Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wild Fennel...

There's gold in them thar hills. Well, the gold is mostly gone now but the hills of San Francisco are still covered with another prize--wild fennel.

Wild fennel leaves growing on stalks along a San Francisco hillside.

Originating from Southern Europe, wild fennel is believed to have been introduced to California by the Spanish at least 200 years ago. The stems and leaves of this invasive plant are what produces its strong anise scent.

Unlike the commercially grown fennel that you see in supermarkets, wild fennel does not produce a bulging bulb. This herb grows in stalks that can become 6-10 feet tall and is sought after for its spring shoots, feather-like leaves, seeds and flower pollen.

Wild fennel favors the Mediterranean climate of San Francisco, flourishing in a variety of Bay Area places including vacant lots, weedy hillsides, grasslands and pastures as well as within coastal scrub. Open habitats nearby fresh or brackish water sources such as the banks of creeks, estuaries and/or bays might also harbor wild fennel.

The peak of wild fennel plant growth is during the months of July and August but seeds can germinate year round and it is possible for seeds to remain dormant in the soil for years before germinating. 

Seeds remain on a wild fennel stalk.

The zenith of wild fennel seed production is reached during August and September (but seeds will grow from about May until November). The seeds are one way that this perennial herb propagates through the assistance of water, animals, and humans that all act as disbursement agents. New wild fennel plants are also produced from existing root crowns.

Yellow flowers begin to appear on wild fennel plants when they are about one and a half to two years in age with blooms appearing around the month of May through September.

Pollinators will gravitate to yellow flowers on fennel stocks.

If you decide to go foraging for wild fennel when you're in The City, use caution. Although it usually feels great to get something for free, keep in mind that dogs love to mark their territory (urinate) in pretty much all of the various wild fennel habitats and tainted leaves are unlikely to taste good in your salad for instance. Another detriment to harvesting desirable wild fennel is air pollution in the form of car exhaust. So for these reasons especially, try to acquire your wild fennel from remote / lightly-traveled areas and be sure to wash each piece before consumption.

The last time I cooked with fennel was during this past Thanksgiving when I made Martha Stewart's Cherry-Pecan Stuffing. I distinctly remember crushing fennel seeds with my mortar & pestle as that a pleasingly fragrant licorice smell rose up from the result of freshly ground powder. The stuffing tasted so good that I am likely to make the recipe again next year!

No comments:

Post a Comment