Wild Fennel - A Common Wild Herb
Updated: May 2, 2019
Wild fennel is a very common plant in the UK and in some cases is even considered a pest as it can grow profusely and indeed invasively. Wild Fennel 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.
Find out about the medicinal powers of Wild foods with our great selection of Wild Medicine Books.
How to identify Wild Fennel
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).
What to do with Wild Fennel?
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. One of my favourite recipes is to cook carrots in lots of butter, a little salt and sugar and a splash of water. Add some fronds to this rich stock and cook the carrots whole for at least 30 or 40 minutes, until tender. Just before serving, removing the cooking liquid and add a little chopped Wild Fennel to the pan, the flavour of these carrots is exceptional, aniseed flavours and carrots works so well.
When fresh it is also a great additive to homemade herbal teas! Try fresh Wild Fennel fronds and Mint leaves for a fantastic and refreshing brew.
The stems can be used to flavour vinegar's 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 savoury and sweet dishes – sweetened Fennel seed biscuits are delicious!
The pollen from Wild Fennel is highly prized. You can collect the flowers in summer and dry them, being careful not to spill the highly perfumed treasure that lies in the in the flowers. Dry the flower heads gently and you have a spice that modern chefs pay a lot of money for. The dried flowers and pollen have far more intense perfume and flavour compared the seeds, a little really does a long way. The nickname for this most exquisite spice is 'The Spice of Angels', a little sprinkled on fish is delightful. Add it to breads, season pork or chicken or pep up your salads with a last minute sprinkle.
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! Feel free to share some of your own favourite Wild Fennel recipes and uses below in the comments section.
Have Wild fennel on tap and grow your own Wild Herbs by visiting the link.