Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wild Fennel

fennel blossoms, sometimes called pollen

Wild fennel plants grow abundantly as invasive weeds through out the city and country side in many parts of the world. Fennel is a tall growing perennial, with thick stalks, feathery leaves, and yellow flowers that grow in clusters called umbels. It looks very similar to dill and is in the same plant family. It's a good bet that there is a towering bush within a couple blocks of your home. Some people plant this as an herb or ornamental plant but for the most part it is considered a noxious weed. You might understand this if you have seen it taking over in California - in many areas fennel grows thick on roadsides and is littered across the golden hills. A friend of mine who lives in Olympia received a notice from the city demanding her to eradicate fennel from her yard or be fined. Of course I have been a weed advocate by planting this in my own garden to use as a herb, though have regulated it to one corner so I can keep a eye on it.

Invasive relentless weed to some; prized aromatic herb to others. Fennel pollen is sold dried for as much as $22 a ounce! Go pick yourself a paper bag full for a year's supply of these tiny golden flowers. The window to pick fennel blossoms is closing. Luckily those blossoms are turning into another fine product - fennel seeds. Most local plants have a mix of flowers and emerging seeds growing on them right now. Both can be used fresh or dried to add a subtle pleasing licorice flavor to foods. Tender fennel fronds are also another part of this plant that can be savored. Harvest the softest youngest leaves for the finest texture and flavor. The best time for the feathery fronds is in the spring when the plant emerges from its winter nap. Also stalks and fronds can be used for scenting foods or providing a cooking bed for meats or fish. Florence fennel differs from wild fennel because it is cultivated for the thick bulb vegetable that forms at the base of the plant. Except when very young wild fennel has tough stalks. Bronze fennel is another variety grown for its brown foliage.

To dry fennel pollen and seeds cut umbels from a plant and lay out to dry on a tray or in a basket for a few days to a week. When dry rub flowers or seeds off of stems. Store in an airtight container. When using fennel pollen crumble between fingers to release the scent.

Fennel is one of my favorite seasonings I find myself using again and again. It adds a depth of flavor to food that brings it to another level of deliciousness. The pleasing licorice flavor of wild fennel doesn't overpower, it layers on with other flavors to give richness and body to its subjects.

Use pollen or ground seeds as a rub for fish or meats. Try chicken stew with fennel, coriander seeds, and figs. Make fennel oil with the seeds. Sprinkle pollen on fresh mozzarella or ricotta with olive oil, and lemon zest. Add fronds to green salad or tuna salad. Stew lentils with tomatoes, chilies, and fennel seeds. Toast almonds with fennel seeds and pimenton.

the umbels between blossoms and seeds

No comments:

Post a Comment