A gallery of edible and useful wild plants, in Wellington and the Wairarapa (NZ)
Friday, June 18, 2010
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel was introduced to New Zealand by settlers, probably as both a culinary and medicinal herb. Among the first to introduce it may have been the sealers on Whenua Hou or Codfish Island (just off Rakiura - Stewart Island). Here local Maori and sealers formed a community, and around 100 years later fennel was reportedly growing rampant around the island. (I wonder if it still is?)
Wild Fennel has edible stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and pollen - a great delicacy. You can try the roots too for flavouring; they're a bit tough to eat!
Fennel has a natural affinity with dairy in both sweet and savoury dishes. (Fennel and white chocolate sauce on ice-cream, mmmm.)
The fennel 'roots' or 'bulbs' you buy in stores are really the fleshy base of the stalks - from a variety of fennel, Florence fennel, specially bred for this purpose.
If you're eating wild fennel stalks, choose the younger, tender ones. You may still want to strip away the outer layer if it's a bit stringy - just try and see.
Medicinally fennel is particularly useful for digestion, and is most famous as a carminative (gets rid of gas). It's at least partly the anethol which does it; the same compound that gives fennel its aniseedy flavour. Anise, star anise, and licorice all contain anethol too.
Fennel essential oil is used in aromatherapy and perfumery, and is one of the few essential oils grown and processed here in New Zealand.