Wild Fennel - A Common Wild Herb

Wild fennel is a very common plant and in some cases is even considered a pest as it can grow profusely and indeed invasively. It prefers drier conditions and grows everywhere from fields to roadsides but usually within a reasonable distance of the coast – although I have seen it a long way inland. During the spring the green fronds sprout and grow throughout the spring and summer into tall cane-like stems that grow 60cm to 120cm in height. In July the plant blooms with yellow flowers that I use to identify new locations for this wonderful culinary herb.

Wild Fennel also has many medicinal properties and as well as enhancing eye sight is also a great digestive.

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Wild Fennel is not the same as the cultivated varieties of Fennel such as the Florence Fennel. The bulb is inedible and it is the Fronds and stems that you are after. Of course the plant also has to seed and the seeds are also edible this time similar to its cultivated cousin, the seed can be collected at the end of summer and if you have a big enough garden why not try and plant some yourself (I warned you though it is invasive!).

The flavour and smell of the plant is Anise or Liquorice, when you are cutting the plant the sweet liquorice flavours fill your nose and awaken the taste buds as if to tease you with the thoughts of meals to come (a great aid to identification).

So what do you do with it?? Wild Fennel fronds should be used as a herb and finely chopped and added to fish dishes, potatoes and salads. When fresh it is also a great additive to homemade herbal teas! The stems can be used to flavour vinegars and oils or even dried and thrown on the barbecue to beautifully smoke barbecuing fish. The seeds can be ground and used in many cuisines including Italian and Indian and can be readily used in both savory and sweet dishes – sweetened Fennel seed biscuits are delicious!

For me this versatile herb is a must and as it grow so profusely and is so visible from mid summer that it should practically be included with most meals. If you didn’t recognise it before you won’t stop seeing it growing everywhere now!

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