Fennel has gotten a bad rap over the years as a common roadside weed. It is, in fact, a plant that has naturalized all over California, along freeways and waste areas. It really is a very worthy culinary and medicinal herb, and if deadheaded before going to seed will be well behaved in the garden.
Bronze fennel has feathery purple/bronze foliage which smells like licorice. It can grow up to 6 feet tall and become a very stately plant in the garden. The feathery foliage is delicious chopped into summer vegetable salads, and really brightens up a boring old lettuce salad. Young leaves are also excellent in fish and chicken dishes, hearty breads and egg dishes. The seeds are used for baking and are also eaten as a medicinal, and even the stems are culinary. When I was young my Spanish grandmother cooked with plenty of fennel, especially in soups and anything with chickpeas. She used to brine her own olives, and would add fennel stems to some jars to give the olives a delicious kick. Not many of us go through that hard work anymore, but you can still add fennel stems to an opened jar or can of olives to add a great little twist!
Fennel is also an important habitat plant. During the middle of the summer we often find 10 to 20 anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feeding on the fennel. Even small pots on the sales floor will get covered with caterpillars. So even if you don't eat it, there is a good chance someone else will!