Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wild Fennel- Foraged Food

A nice amount of wild fennel.
I had zero intention to forage today. My littler one (officially renamed Ike from his old pseudonym Spike) was sick and I had plenty to do. Yet somehow I arrived home with a nice sized 4.5 ounce bundle of wild fennel. How did that happen?

Well, I was driven to the pharmacy to pick up some meds for my son (vitamin C, to be honest), but needed to walk home. On the way, we passed near a place where I'd seen a drop of wild fennel before, and I was so tempted to make a small detour and take a look. Ike and Lee were enjoying the fresh air, and it was a detour of about 100 feet. All of a sudden I discovered one fennel plant, then another, then another, until my entire bag was filled with wild fennel fronds!

So, how can you forage for wild fennel too?

Foraging for Wild Fennel

Where Can You Find Wild Fennel
Wild fennel grows everywhere! Most countries, in fact. North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, etc...
Along roads, in fields, where ever green things grow, pretty much!

To be honest, its not always so easy to spot wild fennel. It often grows around many other plants that are taller and have bigger leaves, so spotting wild fennel can be tricky.
What I do is I look out for big, tall, old fennel plants. These plants, either green, or brown, usually have no leaves on them, and are about 3-4 feet tall. They stick out and are relatively easy to spot.

When I see a patch of old fennel plants, I start looking at the ground around those large fennel plants. Usually I'll get rewarded with a bunch of smaller, edible wild fennel fronts. Sometimes they're attached to the large plant, but sometimes they're just in the vicinity. But either way, if you see a patch of giant fennel, you'll most likely have found a large amount of delicious wild fennel ready to forage.
An old large wild fennel plant.
Look for wild fennel fronds around and
near the base of these.
So, what do the leaves look like?
The leaves on wild fennel fronds look not so dissimilar to those of dill. They're thin, feathery, and green. Most of the time. Sometimes the leaves will be a very light yellow green. Other times they're a bluish purple. But most of the time, wild fennel leaves are a dark green.
Sometimes the leaves are bunched together and look like a fir tree.
Sometimes they're spread further apart, like dill.
And other times, they're spread really far apart, looking almost like tiny pointy thorns instead of leaves. (They're still soft; they just look pokey.)
4 types of wild fennel leaves. Left to right-
Wild fennel leaves wide apart and "pokey". These are mostly green, but the bottom leaves are purplish.
Blue-purple wild fennel. Also with widely spread leaves.
Green fennel fronds, with leaves that are similar to that of dill.
Green fennel fronds, with leaves not too dissimilar from a fir tree.
All fennel, all edible. Many from the same plant, even.
How do I know it's really fennel? How do I make sure not to poison myself with a look alike?
Wild fennel does have a look a like. Relatively, anyhow. Poison hemlock. The way to know if the plant is truly fennel and not poison hemlock is that fennel has a very strong licorice (anise) smell. There are a few other plants with a licorice smell aside for fennel, but all of them are edible. Poison hemlock smells nasty. If you've found something that you think is wild fennel and it smells like licorice, you're set. It's not poisonous.

Why eat wild fennel?

It's free! It's organic! Its grows everywhere!
It tastes good! If you like anise, star anise, black licorice, or fennel bulbs, you'll like wild fennel. If you don't like any of those, you still might like it as the flavor isn't exactly like any of the others, just similar.
Wild fennel has an intense flavor, and acts as both a spice and a vegetable.
It's got lots of nutrition in it (I'd give you specifics, but only found a listing for fennel bulbs, not wild fennel fronds, and the wild stuff is more nutritious.)
It has a medicinal effect- it soothes babies with colic, reduces flatulence, and alleviates stomach issues. It also acts as a galactogogue.

How do you cook wild fennel?
The traditional way to cook wild fennel is with ground meat, or with cheese and made into fennel cakes.
I've made rice with wild fennel, orange rind, ground seitan, and orange chunks and it was simply out of this world.
I plan on putting wild fennel in my chicken soup and using the wild fennel with some other ingredients to make stuffing for stuffed chicken breast.

Have you ever seen wild fennel? Ever picked it? Ever eaten it?
Do you like fennel, either wild, or bulbs? What do you usually do with your fennel fronds?

Linking up with Pennywise Platter, Fight Back Friday, Real Food Wednesday, Friday Foods, Vegetarian Foodie Friday, and Frugal Friday.


  1. Fennel is very easy to grow.

  2. That's brilliant. My wife and I went for a walk around a coastal track in South Auckland (NZ) yesterday, and saw loads of the stuff. I thought it was fennel, and was about 90% sure, but didn't want to risk eating any. Now i know that if it smells like anise it's all good. Cheers!

  3. Very helpful article! I just did a google search for 'is it okay to eat wild fennel?' and found your article. Wild fennel is growing like buggery on our property right now - in fact, we're gonna have to get rid of it. Anyway, I've gotten in the habit of absent-mindedly plucking a bit and chewing on it when walking, to distract myself from the pain of going uphill, and wanted to reassure myself that I wasn't poisoning myself slowly!

  4. Hi there. I think I have some wild fennel in my yard but came across this: Eupatorium capillifolium; dog fennel. Apparently it has liver-damaging chemicals in it. I just wanted to pass this on. I am still trying to figure out how to tell which one mine is. Happy foraging!

    1. Dog fennel smells unpleasant, wild fennel smells like black licorice.

  5. I saw what I thought was wild fennel growing at the base of a tree on my road. I was too nervous to even think about eating any (my plant recognising skills are NOT top notch!) but this has given me the confidence to try a little! Thanks!


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