I’ve been visiting family on the central California coast, which has been wonderful. I always like going to other parts of the country to see what I can forage, and the temperature here is so mild that you can pretty much find edible or medicinal plants year round. Late spring and summer is when the coastal roadsides are covered with a tall yellow flower that smells of licorice. At first I thought it was some sort of anise, but upon further investigation I discovered it was wild fennel. How exciting is that? Foraging for wild fennel is easy on the west coast, because it is so widespread.
Wild fennel is native to the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalized in many parts of the world. It is considered an invasive plant, so please harvest and use without abandon! It is often found along roadsides or disturbed areas, and is especially prevalent on the California coast.
It’s a very tall plant in the carrot family with an umbel type flower similar to dill, coriander, and caraway. The flowers are beneficial insect attractants, so having them around isn’t all bad. These flowers that I photographed were absolutely covered with many different species of bugs and bees.
Wild fennel is pretty easy to positively identify as its licorice like smell is unmistakable. The stalk also looks just like what is attached to a fennel bulb that you would buy at a grocery store. Unfortunately wild fennel does not produce an edible bulb, but it does have the fronds that can be used in dishes or as a garnish.
I collected a few flowers and let them dry. Wild fennel pollen has become a hot ingredient these days, and while it is a bit tedious to collect, a little goes a long way.
The seeds are nearly identical to fennel seeds that you can buy in the store. The immature green seeds are even tastier than their cultivated counterpart, as they are a bit softer on the teeth and more flavorful. You could by all means collect the seed in any stage of it’s development for use in food, however.
Fennel also has some great medicinal uses. It is primarily used as a post meal digestive aid, and is good for heartburn, gas, bloating, and regulating appetite. I made a delicious dandelion and fennel kombucha recently that has become one of my favorites!
Here are some more great articles on wild fennel:
- Wild Fennel from Eat the Invaders
- Cooking with Wild Fennel from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
- Harvesting Wild Fennel Pollen from Garden Betty
Have you ever seen wild fennel growing?