbs  •   Mint  •   Repelling Pests  •   Harvest Season

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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