Fennel – It’s Not Just Food Any More
We have a perennial fennel plant in our garden, not a bulbing variety but one that sends up incredibly tall stalks and a frothy haze of delicate fronds each spring and summer. Last year, I meant to harvest the pollen and seeds but didn’t manage to catch either in time. As a result, our garden beds this year are dotted with the many baby fennel plants that came from those seeds I didn’t harvest.
Fortunately, my kids love fennel. They eat handfuls of the delicate anise-flavored leaves each day. Hungry children are a handy control for edible invasive plants, but even with this secret weapon I wanted to cut down on our mama fennel plant’s self-sowing this year.
Our plant was well over my head, at least 6′ tall on Saturday, with flower heads forming. It was time to harvest the bounty. Some of the stalks were so thick, I thought I might need my pruning saw to get through them, but by Sunday evening our plant was back down to about 3′ thanks to my hand-held pruners. I may have killed the plant off, but I doubt it; she’s been strong enough to survive ice storms and scratching chickens. If I did, though, we’ll let one of our volunteers grow on in peace so we have plenty to harvest next year.
Mira noticed the hollow stems and asked me to cut the stalks into a variety of lengths. She set to work inventing uses for these strong, hollow fennel tubes. She chewed the end of one stalk up to create a soft brush and cleaned her teeth – It’s not as robust as a miswak, but a fennel toothbrush certainly makes for lovely breath. This worked for our dogs as well – Each of them accepted a thick length of stalk and set to work chewing up their new green bones. They lost interest in a few minutes, but even that did wonders for their doggy breath.
Then Mira filled some glasses with water and gave everyone a fennel straw to try. Water sipped through a fennel stalk doesn’t have a strong flavor, but the fennel does make it sweet and refreshing. We love our Glass Dharma straws, and now we have one more alternative to single-use plastic straws. No plastic straw is as tasty as fennel, or as healthy all around.
Finally, she took a pile of stalk pieces and used them as building toys – The smaller pieces fit inside the larger ones, making for stable connections. I think my girls are outside right now putting together a new fairy house from some fennel stalks. I’m sure our garden sprites will enjoy their new scented walls.
Have you and yours come up with new uses for old plants, ways to use garden bounty to replace items commonly made from plastic? We’d love to hear about it!