Posts Tagged ‘Fennel’

Friday, May 25, 2012

Inside and Outside the Garden Walls

Unicorn in Captivity

The Unicorn in Captivity, 1495–1505. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6). The profusion of flowering plants that springs from the millefleurs meadow on which the unicorn rests includes both garden plants and wildflowers. An iris and a clove pink are prominently placed outside the unicorn’s enclosure; both were intensively cultivated in the Middle Ages, but the purple orchis silhouetted against the unicorn’s body depends on a special relationship with microorganisms in its native soil and would not have grown in gardens.

Roses, lilies, iris, violet, fennel, sage, rosemary, and many other aromatic herbs and flowers were prized for their beauty and fragrance, as well as their culinary and medicinal value, and were as much at home in the medieval pleasure garden as in the kitchen or physic garden. These plants were carefully cultivated, but many useful plants of the Middle Ages were found outside the garden walls, or admitted on sufferance.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fed on Fennel

Black Swallowtail Fourth and Final Form Black Swallowtail Dorsal View Black Swallowtail Ventral View

The Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly is commonly found in fields, gardens, and open spaces in the Northeastern United States. Above, left: The body of the fully developed caterpillar with its bold, bright bands of yellow, green, and black, is conspicuous against the feathery foliage of the fennel which is its favorite food; center: a female Black Swallowtail at rest on a salvia in Cuxa garden, as seen from above; right: the same butterfly seen in profile with its wings folded upward. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

We found several large, boldly marked caterpillars feeding on a stand of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in Bonnefont garden last month. We left them undisturbed, knowing from past experience that they would grow up to be beautiful eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies. Read more »

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Fragrant Family of Fennel

Anise (<i>Pimpinella anisum</i>) in flower, Bonnefont Herb Garden Anise (<i>Pimpinella anisum</i>) in seed

Left: Anise (Pimpinella anisum) in flower, Bonnefont Herb Garden; right: Anise (Pimpinella anisum) in seed, Bonnefont Herb Garden.

Representatives of the Apiaceae family are scattered throughout all of the gardens at The Cloisters, but they are most prominent in the culinary beds of Bonnefont Herb Garden. These plants are greatly exploited for their distinct fragrances and tastes. The essential oils, created from a fairly large group of chemical constituents within the plants, are responsible for the incredibly flavorful and aromatic properties of this family. In addition, these properties help to ensure the survival of plants in this family by attracting pollinators to the flowers. Read more »

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Honoring Fennel

Fennel in flower Ripening fennel fruits Umbels of dried-up fennel fruits

Above, from left to right: Fennel flourishing in Bonnefont Cloister Garden in July; green fennel fruits ripening in late summer; umbels of dry fennel fruits at the end of the season.

Let us not forget to honor fennel. It grows
On a strong stem and spreads its branches wide.
Its taste is sweet enough, sweet too its smell;
They say it is good for eyes whose sight is clouded,
That its seed, taken with milk from a pregnant goat,
Eases a swollen stomach and quickly loosens
Sluggish bowels.  What is more, your rasping cough
Will go if you take fennel-root mixed with wine.

—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.

The ninth-century Benedictine abbot Walahfrid Strabo was a gardener as well as a scholar and a poet.  He praises the stately and beautiful fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) growing in his monastery garden for its medicinal virtues, but fennel was also an ancient culinary herb, enjoyed both as a seasoning and a vegetable.

Indigenous to the Mediterranean, fennel was brought to England and Germany by the Romans, and to India and China by Arab traders.  The Roman natural historian Pliny, writing in the first century, cites fennel in more than twenty remedies.  All parts of the plant—roots, shoots, leaves, and seeds—have been used both as food and as medicine. Read more »