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Meet the Plants (Part 2): The Licorice Friends!

June 5, 2012

The Licorice Friends! In this post we will cover tarragon, fennel, and anise hyssop, which are the herbs in the garden that taste similar to licorice. (To clarify, the spice in licorice is called anise.) I strongly dislike the taste of anise, but this garden is meant for all to enjoy, and many people love the taste. Thus, we have several sweet and savory herbs for those licorice-lovers out there!

Advice for herbs in general: Herbs are generally stronger when they are fresh because they still contain the oils that give them their flavor. Herbs can be preserved by drying (on a cookie sheet on a hot sunny day), freezing (in a sealed container), in vinegar (in the refrigerator), or infusing in vinegar or oil (removing the sprigs after a few days, when the desired taste is achieved).

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

Dried Tarragon

Artemisia dracunculus, or tarragon, is also called “dragon herb” (as its latin name implies). It is a perennial that likes heat, sun, and not too much water, so it’s a great plant for the front area of the garden. While ours is still rather low-growing, it will soon grow upward with slender branching stems.

Tarragon is a useful pest deterrent, and is going to be used experimentally in the IC Organic Garden to keep the eggplant safe from flea beetles. Tarragon reduces platelet adhesion and blood coagulation, which can help prevent heart disease.

Tarragon is a savory spice with hints of anise. It is the main ingredient in béarnaise sauce, which is simply hollandaise sauce with tarragon, shallot, pepper and chervil added. It is also frequently used in rubs, especially for chicken. Harvest the low-growing leaves, from the center outward.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel (ripe6.net)

Foeniculum vulgare, or fennel, isn’t so much an herb as a pungent vegetable. It can be eaten raw, chopped in salads, sauteed in stir-fry, or fried/breaded on its own. It is a sweet-tasting plant, despite its celery-like consistency (an odd combination of texture and flavor that takes some getting-used-to). The variety we are growing is an annual, but we are going to hold off harvesting it this year to see if it goes to seed and comes up next spring. You are welcome to harvest/taste the fluffy parts at the ends of the stalks, however! Soon we will plant a perennial variety that will come back from year-to-year without having to re-seed.

Fennel comes from Europe and the Mediterranean. It is a strong antioxidant, high in vitamin C, and a good source of folate (whfoods.com). It is related to caraway, dill, parsley, and carrots, and creates a nice bird/wildlife habitat with its bushy leaves.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Anise Hyssop in flower (mixsensations.com)

Agastache foeniculum, or anise hyssop, seems like it should be in the mint family (labiatae) because it has a square stem and leaves that resemble catnip, but it’s not, and I can’t find any books or sites that say why. Please share if you know! (Incidentally, you can find catnip in the strip around the corner from the main garden! There are also many kinds of mint in the front herb garden area, inside of buried bottomless plastic pots so that it doesn’t spread throughout the garden and become weedy.)

Anise Hyssop is a bee-friendly plant, with long-blooming flowers, but it can have the same effect as tarragon as a pest deterrent (some animals/insects do not like the anise scent). It is added to teas or cocktails for a licorice flavor, or dried leaves are crumbled over fruit salad. The flowers retain their fragrance and color when dried. Harvest by cutting the center sprig rather than the sides, or just take a few leaves at a time from the bottom of the plant. Please leave the flowers there for the bees to enjoy!

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