So I'm out in the garden yesterday, in tank top and flip flops on a record-heat day yet again, and I notice a row of little lacy leaves, clearly planted by me intentionally, at some point that I don't remember.
"Dill?" I say, wondering why I would have planted dill over there, so far from the herb beds. I nibble the leaves. Not dill. A slight licorice flavor.
""Fennel!" I realize. I have a vague memory of planting it. Since I don't write down what I've planted or mark the spots with little sticks with seed names on them, it is always a bit of a surprise to me to see what happens out there.
I've never grown fennel before, but a little research leads me immediately to . . . you guessed it . . . Pliny the Elder!
Pliny says that snakes eat fennel after they shed their skins in order to restore their sight. Other medicinal properties attributed to fennel include (supposedly) its ability to relieve gastrointestinal pain, to stimulate milk production in nursing mothers, and to suppress hunger. There is talk about hallucinations in high doses, however, so as with much that's good in life, it is recommended that you use caution and moderation (and, disclaimer, disclaimer! Nothing I say can count as medical advice!).
Cooks love the stuff. You can use all parts of the plant--the roots, the leaves and the seed. It apparently pairs perfectly with fish, is delicious served raw in salads, and is used commonly by many cultures as a flavoring in breads and other baked goods and confections.
I wonder if I need to cover it, if it should really be growing right now in December in Zone 7-pushing-8 (I mean, it will get cold at some point, won't it?). I think I'll build a little row cover/hoop house/cold frame thing out of wire clothes hangers and cover it with my bioterrorism plastic sheeting (I have an enormous roll of it that I bought on 9/12/2001 and I've been using it in lots of innovative ways ever since). A fennel kennel, so to speak.
And so I wonder. What other seeds are waiting right below the surface of the soil, and the surface of daily life, for just the right conditions to grow? What other surprises await, both in the garden--and beyond?